Memoir Writers’ Resources Series | The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story by Linda Joy Myers

This is the third in this series, which has an infinite number of parts. Therefore, there is no “Part 1 of a #;” it will simply continue until the well dries up. The first two posts can be found here and here.

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Image via Goodreads
Image via Goodreads

Linda Joy Myers’ book, The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story, is among the first books I turned to when I recognized the desire and yes, even the need, to write my story.

When I sat down to read through it, Myers’ writing style mesmerized me. Myers shares not only writing tips and guidelines, but as a psychotherapist she has helped others through pain and has worked through a great deal of emotional pain herself.

Comfortable and sensitive in her choice of words, Myers made me feel as if I were the only one she was talking to as we worked our way through this how-to guidebook on memoir writing.

Found between the covers of The Power of Memoir Writing are resources going beyond the mere writing of the manuscript. Here are a few examples:

  • A Useful Disclaimer
  • Tips for Making Ethical Decisions About Your Memoir
  • Preparing to Publish Your Memoir
  • Finding a Professional Editor
  • The Opinions of Friends, Peers, and Writer’s Groups
  • Building Your Platform
  • Book Publishing Options

Recently, I read a blog post by Myers, Tips for Your Memoir Writing Journey. The post begins with language that I feel sums up beautifully the message in The Power of Memoir:

Writing a memoir is like finding yourself on a journey: you thought you knew where you were going, but eventually you are lost! We all experience several stages that lead up to your journey: As you pack your suitcase, you think about the thrilling and interesting moments you will encounter. And as you start your journey, you are still excited and moving forward with great energy. Then reality sets in. Life still presents challenges. And it is this way when we write our memoir.

If you are just beginning or have already begun writing your memoir, The Power of Memoir should be on your list of resources to find and add to your writing library.

Perhaps you have a favorite memoir writing resource or resources.

If so, I hope you’ll share them in a comment below.

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Linda Joy Myers’ books are available on Amazon, where you will also find a short author’s biography. Myers is also the founder and president of National Association of Memoir Writers, another incredible resource for the writer working on memoir. Additionally, Myers blogs at Memories and Memoirs.

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Triggers for Releasing Memories

“Songs and smells will bring you back to a moment in time more than anything else. It’s amazing how much can be conjured with a few notes of a song or a solitary whiff of a room. A song you didn’t even pay attention to at the time, a place that you didn’t even know had a particular smell.”

Emily Giffin, Something Borrowed

Lately, as I attempt to finish my memoir, I find myself looking for motivational triggers to release memories perhaps faded or almost forgotten. So many stimuli in our environment can release memories — photographs, letters, music, smells, words and phrases, hearing from old friends:

The following excerpt from my draft memoir is an example of the impact of the sense of smell on memory:

I stand in the kitchen mashing bananas for muffins, and I’m suddenly aware of beginnings and endings. To nourish my infant son some 30 years ago, I mashed bananas as part of his diet to nourish what was beginning in him. My mind’s eye also sees clearly the mornings I stood beside my mom’s bed in her nursing home room mashing bananas hoping to sustain what was left of her life. The ordinary things of life so often mark the eclipsing joys and sorrows of our lives.

The essence of the banana I was mashing reached my olfactory senses and plunged me deep into the cycle of life as I remembered both my son’s infancy and the end of my mother’s life. It is a cherished memory in both situations.

Other triggers I find helpful that are close at hand are listed below:

  • Photographs are an effective means of triggering memories, both about people, places and time. For example, this photograph of my mother reminds me instantly of her strength and determination, but also the set of her jaw and mouth centers my memory on her tragic method of disciplining with cruel words that struck at your emotional stability. Despite the age and damage to the image, I can see, hear and feel the power with which she moved about daily doing her housework and making a home for us. At the same time, I can also see, hear and feel the wrath and temper behind her angry words and manipulations as she punished us. The photo also reminds me of where we were living, her age at the time, and some memories that were made in our home there. Using photographs to evoke memories is effective. If you have access to old family photos, try looking at a few to see what memories they may trigger.
  • Music can also evoke memories especially when connected to specific events. For me, listening to classical music enhances my writing time. Something about the harmonies floating together, the richness of the instrumental sounds, and even at times the dissonance in some compositions enhance settings, moods of characters, and other writing elements depending on the selection being played. Edgar Elgar’s Enigma Variations is a work consisting of 14 variations based on an impromptu composition. The ninth variation, commonly called Nimrod, was introduced to me by a now-deceased brother-in-law who enjoyed words and excelled at writing. His encouragement of my writing endeavors is mentally linked to that beautiful Elgar composition for eternity. When I hear it, I immediately think of times with Jim talking about writing and words. My writing suddenly becomes swifter and easier.

