Memories and Memoirs Newsletter | March 2010
Light, Daffodils, and Tomatoes
by Linda Joy Myers
The morning light splashes on the yellow daffodils, creating sun spots in the yard, a happy, nodding and smiling garden that responds to the warmth of the ever increasing sun. We all feel this in March—our energy lifts and we eagerly look forward to more light.
Writers, and all creative people create patterns of light with their work, searching with light into dark corners to bring more warmth, healing and peace to the soul. It’s a challenge to memoir writers to sit down with pen or computer and search for what to write. Sometimes our writing surprises us. We begin writing about a birthday party, and suddenly a dark memory shows up—unbidden and unwelcome—but we soldier on, only to find it happening again. But then a kernel of gold shows up under the dirt, and we find a new insight, a new way to look at life. That is the magic of writing!
It’s important to keep your eye on the light while you do some of the digging that the story leads you to. Remember, Dr. Pennebaker says, “Story is a way of knowledge.”
Capture your turning points—positive moments that changed your life using smells, sounds, and visual details that bring this scene to life for you—you can relive these lovely moments again through memoir writing.
For me, one of these is digging in the garden with my great-grandmother at the age of was eight—the earthy loam, the bugs flying in my eyes, the smell of her sweat, the way her skirt lifts up showing the backs of her knees, how she stoops and groans, her breath coming out in little puffs. Then, she holds the ripe tomato in front of my face and tells me to eat it. It’s shiny red, with a ladybug crawling across. It is dirty and smells tart and too strongly of dirt, but when I bite down, my head explodes into tastes and sensations I’ve never known before, and the world is clear and pure. The sky lifts above me, the trees are brushed with wind, and I can smell the moisture of the Mississippi River nearby.
This moment rested against the absence of my mother and father, a year with foster parents, and the ache in my heart. Blanche, that moment in the Iowa garden, and my ability to take myself back there through words have helped with the darkness throughout my life as well as writing my memoir.
We need scenes and moments that hold us, contain us within the blessings of our lives. All of us have pain, and all of us need to find ways to cope with it. Writing the light, writing those special moments of love, connection, and transcendence is one way to make life brighter.
Happy Spring, and plant some tomatoes!
Young Writers Write!
It’s a busy month, with the Women on Writing (WOW) blog tour, events, the upcoming class through Kay Adams’ Therapeutic Writing Institute, and my presentation at The National Association of Poetry Therapy in Washington DC April 8-11! I’m excited about all the creativity and connections with other writers.
And last weekend, I really got a shot in the arm by spending time with a great nonprofit started by Verna Dreisbach—the Capitol City Young Writers. Verna brings together young writers every few weeks to help them develop their writing skills and their talents for poetry, fiction, memoir, and all the professional knowledge they need to become writers.
These young people, most of whom have challenging personal lives stayed for over three hours to listen to me speak about my books and my early life—when my adolescence was full of loss and the suicide of a close friend of mine, and to the story of how I became a writer—which included many years of not writing but wanting to. Then Patricia Volonakis Davis gave a writing workshop where they shared their work, and at the end, they all lined up enthusiastically for a book signing and giveaway. Seeing them reminded me of the days when I dreamed of being a writer at the age of 15, but didn’t feel that it was possible, when my inner critic ran the show. And in those days, of course girls did not “Become a Writer.” That was for men.
Things have changed. Most of the young writers last weekend were girls, with a few very passionate young men attending as well. I was inspired by the freshness of their writing and the fact that young people really do have a voice and a story. Over the next year, I hope to help them develop their voices and feel full permission to tell their stories.
Plot in Memoir Writing
When I teach memoir writers, I integrate several things—to honor the stories, which are often very emotional and raw, that they want to tell. In a group setting, we strive to respectfully witness each person’s story and to support their emotions as they arise in the group. We also struggle with the form of a “true” story. My job is to help translate “what really happened” into a story that works.
Sometimes memoir writers’ eyes begin to glaze over when I start talking about story structure and the narrative arc. ‘‘What do you mean by narrative arc? I want to use my diary and journals for my memoir. Do I have to learn all this technical stuff?’’
The answer is yes! Developing the craft of writing a story and learning about classical narrative forms, presents more choices to create the best memoir you can write, one that invites your reader into your story world, and keeps them there. It’s also true that when you use dramatic form, you see yourself differently in your story. You can be changed by delving deep into the person you once were through experiencing those moments in scene, inhabiting the body of the person you once were.
Because we live and experience life chronologically, through moments that don’t appear to have a clear meaning, memoirists tend to write in an episodic way—”this happened, then that happened, and after that…” When we are deluged by details and feelings, it’s difficult to sort out how much to include, and how to see friends and family as “characters.”
But the transition from “all these things happened to me” to choosing and shaping your narrative using the tools of fiction must take place in order to transition from episodic ramblings into a story with a clear narrative arc.
