The Story You Lived: Writing an Honest Memoir - Guest Post by Debut Author Rich Hebron
Writing a memoir involves a great deal of reflection, emotion, and honesty—a process that spooks even seasoned authors. To speak on the topic, I welcome Rich Hebron, author of Homeless but Human—a gripping memoir that released earlier this week. I met Rich via Instagram and read an ARC of his book, which caught me by surprise.
Homeless but Human dazzles with honest grit and shares poignant insight into homelessness from the perspective of someone who chose curiosity over comfort. I consider Hebron’s memoir a new favorite and compare its fearlessness with nonfiction book Into the Wild.
In this guest post, Rich talks about using the written word to share his personal experiences and the vulnerability needed to put pen to paper.
When I graduated college in 2011, I lived on the streets of Chicago to better understand how it felt living homeless. Immersing myself within the community provided the truest insight rather than relying on redundant stereotypes. Homeless but Human is about my friends and our experiences battling the psychological burden of living homeless.
I never intended to write a book. I never considered myself a writer or someone passionate about literature. While living homeless, I visited the library and journaled in a Google doc, thinking it’d probably be a good idea to have something to reflect on in the future.
I lived with my family afterward. It was awkward. No one talked about the fact that I just spent four months living homeless in Chicago. Living homeless can mess with your head—even if you did it voluntarily. I now had dark thoughts and emotions that I never believed were possible. As an American guy, I’d been conditioned my whole life to express myself physically, not emotionally. We don’t talk about our emotions or vulnerabilities. All the images we see in films, politics, and history books favor those who demonstrate traditional masculine qualities. Until this point of my life, I never needed to ask anyone for help.
But now that I needed it, I didn’t know how to ask for it.
I felt lonely. Like no one understood. I dove back into my journal and committed to sharing my friends’ stories, our time together, and how it affected us—only then did I think I wouldn’t be so lonely. It took years of reflection and revision to get it right. The intention wasn’t to solve homelessness—it was to show the reality of it. I wanted the book to be honest.
The thing about writing an honest book is that you must be honest with yourself first. You don’t try to be someone you’re not. You don’t try to be your favorite writer. You don’t try to use words you don’t use. You don’t try to make yourself seem smarter than you are.
The writing process can be an isolating experience. It’s just you and a computer. (Only recently did I discover a supportive writing community online.) You spend all this time and energy in a Word document that may never see the light of day. No one may read it. (It’s crushing when you actually think about it.) In addition, there’s a condescending voice in the back of your head criticizing every word and sentence you write.
But even though writing can be isolating, I learned I wasn’t alone. I didn’t write for anyone but myself and my characters who happened to be my friends. The isolation allowed me to explore my emotions honestly and fearlessly.
Writing is liberation. It allows me to discover my truest self and find my purpose.
When you finally finish your book, the reward is incredible. You traveled through an inner journey that came full-circle. No one can ever take feeling away from you. That’s what life is about—moments like that.
I’ll never forget opening the proof copy of my book. After years of staring at a screen, it rested in my hands. I’ll never forget dancing in front of my mirror and reading aloud for five straight hours.
If you stick to writing and keep pushing yourself, you’ll never forget how you celebrated either.
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