Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D.

by Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., MFT, NAMW President

I’m so pleased to be hosting the Spring 2011 National Association of Memoir Writers Telesummit this week! The topic of Creative Nonfiction, Memoir and Personal Essays engender many questions. One that I frequently hear is “Which genre does my writing fit?”

The answer doesn’t actually matter—though I try to give an intelligent response! The reason the answer doesn’t matter is that the first rule is—if there are rules in fact—write what you want to write. Listen to the creative spirit within and take dictation.

Write the stories what grab you, whether it’s about your great grandmother’s cherry pies, your next door neighbor with the big ears and toothy grin, or the scary guy on the way to school. Sometimes we need to capture the times we’ve witnessed, such as marching against the Viet Nam war or the Civil Rights Movement. What about the first issue of Ms. Magazine or the day JFK died? I would write about the tall white grain elevators that marched across my wheat-driven landscape—they were the tallest thing on the plains for miles. What place has impressed itself on your psyche? There are so many events—men walking on the moon, 9-11—and moments when time seems to stop. What might those be for you?

First, you need to write, to witness, to listen, and be curious about who you are and who others are who have been walking with you on your journey on the planet. People are ask me, “Can I write about my grandmother and how she lived? What is that called anyway—it’s not a memoir.”

Yes, your story about other people can be part of your memoir. In fact, there are many family memoirs—and some of them are written—gasp—from the point of view of another person! Yes, they go into someone else’s head. Rules, rules, rules…the inner English teacher is going crazy over this—“We can only write about what we ourselves know, nothing else. Or else it’s FICTION.” No, perhaps not.

If you follow me here—there are so many rules, and there is so much literature—most of which  doesn’t follow any “rules.” Rules for writing, when they exist, are always changing—what’s okay and accepted in one era is not in another. The work itself is larger than, greater than, and freer than any boundaries that can be put around it. That said, do you need to understand the current conversations about Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, and Personal Essay? Yes.

This kind of back and forth is what we will be doing at our bi-annual Free NAMW Telesummit Friday, April 8, 2011. We’re going to bat around ideas and find out what our experts think about definitions, rules, and more—like the legal ramifications of writing the “truth,” and what publishers have to say about these genres. There are even more questions:

  • If you compress time or change names, is that fiction?
  • If you create composite characters, is that fiction?
  • Can you describe a town exactly like it was, and write about the people in it without changing names—will I be sued?
  • If I’m writing the truth and it’s about something bad or illegal, do I have to worry about anyone suing me? After all, this is MY story.

What kinds of questions do you have about these topics? Be sure to write them down and sign up for our Free telesummit this week! We are going to have a great time. If you sign up, you’ll receive a valuable resource afterward: the audios of all the calls will be downloadable after the event, so you can put them in your iPod and listen later. If you are on the call, you get to talk to our experts in person!

I look forward to my conversation with Bob Pimm first in the morning—he’s a literary attorney who will talk about the legal aspects of personal writing. He can’t give legal advice to you personally on the call, but he will address the legal issues that apply to memoir writers such as libel, privacy laws, and defamation of character, among others.

Sue William Silverman is author of two amazing memoirs, and her latest book on writing truth and memoir is Fearless Confessions—a book I read frequently for inspiration. Sue is going to talk about the very personal side of writing—confessions, truth, and how help your story reveal more than you thought you knew about yourself.

Brooke Warner, a writing coach and editor at Seal Press, understands the world of Creative Nonfiction in the publishing world. I know many people have questions about these different genres and how they are received by publishers.

Kathleen Adams has been teaching the power of writing personal stories through journaling for three decades. She’ll talk to us about time-tested methods of finding yourself and healing through your writing.

Sheila Bender is a teacher, coach and workshop leader and the author of several books, including a memoir. Sheila will be speaking with us about the personal essay, what it is or isn’t, and how it might be different or similar to Creative Nonfiction and memoir. Writing personal essays has long been a way for people to investigate deep layers of truth.

This is going to be a day full of learning, lively interaction, and a chance to connect with memoir writers and experts from around the world. Please join us for a wonderful Telesummit. See you all there!

–Linda Joy

Writing Prompts

  1. “I never wanted…”
  2. “I always wanted…”
  3. “If only…”
  4. “I’d always hoped…”
  5. “ I said I’d never ___________ but I did.” Fill in the blank.