Intern Pernell's top ten lessons from a year of memoir practice
I’ve been microdosing empathy every Wednesday for over a year thanks to a memoir writing group that I joined last April. The original class was only three weeks, but since we were still stuck at home at the end of it, we decided to keep our group going until “the pandemic ended”. Lol.
We are still meeting to this day.
Here are the top 10 lessons I have learned so far from writing my own memoir alongside the same six women for the past year:
Writing about myself is as painful as it is cathartic.
When you can write about yourself without judgement, that’s when the fun begins.
I can’t re-write my past, but I can edit the way I look at it.
The story I was telling myself about my own own life was just one perspective and it was an outdated one. Returning to my past selves through writing continues to be a chance to look back at my “mistakes” with a compassion and understanding that only time and space can give. Growing up is pretty lit.
Memoirs are gateway drugs to worlds I never knew I’d go to.
Through the stories in our group, I’ve experienced the underground poker scene of Fort Wayne, Indiana, a day in the life of a former assistant to P. Diddy, and the tiresome process of finding a babysitter you can trust to take care of your kids.
Empathy for others is great practice for granting empathy to ourselves.
Writers are self-loathing, even when they’re extremely talented. Gifting each other feedback each week has helped me to find what I love in others’ pieces and notice and love those same things in my own writing.
Don’t underestimate the social impact of your own story.
Santina, one of the writers in our group, has been in a wheelchair since she was five years old after a car accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. Her perspective is that being in a wheelchair is a lot like being a celebrity; people don’t know how to act around you sometimes! Her stories have made me hyper-aware of how much of my own life is not accessible to everyone. My next apartment will be on the first floor. And if it isn’t, there has to be an elevator in the building because I want her to come over. Also, I will never use a handicapped bathroom stall if there are others open. I just can’t.
Show, don’t tell.
If you can describe a scene so a reader feels like they’re in it, they can make their own judgements. That’s always more powerful than telling them how to feel. I’m pretty sure that’s why I enjoy this newsletter so much. Clicking a link is like unwrapping a piece of candy. I don’t know if I’ll like it, but I’m able to make that decision on my own.
A shortcut to improving your writing is to read more writing.
It’s never too late to start a new career path.
Having a support group goes a long way.
The accountability of a group of encouraging writers who are going through the same process can make the difference between forever saying, “I’m going to write a book” and “I wrote a book.”
Writing a book is hard for everyone.
Unless you’re Elmo, apparently. The process of writing continues to be hard, but all of us now have complete book proposals. Suck on that, Elmo.
If you’d like to macro-dose on empathy, carve out some time to watch Paddington 2, the new all-time top rated film on Rotten Tomatoes, or visit this U.K. art exhibit featuring photos by the unhoused of London’s empty lockdown streets. If empathy makes your tummy hurt, check out Rachel Hollis’s free Masterclass on how bragging about being unrelatable is the best way to be extremely unrelatable. At the other end of the relatability spectrum is T-Pain, who is not a ghost but just bad at Instagram. Also, it never hurts to double check who you’re sending that email to, and never refer to people as “diversity”. Then you have nothing to worry about!
Before I sign off forever [definitely not forever! —ed], thank you to Rusty for being a very patient editor and for welcoming me to the team for this month. I’ve learned a lot about keeping my writing tight. This has been an incredible introduction to the world of subscription newsletters and subscription coffee (special thanks to my sponsor Yes Plz Coffee for being the good Bean Dad).
Now here’s the last Yahoo! ever:
Today’s Song: It’s gotta be:
Intern Pernell was sponsored by an anonymous patron who knows they did a good thing in the world, and by Yes Plz Coffee, absolutely the only subscription coffee you should even be considering. This is your last chance to take $5 off with promo code TABSPLZ! Don’t let it slip through your groggy, under-caffeinated fingers.
I couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator or first Season 4 Intern than Pernell, and I’m going to seriously miss the doodles. I expect we might see them again once in a while. If you’re an editor, get in his DMs for pitches, if you make TV, even better. Thank you Pernell! Although you will be known as Intern Pernell for the rest of your life, you have now graduated and belong to the most exclusive club in media.
And this is an Open Thread. Hit the 💬 and tell Pernell how great he is, or tell us what you’re doing this weekend. If you just subscribed in the last day or so, say hello! A lot of folks took me up on the 50% off coupon, which expires in just a few more hours. If you didn’t subscribe yet do it now, we have fun subscriber stuff coming in May.