Writing an Adoption Memoir

Writing an Adoption Memoir

“It is my sincere desire that my own personal story will help those who have not been adopted to understand those of us who are a little better. And it is my sincere desire that adoptees can, perhaps, understand themselves a little better too.”

Julie Wetherby ‘Identity Reclaimed: Echoes of an Adoptee’

Julie holds up the newly published memoir in her hands.

How it all began

Since publishing my memoir at the end of September 2017 a number of adoptees I’ve befriended on social media have told me how much they want to write their own story. I cannot overstate just how immensely powerful it is to do so, although getting started on such a project can seem overwhelming. To tell any story at all requires patience, determination and perseverance, but when it’s your own one, as an adoptee, it’s immense.

As soon as I embarked on the search into my past at sixty years of age I knew I’d tell mine. At first I thought I’d make it into a novel and set out to do so by studying story structure and the creation of character arcs. I was seventy five per cent through when the whole thing ground to a halt. The realisation dawned that I hadn’t found my own voice and wasn’t really telling my story at all but a vague, fictionalised version. So I stopped dead and moved onto a different writing project.

Around that time I read a particularly moving book entitled ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’  by James Bowen. It’s the personal account of a guy sleeping rough on the streets of London, adopted by a ginger cat who saved him. I knew then that the only way to tell my own story was to write a memoir. And so I sat down at my laptop and began to type, chapter after chapter, unable to believe how readily the words flowed from my fingers onto the screen. In a matter of days I’d written twenty chapters, then took a rest and returned to the other writing project. Later I met up with a friend who said she couldn’t wait to read my story and told me to hurry up and finish it.

Returning to it, I reread what I’d written, still unable to believe how I managed what I’d produced so far. Had my study of story structure and novel writing really helped? I wondered. Could I identify specific turning points? As I read through yet again I found that so far I’d managed two out of three major plot points and other strategic places that create a story’s forward momentum. And I’d achieved it without deliberate planning. At some deep down subliminal level I’d somehow absorbed these things, and with this discovery I was able to calculate the percentage point I’d reached and how many chapters were left to write. The amazing thing was the rest of it just slotted into place. Attempting a novel had clearly helped, but I’d learned the hard way.

I believe a knowledge of story structure and other strategies is extremely helpful when writing a memoir and I’m pleased to be able to share what I’ve learned here. Most important of all, I’ve discovered, is to find one’s own individual writing voice. How otherwise can a personal story be told truthfully and effectively?

With these thoughts in mind, I warmly encourage others to have a go. Adoptees need to tell their own stories, each one is unique and important, and a contribution to the world. We are greatly misunderstood, and the time has come to get more of these out there for our own self-healing, as well as to gain greater understanding from others.

” It feels to me in writing such a piece that it is more than even sharing a story, it is like extending a hand to others in an offer of friendship. Even if those people never meet you in person, there is shared experience and a sense of “It’s a journey to go through, but you are not alone. Look at me, I made it. You can too.”
There is huge comfort in that what is going on inside your innermost thoughts is understood in similar ways to others. Like a big sister telling you, “I’ve been there. I know. You’ve got this.”

Anja: Toronto

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