Unlike journaling, a story has a form—a beginning, middle, and an end. Another way to think about this is that your story, your book, needs to have a dramatic structure: Act One, Act Two, and Act Three.
- Something significant happens in each scene of the story—this is the point of the scene.
- A story has a reason for being told—this is your theme.
- The main character, the protagonist—in a memoir it’s you!—is changed significantly by events, actions, decisions, and epiphanies. The growth and change of the main character is imperative in any story, and is the primary reason a memoir is written—to show the arc of character change from beginning to end.
- All stories have conflict, rising action, a crisis, a climax, and a resolution. In a memoir, begin with a situation, a problem, something that is off kilter in your world. For instance, if your memoir is about abuse, begin with a scene showing the abuse.
- By the end, the story world, the world where the protagonist began, is transformed and the main character—you—has undergone profound change. If there was abuse in your life, or a serious illness, by the end, you have changed your life, confronted the fears that you had, and come to a new place with the problem that you were struggling with at the beginning of the book.
The Narrative Arc and Turning Points
To clarify your choice of theme for your narrative arc, ask the following questions:
- What is the main, dominant meaning of my story?
- What is my book about? (One sentence.)
- How does my book end? What do I want the reader to understand and learn?
To locate the answers to these questions, it helps to find the important emotional turning points in your life and plot them along a timeline. As you discover the 10 to 20 significant moments of change, you will begin to see themes emerge. First make a list of these turning points, keeping in mind that they need to be “big moments” when something significant changed for you.
Then plot them on a timeline. Though your memoir will most likely focus on only part of your life and the significant theme that emerges through this process, it’s a good idea to get an overview, as most people start a memoir thinking they will write about their whole life. At first, you need to get clear about the significant moments of change, and how you ended up different afterwards, because some or even one of these moments may become the focus of your memoir. A memoir is most often a slice of life that focuses on a theme.
For instance, in my memoir, Don’t Call Me Mother, I wrote many stories that I didn’t include because I needed to get them out of my head and onto the page. As I learned about the importance of theme, and learned even more about plot from Martha Alderson, I was able to pare down and cut 56,000 words from the memoir. I knew that I had to focus primarily on my quest to have my mother accept me, to get her to love me after all, after leaving me when I was four years old. Later, she denied to her friends in Chicago that she even had a daughter. The book begins with her leaving me behind, followed by scenes about my longing for her, and waiting breathlessly for her visits; or later traveling to visit her, to get her to finally love me. My own experience with motherhood is included briefly, as I learn what being a mother entails, and find out how to love and attend to my own children. At the end of my mother’s life, I realize that she can’t love me, that she was incapable of being different, and I come to terms with my useless quest. I was changed by the end, able to feel love for her as she was dying, because I’d let go of my quest, and saw simply a dying woman in pain who’d done the best she could. Thus, you can see the arc: from a painful, unfulfilled need to finally accepting my mother and seeing our lives through new eyes.
Scenes are like pearls on the necklace of the narrative arc, placing your reader, and yourself into significant moments. To complete your memoir, write it scene by scene, pearl by pearl, and soon you will have a necklace that contains the essence of your life. You will have a story that breathes and lives on the page.
Be brave—write your story. Write it scene by scene, and discover your own transformation as a result.
Blog Tour for Power of Memoir—on-going, now through the first week in April. You may be wondering, what is a blog tour? A blog tour is a virtual book tour. Instead of going to your local library or bookstore to see an author speak, you go to a website before an assigned date to post questions OR after an assigned date to read an author’s interview in the comfort of your own home. Stop by, post a questions or chat with me without even leaving your chair! You can see all of my blog tour stops by clicking here.
My Upcoming Workshops
Saturdays at Berkeley: Healing Memoir and Spiritual Autobiography Workshops
6 Week Workshop, beginning March 27th through June 5th. Class meets March 27th, April 17th, April 24th, May 8th, May 22nd and June 5th. Cost is $390 for NAMW members (click here to become a member of NAMW to receive this NAMW Member-only pricing), $525 for non-members.
Do you live in Marin, the East Bay or San Francisco? Take advantage of this unique opportunity to work in person with me within a course structure that is highly customizable based on your writing needs. This course has been at capacity for over 2 years, but due to relocation of two participants, there are currently openings! Pricing for this workshop is at a fraction of the cost of my private coaching sessions and will provide you with the opportunity to receive safe and confidential feedback from a small group of writers. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in learning more. Only two spaces remain!
Center for Journal Therapy: Online Course with Linda Joy Myers!
Course Number TW523.1 conducted online in an asynchronous (24/7) learning platform. Class begins on April 5, 2010, and run for 8 weeks through May 28. Visit the M&M Site to learn more!
New TUESDAY Spiritual Autobiography and Healing Memoir Writing TeleWorkshop with Linda Joy!
