Another Must-Have Memoir Writing Aid

It’s true that my own essay, “No More Secrets and Silence,” appears in the recently released The Magic of Memoir: Inspiration for the Writing Journey anthology, and that this essay won first prize in the Magic of Memoir contest. But if you write memoir or family history, I’d be urging you to get this book even if that weren’t so.

Why do I think you need this volume? Because it contains essays that shine a light on the processes, angsts, supports, and resources—both human and literary—that other memoirists and family history writers use.

Have you been shying away from writing your memoir?

Unable to do more than just write about the “nice little things” in your life as if your whole life consisted of just those “nice little things?” To write the truth, you’ve got to assemble your strongest inner resources. In her essay, Jill Kandel asserts, “Writing is not for the faint of heart.”

I couldn’t agree with her more.

This is a book for serious writers, who are ready to tackle memoirs or family histories they’ve been putting off or downright avoiding for years. This book will help you get serious if you aren’t already. Kelly Kittel quotes a refrigerator magnet in her essay in The Magic of Memoir. That magnet urges, “be brave and do hard things.”

You won’t find distracting, time-wasting tips in this book.

Or even useful lists of how-to’s. The memoirists whose essays appear in The Magic of Memoir describe how they managed to write about the tragedies in their lives, their relationships with their families (so much of memoir addresses family relationships), their efforts to create meaning out of the tumult of daily existence, and the success of their work, despite their many doubts. Reading about how others coaxed forth their memoirs can have an inspirational effect.

The writers look at whether or not creating memoir heals the memoirist. (In her essay in this volume, Jill Smolowe writes, “I do not find the writing of a memoir cathartic.” What’s your opinion?) And they describe the need to shout demons down in order to tell the truth. In short, they let us see how to kick butt to get our memories of ourselves and/or our families down on paper.

Interviews with Famous Contemporary Memoirists

In addition to the essays, The Magic of Memoir includes interviews with some of the most renowned memoirists of our time, including:

– Cheryl Strayed
– Mary Karr
– Elizabeth Gilbert, and
– Dani Shapiro, to name a few.

This book is so good that even the Introduction, written by the anthology’s editors, Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner, is eye opening and instructive.

Let this book be your companion on your memoir-writing journey. It will make a great holiday gift for a memoirist you know—even if that memoirist is yourself.

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Who Let the Joy Out? Humph, Humph.

You’ve heard that expression (which always sounded to me like nothing more than an utterly fatuous promise) that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear?

I’d returned from the Muse and the Marketplace writers conference held earlier this month, in Boston, feeling first overwhelmed by the conference itself, then downright paralyzed. For days afterwards, I felt in a daze—my creative faculties on hold. And I suffered a deep unease, as if some vital element of my person was being snuffed out.

I couldn’t blame the conference. I’d been exposed to a lot of valuable experiences and ideas about writing and the writing life. (More on those in a later post.) But it was learning all this stuff, some new, some not, that contributed to a growing discontent I’d been feeling for some time.

Then I came across an essay by Ethan Gilsdorf, whose formidable writing creds bowled me over. (I mention this because I felt anyone with so large a reputation was taking a risk by going public about his failure to work on the writing project that’s called to him for years. At the Muse conference, I’d taken his “Writing the Risky Personal Essay” class. Clearly the man practices what he preaches.)

I couldn’t imagine any blog post speaking to my situation more directly and profoundly. In “This Blog Post is a Pep Talk,” Gilsdorf wrote:

“As writers, we … need to take pleasure in our work…. We need a project … to fall in love with again. The kind of low-pressure, it’s-OK-if-you-fail, writing for the joy of writing project.”

I stared at my computer screen, frozen. That was the poke, the permission I needed. Even though I’m a writing instructor, I’d paid so much attention to other people’s writing rules that I’d discounted my own authentic voice, lost faith in the writing that had gotten me published and garnered kudos and the occasional award in the past, and worst of all, let it stymie my joy in the writing process.

In my early career, I avoided writing classes because I feared they would exert too great an influence over my own style. But as I progressed, I felt I needed more skills in order to advance my writing. But one has to cherry pick what advice to take and what to leave in the orchard, and at some point, what with my extensive business and professional writing and absorbing so much advice from different people and trying to adhere to the rules, peculiar preferences, (and word counts!) of literary magazines and other publications, I no longer felt connected to the writing I was doing, nor did I enjoy the process of producing it.

If I want to regain my joy in writing, I need to refuse to let my writing for money or attempts to win prizes dampen my desire to write from the heart. To recapture joy in writing, I need to carve out time and mental space for the thinking and writing that means most to me, even if it doesn’t get published or isn’t otherwise acknowledged.

Gilsdorf didn’t offer any writing advice. Instead, he did what essayists are supposed to do: explored a personal subject and engaged his audience (primarily) of writers with that exploration.

By the way, for me, the personal exposure in this blog post makes it feel uncomfortably like a risky personal essay.

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Who Cares If You Write?

August Perennials at Elm Bank

August Perennials at Elm Bank

I’ve got a quotation over my desk by the novelist Louis Auchincloss. In large font, it reminds me daily, hourly that,

“A man can spend his whole existence never learning the simple lesson that he has only one life and that if he fails to do what he wants with it, nobody else really cares.”

I’ve been lucky. I have a husband, his family, and a few close friends who relentlessly, yet lovingly, cheer me on in my writing. Still, I’ve been swayed by well-meant, but often intrusive, invitations.

Who Cares?
Those folks who invite you to spend an afternoon at the 4th wedding shower you’ve attended that year when you could be home writing? I doubt if, at the end, even one of them will say, “We should have left him [fill in your name here] alone to get his writing done.” They won’t care that you never finished that essay or novel or children’s story, or the small book of poetry that would have felt so right in your hand.

It doesn’t even need to be anything grand. You might just need to write yourself through a bad experience or record some lessons recently learned. A personal diary or journal will do for that.

In our busy-making, byzantine world, where a good deal of energy is spent in occupations unrelated to our deepest desires, a quotation like the one by Auchincloss can help you buckle down and get your writing done.

Pinning it over my desk works for me. Despite distractions and demands, I get my writing done. My articles and essays have been published in reputable outlets because I remind myself that if I give in to the external pressures instead of doing what I feel I was meant to do, nobody will give a hoot.

Auburn Lakes

Auburn Lakes


Use These Inspirational Quotes
Here are some quotations to encourage you to value your writing, make time for it, feed it what it needs.

“If you wish to be a writer; write!” – Epictetus

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” – Mark Twain

“Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us.” – Don Delillo

“To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” – Anne Rice

“I have lived on the razor’s edge. So what if you fall off? I’d rather be doing something I really wanted to do.” – Georgia O’Keefe

If you’ve got any quotations or any mantras you made up that propel you to your desk and keep you there, please share them.

And, post your favorites over your desk. They’ll help you out in times of doubt.

Additional Resources
Finding Time to Write
What are you Willing to Sacrifice to Write?
Quit Complaining and Write

If you really need a push to get it in gear, to realize we shouldn’t put off our writing because we don’t live forever, try this one. Writing & Illness: More Than Metaphor.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!