Monday, February 16, 2015

Finding Hope and Love in Memoir

In a workshop on Valentine’s Day writers came with hopes that they might begin to write their stories.

They shared their dreams and desires that they and those they loved won’t be forgotten.

What is my story about, they asked? Should I write a legacy just for family? Should I consider publishing my story for a larger audience?

Sometimes the journey of self-discovery and establishing meaningful connections suffices.

As one participant said, “I came today sharing what I wrote from my heart. I’m taking away inspiration. Hearing the words and love from others’ stories opens my heart even more to reach deeper within.”

It’s a tribute to the women who attended "Writing From the Heart" in downtown Tucson that they generously shared childhood memories . . . the mother-daughter relationship; the moment a loved one had cancer; the fear of poorly cutting out our first dress pattern  . . . of not sewing a straight seam in home economics class.

The format – a version of the Women’s Writing Circle read arounds where we light the candle, a symbol of the light and empowerment of sharing voice and vision in the safety and support of the “container,” which is the writing circle. 

Writing prompts assist us.

Our prompts drew from Emily Dickinson quotes on life’s fleeting nature  . . . the timelessness of love that even death cannot destroy.

We offered multicultural prompts - finding within our differences – whether ethnic or cultural - a common journey . . . an ‘aha’ moment of recognition.

As I’ve written before on this blog, the main stumbling block with writing memoirs is fear – fear that others might be angry, insulted, demand retractions of “our truth” because it is not “their truth.”

As author Patricia Preciado Martin pointed out when this topic arose, sometimes the best “route” in overcoming fear is exploring fiction. Fiction offers a creative avenue to journey into the past.

If you chose memoir, I emphasized – “If they don’t like your story, let them write their own.” 

That’s not to say memoir is a page dump, a place to vent . . . get that out of the way before you start. That’s why they invented journals.

Memoir has gained momentum as a literary genre all its own - a movement largely powered by women. 

"I'm taking away today a feast of women's greatness  . . . rich, savory contributions from a wide range of palates."

“I came with a hope I might be able to move forward in writing.  I am taking away more hope that now I can - and will - move forward."

How to get started writing your life story?

We provided information on the narrative arc –  there is a beginning, a middle, and an end to your story. Good memoir reads like a page-turning novel. 

A memoir imparts some universal truths to the reader, who, by the time they close the book, takes away lessons.


Only you know when or if you want to share your story.

"I brought a little bit of me and shared, something I had not been able to do,” one woman said. “I’m taking with me something I wrote, even if it is just for me. I can always share later.”

Set aside time for you. Writing is a craft and it must be practiced daily.

“I brought my enthusiasm, my listening ear, my presence and my creativity,” another woman said. “I am taking with me energy, knowledge and the wisdom of many wonderful women. I am also excited to have learned techniques to develop my work.”

For me, personally, I came with what I hoped was a  helpful “toolbox” I have developed over the last five years as a teacher and writer of memoir.

I took away with me – as I always do – amazement that no matter where I travel, the desire and longing to tell our stories is a universal thread.
Together, we are united in hope that the written word matters  – “I was here. My life counted for something.”


A special shout-out goes to Denise Morse. She provided an elegant array of gluten and wheat-free delicacies artfully arranged on tables decorated with our Valentine's Day theme of writing from the heart, as well strawberry plants she donated and awarded in gift drawings.

To my lovely co-facilitators Patricia Preciado Martin and Melanie Mizell ... you know that without your help I never could have offered this workshop.

And, finally, to the Pima County and Tucson Women's Commission, my heartfelt gratitude for providing the most excellent venue  . . . your historic building dedicated to women in the heart of the Old Pueblo.

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