Image: Wikipedia Image: Wikipedia

A couple of weeks ago Sharon Lippincott shared on the Lifewriters Forum a link, Upchucky.org/JukeCity, where, by clicking on the year you graduated from high school or college, you can select from 20 popular musical selections from that year. For me, the memories were flowing as I listened to the music of my high school graduation year, 1964, and I was reminded of listening to it on a tabletop jukebox like the one shown here. Check it out — it’s great fun and perhaps there’s a story waiting for you.

Are there perhaps recordings of music that touch you in such a way or that are connected to events such that they would bring back memories you may have otherwise forgotten?

Image: RecycleBuyVintage

Image: RecycleBuyVintage

  • As mentioned above, smells can be evocative of certain memories and places. There are foods that when I smell them cooking I am instantly transported to my mother’s kitchen. An especially strong aroma for me is the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking. I see myself perched on Mom’s kitchen stool. It was red and had two steps to get to the seat. From there, I imagined myself helping, which wasn’t allowed, but it didn’t hurt to imagine (no one else knew what I was imagining!). Oh, but the smells of baking that filled the kitchen were luscious. Other recipes of Mom’s can also take me back to that kitchen.Try making a meal or a single recipe from your childhood and see if it has an impact on your memories and how easily they may come forward.
  • Lastly, let’s look at the power of words and phrases to evoke memories. Certain phrases from my family included “whatever floats your boat,” “that’s so hard bet you can’t stick a pin in it,” “shut my mouth,” and many more that I can think of in my family. Growing up in the deep South, I also remember colloquialisms such as “his’n” and “her’n” instead of “his” and “her” or “hit’s jest down the road apiece” when you’ve asked for directions. My mom’s maid, Lucy, always called me “my sweet chile.” When I’m back in Tennessee for a visit and I hear the word “chile,” I immediately see Lucy and smell her lavender water that she always wore. I also feel the softness of her arms around me and her lap when I needed it.

These are just a few of the triggers that came to mind as I prepared this post. I am sure many more exist in our individual worlds and environments.

What triggers do you find most helpful in your writing? Would love for you to share them in the comments section below.

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Coming up next: Continuing the memoir resource series with Linda Joy Myers and her book, The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story. You don’t want to miss this!

Divorce and Teenagers | A Guest Post on Mary Gottschalk’s Blog

Image: ImageToArt
Image: ImageToArt

Today I’m visiting with Mary Gottschalk on her blog with an essay I wrote on the topic of adolescents and divorce and how that combination impacts a family. My essay dovetails with a novel-in-progress Mary is working on where just such a situation is making life difficult for a mother and her 13-year old daughter. I do hope you will come and visit Mary’s blog and join in the discussion.

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Divorce and teens don’t mix well.

Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., a psychologist in Austin, TX, wrote in an article published in Psychology Today in 2009:

Because the adolescent is at a more disaffected and rebellious stage with parents, divorce can intensifies [sic] their grievances. Rather than cling, the adolescent tends to pull away. Adolescents often feel betrayed by the broken parental commitment to family and become angrier and less communicative. (Emphasis mine.)

I know from experience that something changes during adolescence, creating a resurgence of memories from childhood layered onto the present.

I saw this with my stepdaughter, who was almost six when her parents divorced. By the time Leah (not her real name) reached adolescence, her life experiences included (1) learning she was adopted, (2) seeing her adoptive parents divorce, and (3) watching daddy remarry.

In her memory bank, each of these events directly linked to a woman who had let her down – her birth mother, her adoptive mother, and me. Leah’s adolescent rage centered on a distrust of women.

Leah’s solution: Bring Mom and Dad back together again and all will be right with the world. How to make this happen? Destroy Dad’s new marriage.

Around 15, Leah convinced us her life at home with Mom and Mom’s boyfriends was miserable, and she needed stability. We believed her every word.

Read more here . . . 

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On tap for tomorrow, a post on memory triggers. I think you’ll find it interesting, and I’m looking forward to your comments adding to the list!

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Guest Post at Clara Freeman’s Blog on Insights Gained While Writing Memoir

I am privileged today to be sharing some insights I’ve gained while writing my memoir on Clara Freeman’s blog, Clara54’s Weblog. I hope you’ll take the time to visit me there.

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For most of my life, I wanted to write. Words on paper fascinated me even as a child. Writing exercises in first grade were fun!

My dad was a printer and publisher. I could smell the paper and ink on his skin each evening as he came home. He began teaching me some of the tools of the trade when my age reached double digits. Proofreading and editing became my holiday money-making gambit.

In high school and college, research papers became “writing” on a larger scale. I thrived on those assignments. I loved the search for the best material to prove my point, or the sentence or phrase to place my professor in awe of my writing abilities. I knew I wanted to write something bigger though – a book, something between covers, something others read.

Read more here . . .

