Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Memoir: Personal Truths In Story

Linda Joy Myers, president and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers will teach a memoir workshop through the Women's Writing Circle on Saturday, October 19 in Exton, Pennsylvania. 
 
This all-day dynamic writing workshop - Writing a Memoir: Love, Truth and Craft - brings inspiration, learning and a supportive group of writers together during the height of autumn here in the heart of the beautiful and historic Brandywine Valley.
 
I asked Linda Joy to write her thoughts about our workshop and what inspired her own memoir journey.  Please welcome Linda Joy to the Circle. 
 
In my work with memoirists over the years, I’ve noticed many are writing from love—exploring treasured memories, putting people in the story who’ve meant a lot to the writer, and examining moments of meaning that capture the significant themes of their lives. This “love” is not just romantic love—though it might be. 
 
It can mean a feeling of gratitude, blessings, or appreciation; it might mean some kind of transformation from holding grudges to finding forgiveness; discovering ways to feel compassion for someone who once was misunderstood. It can mean finding compassion and forgiveness for ourselves, and the follies that we have undergone in our journey through life. "Love” can be a feeling of becoming larger than the moment-by-moment struggles of life . . . to a larger overview, a new perspective.


 
Writing a memoir is about finding a way to present our personal truths in story form - we must wrestle these truths. We  know that in real life, things are not black and white. It’s the shades of gray that make us struggle with our story, that make us question the lens of vision and memory that we present in our memoir. It's painfully clear that people see things differently—in a family, in society.
 
We gaze upon the same scene through different eyes, and that is our truth. The struggle some memoirists have is to give themselves permission to have their own truths, despite what others say. But we also need to be open to learning new aspects to the views we’ve always believed. Doing research and interviewing others can offer new ways of seeing that can enhance our memoir.
 

And then there’s “craft.”  I see it like the container, the boat or “craft” that guides us down the river of our memories. When in this craft, we have a structure, focus, and direction which keeps us afloat. It helps us take the flotsam and jetsam of our memories and dreams, floaty things at best, and create something substantial from them.
 
We create story out of memories, but in doing so, we also create something new, something that has never existed before. In bringing down our memories into the “real” world of story through creating a structure and using the agreed upon “rules” of grammar and story telling, we transform memory into something real, something that others can enter into with us.
 
We are no longer alone in our reflections. In learning how to shape our personal experiences so others can join us there, we are engaged with the rest of the human race in empathy, compassion, and understanding of the human condition. We share with others as they share with us, and all of us are blessed and renewed in this process.
 
Writing my memoir Don’t Call Me Mother—A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness was a lesson in finding my way to let go of the past, layer after layer. The title of the first edition of my memoir was “Breaking the Chain of Mother-Daughter Abandonment” because my focus as I wrote the book—living it as I wrote it—was that I didn’t want to repeat the pattern of  mothers abandoning their daughters.
 
As I shared the first edition with people, I realized that my book was really about finding my way to forgiveness, and breaking another pattern: mothers and daughters holding grudges ‘til death.
 
Even at the beginning of writing my memoir, which I couldn’t conceive of as a book for several years—I was writing vignettes.  Yet I knew I wanted to capture the people in my life who’d made a difference, those who had seen me or saved me, so others could know them too. I felt that many of the chapters were love letters to my great-grandmother, my cello teacher, and others who had offered me love as I grew up in an environment of strife and absence.  It was even in the end, a love letter to my mother.
 
 
I struggled too with what truths to tell, and in how much detail to share them. Painful stories are problematic, as most writers want to protect the reader from pain, but pain is part of the human condition, and through our writing, we can be a witness to others about that pain. In sharing our tough truths as well as our happy ones, we hold hands with others as part of the universal human story.
 
Writing a long work is like any lengthy project—it takes longer than you planned, and you do a lot of learning along the way. A long project is unpredictable, and you need to be ready for the long haul of not only discovering your story, lifting it up from within you to the light of day, you have to learn how to write well, and write the kind of story that’s interesting to other people. You discover right away that a story is not a journal entry, and you have to learn many skills: how to write a scene, how to structure your book  . . . how to leave the reader satisfied.
 
Learning the craft of writing is like learning to play piano—there are many keys and songs those keys can play. You choose the ones that are harmonious to the songs you’re writing, the tale you’re telling.
 
Linda Joy Myers is president and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, and the author of four books: Don't Call Me Mother—A Daughter's Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness; The Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story, and a workbook The Journey of Memoir: The Three Stages of Memoir Writing.  Linda has three children, several cats, a rose garden and is the grandmother of three. She enjoys friends, family, and traveling. She has finished her novel Secret Music about the Kindertransport and the power of music.  She lives in San Francisco. To find out more about her monthly newsletter, and memoir coaching services, please visit Linda’s website: www.memoriesandmemoirs.com
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