How Writing a Memoir Has Changed Me #AmWriting #Memoir

How Writing a Memoir Has Changed Me.

memoir

 

I love my creative writing class, and over the past few weeks we have been looking at writing a memoir. It’s turned out to be a hugely cathartic experience.

Without realising it at the time, my bestseller How I Changed My Life in a Year, fit perfectly into this genre. For me, it was just a documentation of a series of challenges and my attempt to establish a regular writing routine, I never thought of it as a memoir.

Autobiographies, or biographies are about interesting people and the incredible lives they lead, or historical documents about harrowing experiences and how the author overcome them – aren’t they?

Apparently not. Memoirs can cover a huge range of topics and it’s the authors spin – or voice – that makes it a story worth reading.

During our creative writing sessions we gave considerable thought to what we would write about. The objective was not to pen a bestseller – although our tutor is always pushing us to reach for this goal – it was to use our life experiences to good effect.

So, what could we write about?

I used my OCD list writing abilities to jot down a few possible scenarios that could inevitably be developed into a full length story:

  • Coping as a single parent
  • Dealing with depression and anxiety
  • Surviving domestic abuse
  • Running a holistic health business
  • Coping with ill health

These were just a few of the topics that jumped out at me when I did my brainstorming session. Would they make a good memoir? I couldn’t be sure. Would I have enough material to warrant a full length book? With adequate plotting and research I probably would.

We were then instructed to choose one topic to develop over the course of five weeks. Out of my extensive list I was drawn to ‘domestic abuse’ and it was this particular theme that I began working with.

Our tutor directed us to create a timeline for our chosen theme. He allowed us to explore our feelings on the topic of choice and discover how it could be developed. Was it going to be a ‘start at the beginning’ kind of story, or did it require some back story and further analysis?

I was able to choose specific times in my life when the abuse was at its worst and centre my writing on this. It helped enormously to see the timeline take shape and I was able to visualise each point on the line as a chapter heading, giving me a starting point for each section.

 

Reading out my first piece of work was one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever had to do and yet it was also the most empowering. My group was hugely supportive. They offered valid advice on my sentence structure and helped me to shift from a place of nervousness to one of positivity.

Writing about life experiences is something I’ve done for many years in the form of my journal/diary. I’ve written letters to people who have harmed me and then burnt them in a cleansing ceremony (fabulous way to remove negativity, if you fancy giving it a go).

Revealing my inner demons and sharing them in public is something else entirely but I found it to be a catalyst for something quite powerful.

Using our personal experiences in writing projects helps to shape our voice. I’ve only ever used these events in a fictional way before, but switching the focus and concentrating on memoir has only added to my skill set as a writer.

Our creative writing classes have finished for a couple of months and the topic when we return will be something entirely new and exciting. In the meantime, I am continuing to work on my memoir as I feel it is healing my soul to write everything down.

The nerves have fallen away and I’ve shifted my perspective – I AM going to write this book, I AM going to share my story, and I’m not afraid anymore. The members of my creative writing group were both gracious and inspirational in pushing me to continue with this project. They believed it was a story worth telling, and they are right. Somewhere out there, a young woman is being beaten by her boyfriend or husband, or a mother is shielding her children from an abusive father. I want to let them know that there is hope. I want to be the light at the end of the tunnel. I want to show them how to be a survivor rather than a victim.

 

So, a simple class about memoirs has turned my life upside down and set me on a path that I feel honoured to tread.

Have you ever thought about writing a memoir? Or perhaps you enjoy reading this genre? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

70 comments

  1. I teach creative writing under a Pembrokeshire County Council scheme for Lifelong Learning, Shelley and memoir writing is one of the most popular genres. It’s surprising how the students bounce their memories and experiences off one another. I always say they can write what they want but it doesn’t have to be read out if they choose not to. I think you’re right; it is cathartic and empowering. By the way, I’ve also written letters down the years and burned them in the garden. Husband used to come home to burnt patches on the lawns. Now I have a special place. Good luck with your writing. ❤ 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post, Shelley, and good luck with your memoir. It sounds like it is a story worth telling and important to share.
    I enjoy reading memoirs and have written on, Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni, which is about my time in Afghanistan. I’m now starting the process of turning my blog about caring for dad through his dementia into a book. I’m hoping it will be of help to others in a similar situation.