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Memoir Writers’ Resources Series | Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Today’s post is the second in a series bringing you a sampling of the memoir writing resources I have uncovered as I write my memoir. The posts in these series will not appear on a regular schedule but randomly as I find time to work them in between a heavier writing schedule for my memoir. I hope what I share will be helpful and perhaps help you in finding a resource that makes a difference in your journey as a memoir writer. 

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The idea of writing my memoir had been occupying certain parts of my mind for a few months. It was an afternoon I had reserved for browsing through a used bookstore nearby. When asked was I looking for something in particular, I may have responded with, “Something on writing, maybe writing memoir.”

Image via Goodreads
Image via Goodreads

The owner took me to an out-of-the-way corner in the back of the shop and pointed to shelves labeled “Everything We Have on Writing.” But he very pointedly said, “I’d recommend this one by Anne Lamott.” He proceeded to pull down Bird by Bird. I trusted his recommendation and bought the book for all of $4.95.

Everything on the back cover is true. I can assure you that each of the endorsements from the LA Times, NY Times Book Review and Seattle Times are true, proof having been found in reading Bird by Bird. And I assume the story about Lamott’s brother and their father is true, but I have no actual proof.

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. we were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’

That was the best $4.95 I’d spent in quite some time. What I found between the covers of this tiny paperback were gems of writing wisdom, stellar advice, plied with a sense of humor often making me laugh aloud. Another resource I keep on my desk at all times. At times, Lamott appears cranky, yet kind in her admonitions of what to do vs. what not to do. But you find yourself liking her style no matter what her attitude seems. She is a generous benefactor of her instructions on getting the words down and understanding that nothing is perfect on that first draft. And, according to Lamott, that’s perfectly okay. She even throws in advice on life and grace and more.

Page 21 offers a chapter entitled “Shitty First Drafts.” The first paragraph gives the best look at writing for the first-time writer I could have found:

Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. 

That’s the kind of advice we all want when we’re starting out. And those are the pearls of wisdom that Anne Lamott gives in Bird by Bird, somewhat irreverently perhaps but it makes for easy reading and a fun trip to completing that first manuscript.

If you’re not familiar with Bird by Bird or Anne Lamott, you can learn more about them both by visiting her author page at The Steven Barclay Agency. You can also connect with Lamott via Facebook and Twitter.

Lamott’s books are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and IndieBound.

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Living with Fear | Guest Post on An Untold Story with Sue Mitchell

I am honored to be with Sue Mitchell at An Untold Story sharing a portion of my story. I do hope you’ll follow me over to Sue’s blog to read the rest.Note: As Sue and I discussed this guest post and using an excerpt from my work-in-progress, I expressed thoughts about a memoir I had just read. In that life story, the writer’s experiences somewhat paralleled my own. The author’s words opened up new avenues of thought and reflection I’d never expected to experience. I’m writing my story hoping to touch others so that they too may begin to think, reflect and heal.

Living with Fear

Young children scare easily—a tough tone, a sharp reprimand, an exasperated glance,
a peeved scowl will do it. Little signs of rejection— you don’t have to
hit young children to hurt them—cut very deeply.
~ James L. Hymes, Jr.

For a child, living in fear has to be one of the worst emotional states to find in one’s environment. Living isn’t living when it’s done in fear of something or someone. And that’s how life was in my childhood home.

Fear was an everyday occurrence. Not the fear of physical harm. Instead, the fear of words, another’s emotions gone wild, punishment, the unexpected. A child is supposed to be happy, carefree. This is impossible under a cloud of fear. Like waiting for the thunder to roll, the clouds to burst open, then drenching, chilling rain falling on you.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “fear” as:

a:  an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger

b (1):  an instance of this emotion (2):  a state marked by this emotion.

Imagine living with these feelings day in, day out. Never knowing what to expect. Always on guard for that moment when tensions rise, tempers flare and you become the focus of anger and temperament.

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July 3, 2012

Dear Mama,

Brad, almost age 3
Brad, almost age 3

I wonder if you remember anything special about cherry Jell-O.  Probably you remember making it quite often.  After all, it was Brad’s favorite!

BUT do you remember an afternoon when the worst thing that could have happened to a mother happened to you?

Lovingly, I’m sure, you had prepared another of those “humongous” pans of cherry Jell-O.  And you had carefully placed it in the refrigerator to do that gelling thing it was so clever at doing.

I don’t remember where you had gone after that, but little eyes were watching and big ears were listening.  As soon as they had perceived you were nowhere near the kitchen, Brad went to work.

Despite the fact that he was just passed three years old, he had somehow managed to learn how to reach up far enough to open the refrigerator door.  His eyes spied that pan of Jell-O, and Brad was going to have some.  And onto the floor it went!

As always, the minute you heard a crashing sound you were right there to see what one of us had done.  And there it was — red Jell-O all over your kitchen floor!

Read more here . . .