Free Your Voice, Write Your Story | May 1-2, 2010 in Sequim, Washington. Workshop Facilitators: Linda Joy Myers, MFT, Ph.D. and Dawn Novotny LCSW, MTS, CP
Join us for a writing workshop weekend to help you free your voice and deepen your story telling skills. Participants will explore personal stories and memories through memoir writing and psychodrama. Bypass your pesky inner critic, and invite your stories to emerge from your heart.
Schedule: 6-9 PM Friday evening
9:00 AM-noon Saturday (Lunch on your own)
1:30-5 PM Saturday
WHAT TO BRING:
Writing tablet, pen/pencil, lap pillow to help balance writing material on your lap, bottled water, stories, and an eagerness to write, reflect, and learn.
To sign up or for further information contact Dawn Novotny at 360- 683-7624 or via email to email@example.com. Space is limited, so please act now!
Linda Joy Myers, MFT, Ph. D., is the president and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers. Her new book The Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story is published by Jossey Bass of San Francisco. Don’t Call Me Mother, her memoir about three generations of abandoned daughters, won the BAIPA Gold Medal award. A therapist for 30 years, Dr. Myers combines her background in art, clinical work, and writing (she received her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College) to offer unique memoir-as-healing workshops and trainings in the SF Bay Area and nationally.
Dawn Novotny, LCSW, MTS, CDP, CP, is a clinician, teacher, author, and workshop leader. In private practice in Sequim, WA. since 1987, she has specialized in systems theory focusing both on the “external” (family, cultural, roles) as well as the “internal” family system (internalized roles, parts, archetypes, ego states, conflicts.) Dawn is a nationally certified psych-dramatist and conducts workshops in California and Washington. She holds advanced degrees in Clinical Social work and Theology, and served as an adjunct professor at Seattle University.
FRIDAY Spiritual Autobiography and Healing Memoir Writing TeleWorkshop with Linda Joy!
Upcoming Events at NAMW
I am still very busy at NAMW, especially with planning our next telesummit and Member-only Teleseminars for the month of June and beyond. We have several events and new workshops that are being planned for the coming months that will help with the development of your skills as writers, memoirists, or personal historians. And following the telesummit, on Friday April 23rd at our Member-only Teleseminar for April, we’re announcing some new and exciting Member-only benefits based on the feedback we have received from NAMW members! You can find all the finalized events outlined below, but please be sure to check out the NAMW website for up to the minute additions including the new membership benefits NAMW members will receive. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org for further details!
|[NAMW Telesummit April 16, 2010] Memoir Writing–From Transformation to Publication
Participate LIVE! for free or receive an Audio Download of Every Session Just for Signing up at the NAMW website. Click Here to Sign up NOW!
Session 1: Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., NAMW Founder & President, Interviewed by Kay Adams, Director of Center for Journal Therapy
Topic: The Power of Memoir to Heal and Transform: An Interview with the Author…read moreSession 2: Denis LeDoux, MA, Founder The Soleil Lifestory Network
Topic: Transforming a Journal Into Memoir…read moreSession 3: Kay Adams, LPC, Director of Center for Journal Therapy
Topic: Manifesting Your Memoir…read more
Session 4: Sheila Bender, MA, renowned poet, essayist, and workshop leader
Topic: Making a Memoir Compelling…read more
Session 5: Alan Rinzler, Executive Editor at Jossey Bass publishers and Verna Dreisbach, Literary Agent
Topic: Write Important Books–Attract an Agent and Publisher…read more
|April Member-only Teleseminar: April 23, 2010: The Power of Platform: Tools, Tips and Techniques for Authors Based on Real-life Experience with Linda Joy Myers, watch the NAMW website for full details, coming soon!
Cost: FREE FOR NAMW MEMBERS | Become a member
|May Member-only Telesminar: May 14, 2010: Journaling Tools for Your Memoir Writing Toolkit with Ruth Folit, Founder and President IAJW —watch the NAMW website for full details, coming soon!
Cost: FREE FOR NAMW MEMBERS | Become a member
|Featured NAMW Workshop: Playing Your Part on the World Stage II with Kim Pearson May 13-July 5—details coming soon to the NAMW website
Other Noteworthy Events:
National Association of Poetry Therapy Conference
Washington D.C. April 7-11
Featured Breakout Session with Linda Joy Myers: Moments of Being: Writing Your Spiritual Memoir
Writing about spiritual experiences is an important healing process, asking the writer to navigate dark nights of the soul and explore moments of transformation. Virginia Woolf’s luminous text will inspire us to reflect on our Moments of Being, and examine the structure and process of writing a spiritual memoir.
Join Linda Joy as she helps participants in this conference, find their voice and write their powerful memoirs. Her new book The Power of Memoir – How to Write Your Healing Story presents an 8 Step arc of healing and the important research about writing as a healing process.
WriterAdvice seeks flash fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction that mesmerizes the reader in 750 words or less. DEADLINE: April 15, 2010. Entry fee: $10 per submission. First prize: $150. Former prizewinners are the judges. Complete guidelines, mailing address, and prize details can be found at www.writeradvice.com.
Rabindranath Tagore: Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.