Memoir Writing: Making it Personal

What is creative memoir?

My definition is that memoir is the written record of important events in one’s life, along with the wisdom and learning gleaned from that period of time. A writer’s intended readers can vary: a personal record for the author’s eyes only; a legacy for family members; publishing for a wider audience.

The memoir-writing process is one of looking back, making meaning, and sharing wisdom. Very often the inspiration to write memoir comes from a significant life-changing event (or events), and is not constrained by age. I’ve spoken with individuals in their twenties who are writing memoir. This type of writing involves looking within, and speaking from the “I”, which can be a rather scary prospect for anyone wanting to begin. There is a certain vulnerability involved in sharing personal experience, so finding the right places to open up and get support can be important to carry on in the writing journey.

Bonnie found what she needed when she reached out to me to be her one-on-one writing mentor. She had decided to submit a chapter for a book entitled, When Women Talk: Empowering Each Other One Story at a Time. Once Bonnie made her commitment, she had many mixed emotions. At one point in December 2016 she emailed me. “I’m feeling overwhelmed by self-doubt about what I am going to say. Do I have anything worthwhile to share? Will anyone listen? I don’t really want to revisit these painful memories.” These are the types of questions anyone considering writing memoir might ask.

Bonnie had a great deal of experience writing in her professional role. However, she had not done much personal writing intended for a public audience. What she was wanted to share was personal wisdom gained from a challenging experience. This type of writing takes a certain willingness to be vulnerable, the courage to revisit a difficult time, and to stand strong in the knowing that her wisdom will serve others who are in a similar situation.

I have much to share about the inner and outer process of writing, having publishing my creative memoir exploring difficult childhood experiences and mining them for the gold hidden within. Through the writing programs I’ve been part of, I’ve learned and embodied a powerful manuscript review process that allows me to listen for what’s strong in a piece of writing. I also listen deeply for what’s not being said, and places where the writing could be opened up even more. There’s a time and a place for different types of feedback.

At the beginning of Bonnie’s writing process, I focused on letting her know what was strong in her writing. I highlighted words and phrases that were particularly evocative. I treated her words as fiction by consistently referring to “the narrator of this piece”, even though I knew Bonnie was drawing on her own – difficult to share – experience. Having her words treated this way allowed Bonnie to step back and take them in, hearing the beauty and power in a new way. I also shared some of my experience with writing about traumatic experiences, reminding Bonnie to consider who she was writing for and why she was choosing to share this transformative time in her life. After our session, Bonnie disclosed that she trusted me with her words, and therefore was able to trust herself.

After implementing her revisions, Bonnie sent her first draft to the anthology book coach for some feedback. The anthology coach’s response? “Excellent writing, excellent storytelling, excellent eliciting emotion and excellent lessons at the end.”

If you have a powerful story you’ve been longing to tell, and haven’t known where to turn or how to get started, I’d love to have a free one-hour conversation with you. I offer memoir-writing classes, as well as one-on-one coaching. Feel free to go to my website at www.mariemaccagno.com/contact and choose a time for us to talk and determine your next best steps.

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