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  3. Well done you! I think it is worth doing, for your kids…they may not show any interest in your life atm – other than as a provider of food and cash, but later, when they are older, they may well want to know about you. I am currently researching my dead grandparents, as you know, in preparation for getting my German citizenship restored. My parents told me barely anything about them. I wish they had. Go write!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That makes a lot of sense, Carol. They only remember that our family has pretty much always been me and them because they were so small at the time. As you say, when they are older they might want to know the real story of how I ended up as a single parent. I hope your research is going well x

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  4. I’d always assumed a memoir was a story of a whole life, so it’s interesting to find out that it can be a specific part of a life instead. I’m so glad it was cathartic for you, and it just proves the therapeutic nature of writing. I wish you all the best with it!

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  5. I never quite get beyond the embarrassment, if that is the word, about writing about anyone living, apart from myself so, even on my blog, I use code names and try and avoid to many references to existing people. Memoir feels a tough ask as a result – not that I’ve had much to need catharsis in my years. But there are places where my children would like to know why whatever happened, happened so cherry picking passages of one’s life has its strong attraction. I just need to surmount the hump… Good luck with your book Shelley

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your writing sounds like something that will not only be cathartic for you, but for some of your readers too. There will be many of them who would find it difficult to express what they went through and will be happy you give them a voice.
    I am fortunate enough to have a coal fire, so my letter-burning was accomplished easily and privately. It was such a healing thing to do.
    Another healing thing for me has been writing my life story in little snippets buried in my novels. That way, I get to have my characters do what I wish I’d been able to do but was too young and too naive.

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  7. I’m thrilled that you’re carrying on with your memoir and I know it’ll be a fantastic book that will help many and be positively received by all who read it when it’s out.
    I feel humbled that I’ve been able to put you on this path and I know the whole experience will be positive for both yourself and your writing.

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  8. What an amazing and strong woman you are. I completely agree on the burning. I’ve done that for a number of different things, but I love a burning ceremony. It really does signify the end and a change

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  9. Hi Shelley, isn’t the discovery that all of us can write a memoir amazing? I gave a talk on memoir writing recently and it was something the audience had never thought of before. Anything you have experienced in your life can be the subject of a memoir. The skill is in how to tell the story. I’ve often heard that it is cathartic too. I’ve not written that kind of memoir myself, but I can well believe it has immense healing possibilities. Maybe I will one day, but for now, my ‘different way of life’ memoirs are waht I love to write. Well done you for pursuing this. If you like the genre, try the We Love Memoirs group on Facebook too. It’s there that I really found out how diverse the genre is and how popular it is too! Good luck with finishing yours!!

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  10. I love this idea. Most of my stories are creative non-fiction and follow my own life closely. Lately I’ve been writing stories based off my friends and other people who i’ve met along the way. Memoir is still my favourite, except I feel very boring and young.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. I love the idea of stories based on people you’ve met – we can meet some fabulous characters in life. I often feel very boring (unfortunately, not young anymore!) but then I’ll write down something I’ve done and a reader will love it, or resonate with it. What we think of as ordinary (or boring) can be quite extraordinary to others 🙂

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  11. Loved your story! My English professor has told me I should write a book of short stories about my life. I think it would be a great way to cope with the trauma I experienced as a child. I’d love for you to read the post on my blog and tell me what you think! Thank you Shelley! Glad to meet another survivor!

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  12. You absolutely have to write your book, Shelley. I would love to join a creative writing course, but just need to build some confidence before i do so, that’s why i’m trying to be dilligent with myself and write every week on my new blog. We’ll see how it goes. Good luck with everything!

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  13. Other people’s stories are so important for those without a voice. I am the type who benefits so much from knowing other people understand, more personally, my crazy life because they, too, have had one. This is a topic that never gets old and everyone’s story is different from the next, but it will resonate with someone in a way that is so important, and may even save their life. Our experiences are worth sharing with others. I hope that my story about my father, the loss I endured, and the healing process that I went through, knowing how much he meant to me and the age I was when he died, will touch someone else too. I hope it will remind people that, even though the people we love and cherish die, they are never forgotten!

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  14. Thanks for this post Shelley. I’ve spent the last four years writing my memoir about drug addictions I have gone through, and have just polished it off. Now I’m stuck in between “having a completed memoir” and “getting it published.” I’m striving to build this online platform now, and am trusting that everything will unfold as it should. I would like to seek out some of these writing classes you talk about, because it would be nice to get some feedback now that I feel comfortable enough to share it. Thanks again.

