We all have a book inside of us—a narrative about who we are and where we fit into the world. For those of us who wish to put our stories into words for touching and inspiring others, writing a memoir can be a tool for transformation.
“..ordinariness, when imbued with mindfulness, is greatness at ease with itself…” ~Lorraine Ash, Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life (2014)
Sometimes our narratives or the perception of them are shaken by life experiences and we are forced to reframe how we view ourself and our place in the world.
That’s why it’s difficult to know our stories until we’ve lived our lives more fully. There are always exceptions, but how many of us have stories like Malala Yousafzai (the Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban for wanting an education)?
Let’s start by defining what a memoir is and what it is not.
A memoir is a portion of one’s life told as a story with focus on a specific theme—a “slice of life.”
It’s not an chronological overview of an entire life. That’s an autobiography.
Why write a memoir?
Speaking for myself, the decision to write my memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, was a personal one requiring self-exploration and honesty about my own personal narrative.
Some people think they want to write a memoir, but once they begin uncovering their truths they decide it would be easier/safer/better to write their story as fiction.
That’s fine. There’s plenty of room for good stories, both fiction and non-fiction.
Then, some people, like me, decide:
- my life stories matter
- my story not only deserves to be told, it begs to be told, and
- I’m the only one who can tell it.
Deciding to write my memoir was something I felt in my bones. Again, it was a very personal decision.
Solitary. Painful. Awkward. Exhilarating. Fulfilling. Frustrating. Sweaty. Mind-boggling. Life affirming. Scary. Empowering. Healing. Transformational…
How is memoir a tool for transformation?
Writers have an unwritten contract with potential readers to give voice to their own life experiences in a way that will engage, entertain, inspire, educate and help readers connect with their own life experiences…
Here are my life lessons learned through my life experiences. Come along with me and I’ll show you how I survived and grew. Maybe you can, too.
Sharing stories through memoir can lead to connections. Although writing is a solitary activity, we can touch so many others through our stories. If a reader can see their story through your story, their eyes can be opened to a new experience.
The question I asked myself: Can I strike a universal theme in my own unique way?
When a memoirist transports the reader into a story through a plot, dialogue, sensory details, character development and scenes, then reflects on the meaning of the events, the reader can be a part of the story.
I once had agent say to me: “Fascinating story. It will be in the telling that will matter.”
How writing my memoir was transformational for me:
I lived with shame and guilt for the twenty-five years I spent getting into and out of two emotionally abusive marriages. The question often asked of me during that time was:
How does a young woman from a stable, loving Catholic family make so many wise decisions about her nursing career but so many poor choices about love that she ends up fleeing with her two children in broad daylight from her second husband for fear of physical abuse?
In order to answer that question that nagged me for years, I had to face painful realizations about my past regrets, missteps, and foolhardy choices. Through the process of writing, I found forgiveness, not only for the people in my life whom I felt had hurt me but also for myself.
Writing my memoir has helped me to heal. I found my truths and stood firmly in them. The process has helped me to transform my personal narrative, the story I tell myself about myself.
My hope is that by sharing my story in an engaging way, my reader and I will become connected.
Memoir writing has a transformational potential when the reader sees his/her own story reflected in the experience of others.
Both the writer and the reader are changed.
How can you experience the transformational power of memoir writing? Where do you to start?
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Memoir writing is not for sissies.” It’s true. Memoir writing is hard work and requires every ounce of discipline, courage, and persistence you can muster.
If you decide you have a story to tell and it will be in memoir form, here’s my best advice:
- Study the art and craft of memoir writing. Find a mentor. Join a critique group. Journal. Take deep breaths, exercise, Cry. Laugh. Reach out. Pray/meditate.
- Identify and connect with your purpose for telling your story. Then write your heart out—on a schedule that works for you.
- Use memoir as a tool to transform yourself and your readers.
- Above all, believe deep in your core that you have a story to tell and you are the only one who can tell it.