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Let Pamela Des Barres Tell You How To Write Your Memoir

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When I wrote my first memoir, I’m With the Band, there were very few “unknown” women out there penning their life stories. But I knew I had lived widly and well, and wanted to share the tale of a young woman caught up in the ’60s rock ’n’ roll revolution, smack dab in the thick of the madness. A few years later, I penned a second memoir, Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up, an unrepentant chronicle about what comes after such an impetuous whirlwind lifestyle. But I was (and am!) just a middle-class Valley girl from Reseda, CA, who kept diaries and decided to write it all down.

I have long believed that every single person on our spinning globe has lived a life worth writing about, the memories inside them pleading to burst forth and shout. I’ve been teaching women’s memoir workshops all over the globe for 16 years, astounded by the serenity my students feel when they unleash a particularly painful memory. The hold it has had on them disappears, taking its rightful place in their history, and tears of relief flow. When my students recall a night of bliss, their first kiss, a song that has gotten them through a rough patch, the gratitude for all they’ve been through is palpable. As they keep remembering, reviewing, digging down deep, their writing becomes more fearless.

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When you decide to write your life, you get to relive it all again – blow by blow, smooch by smooch – the very best and the bitter worst, hopefully with the hindsight to view it all with compassion, understanding, joy, and acceptance. You begin to realize that each up and down created who you are, and suddenly it all starts to make sense. You’ll even begin to appreciate people, places, and situations in a brand new way. For instance, when you reflect on your childhood with the keen eye of an objective observer, your parents are not just Mom and Dad, but flesh and blood people with their own conflicts and desires. Many a-ha! moments send you spinning and you’ll discover that even the heartbreaks become bearable, the lessons learned more accessible.

In my latest book, Let It Bleed: How to Write a Rockin’ Memoir (TarcherPerigee), I’ve tried to bring my readers into the room with me and my students by sharing many of my 12-minute writing exercises as well as their responses. With prompts such as “What is one rule you will never break?” “Describe an idiosyncrasy,” and “Have you ever really hated anyone?” you learn truths about yourself that may shake and startle you. “Have you ever stolen anything?” “Have you ever made fun of someone?” Well, have you? “Do you have daddy issues?” Well, do you?

The number one rule in my workshops is “Don’t think.” Many of my musical genius friends have told me they don’t have a clue where their songs or lyrics come from. They just get out of the way and let them pour through them. I give my students 12 minutes (so there’s no time to think too hard) and cut them loose. So why don’t you join us for 12 minutes or so right now? Let’s do a couple from my “Childhood Living” chapter: “Did your parents tell you they loved you? How did they show their love?” “How were you told about the facts of life?” Hmmmm?

I sincerely believe we all have lives worth writing about. Write yours. Be fearless. Burst forth and shout. Relish those a-ha! moments. Cut loose, dig deep down, and let it bleed all over the page.

pameladesbarres

BY PAMELA DES BARRES

ILLUSTRATED BY BAILIE ROSENLUND

PHOTO: DANIEL VEGA-WARHOLY

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2017 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

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