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    1. Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to read and comment, Tom. I’m glad to hear you are building your platform – that’s the fun bit! Always remember that someone out there NEEDS your book and that will keep you focused. I believe good writing classes can be found if you do a search in your local area. It’s nice to talk with like-minded people who can share your passion for writing. If you connect with the self-help/personal development world too you will find another supportive community. Good luck with your book x

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  15. Great post! I’m going to write a memoir too but having trouble getting started. I’m sure the writing classes must have been useful. I haven’t had anything traumatic happen in my life – I want to write about my time at a girls’ boarding school in the 1970s, and another memoir about my last five years when we bought a boat, renovated her, then sailed from UK to Greece, lots of adventures along the way. Good luck with yours! Do you have any advice for a beginner like me?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you x Best advice I can give you is to draw yourself a timeline. Start with a year (the day you started boarding school) and draw a physical line on a page adding the last year at the end. E.g. 1970 —-1975 then make little marks along the line adding significant events you want to write about. It gives you a starting point which can then evolve as you write more. Good luck x

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      1. Thank you so much for your time, but can I ask another question? I was thinking of not writing chronologically, but a series of chapters, each focussing on a different anecdote, like – uniform, the staff, school lunches, punishments, sports, holidays etc. Do you think this would work?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Georgie,that’s the difference in an autobiography and a memoir. A memoir is a series of memories. An autobiography is written from childhood onward Sometimes memoirs are more interesting because one memory can trigger another . Hope you both don’t mind me jumping in here, it’s just that my students are writing memoirs this term and this is something we discussed yesterday. Good luck Georgie.x

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  16. Great post!
    I’ve recently written a memoir, took me two years. Though it includes several issues I have faced, and it follows a timeline beginning with my earliest memory, I’d still classify it as memoir and not autobiography.
    I recently began a blog that goes along with my memoir, to help promote it.
    It would be great to get your opinion, any feedback would be greatly appreciated ☺️
    Dysfunctional Sarah
    https://dysfunctionalsarah.wordpress.com/

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’ve always long felt that not only is your own story worth telling, and cathartic for yourself but also if you are able to help even one person… you have made a difference. My little random blogs about personal issues always generate at least one comment stating that me writing and opening up about something has helped them.
    I would love to read what you write Shelley xxx

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  18. Lovely post Shelley. I too have written two memoirs which I’ll share on the blog group once Dragon Stone is complete. I found them very inspiring from a personal introspection perspective. In fact reading this has renewed my thoughts on doing an anthology. Must also remember the Monday blog share too. So glad we linked up x

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    1. Thank you, Gary. I often find that the blog posts I write over on my motivational blog contain the advice I need to hear! I think writing memoir, or anything personal is hugely inspiring for the writer as well as audience. I look forward to reading your posts on your memoir journey.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think many of us would do well to review past situations and self advice now and again. I certainly need to regarding publishing! It’s a case of do as I say, not do as I do when people ask me. Procrastinating 10, doing 0! I will be fascinated to hear what people make of mine actually. Memoirs are very close and I hope my “voice” takes readers into it…well, that’s the idea at least !!

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  19. As I read this, I am filled with hundreds of ideas of experiences that I would write about in my complex life. Really great and helpful post. I think a memoir could be good…always a little bit worried about what my parents would say when they read it…lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah yes, it can be worrying when we think about our family or friends reading our work. I must admit, when I finish this I will recommend that my parents don’t read it. I don’t want to unnecessarily upset them as most of the book content I kept a secret for many years – victim mentality! Of course, if they do read I’ll always remind them how times have changed and how strong I am now – survivor mentality! Xx

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  20. Hi Shelley, I love writing and reading about interesting people. I heard a wonderful podcast recently where Elizabeth Gilbert and Glennon Doyle Melton talked about the importance of voices. Nothing is really “new” in the human experience, but our individual voices are all unique. Each voice, each experience, offers a gift to someone else who might have been exposed to the message before, but wasn’t ready to listen until your voice said the words. I’m looking forward to reading more of your unique voice speaking to a very human experience.

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  21. The list of possible memoir topics you came up with made me catch my breath! I’ve only known you a short time, but your positive outlook has been inspiring – more so now that I can guess at the life experiences you’ve had. I have no doubt, as others here have said, that your story will have an amazing impact on people. I applaud your bravery, and look forward to reading about your journey! *hugs*

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  22. I love memoirs! They are my favorite genre now. I am slowly working on one also. I’ve taken a little step back since starting my blog. Just not enough time to do it all but I’ll go back to it. I’ve made a time line where I’m tracking all the places I used to live and things that I recall from my childhood. It’s amazing how once you start thinking about stuff, more and more things come to you. I recommend the podcast, Magic Lessons by Elizabeth Gilbert. She talks to creative people about their struggles with creativity and has on authors and such to help. Some of the topics are about memoirs and I learned a lot! Anyway, great post. I’m going to feature it on my new blog segment #SundayBlogShare inspired by the FB Group.

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