Editors on Editing: Mining Your Journal for Memoir

by Matilda Butler on January 30, 2011

Editors on Editing LogoPost #3 – Women’s Memoirs, Editors on Editing – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler



Kendra and I have been working with an incredible group of women that comprise the Story Circle Network / Editorial Service (SCN/ES). Fourteen women, soon to be fifteen, all have multi-year career as editors. They particularly enjoy working with women to help them tell their life stories. These women have words of wisdom, based on their experiences. Rather than suggest a specific topic, we have invited them to share a few thoughts with you this year. Thoughts that will range across a number ideas.

The first editor to write a blog for us is Roseanne Rini. Roseanne posted on Story Circle Network’s blog today about her use of journaling to find her writer’s voice. For her post on Women’s Memoirs, she continues that theme and shows how even brief segments of a journal can be mined for insights in a memoir.

We invite you to visit our Editors on Editing category regularly. If you need an editor, we recommend SCN/ES. If you follow this link, you can read about each of the editors and choose the person you would like to work with.

Mining Your Journal for Memoir

Roseanne Rini, Editor

Here are a few examples of journal entries that could be developed for the purposes of personal essay or memoir:

Today is the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death. Such a difficult ten years it has been. I lit a candle in front of her picture this morning—the little In Memoriam altar I bought from a Hallmark store a few years ago—and I asked Mom to help me heal.

What is the story behind this entry?
What happened, in addition to the grieving, during those ten years that made them so difficult? This brief entry could be the beginning of an illness narrative and/or a recovery narrative.

After class, Elizabeth asked me, “Were you hurt by the church?” I don’t know why she asked that. How did she know? I told her yes, I had been. The worst
thing had been the guilt. I remember how, even as a small child, I would ruminate over my “sins.”

What important life theme is suggested here?
The role of one’s religious upbringing in shaping one’s life can play an important part in a memoir, or be the entire subject of one. See, for example, Anne Rice’s recent book Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession.

Summer is beginning. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful, filled with so many wonderful memories, and with longing. Last evening I went over to Katherine’s. We sat on the porch, drank coffee and talked. As it got dark the moon came up, almost full.

Is there a story here?
What makes the summer so beautiful and why is the beauty heartbreaking? What are the memories? What is the longing? The story here is deeply hidden, maybe even from the writer herself, but clearly there is one, and it would be a valuable experience for both writer and reader if it were to be told.

When we went to the park on Sunday with Joe and Alice we were walking under the rose arbor at the edge of the gardens when I heard someone call my name. I turned around and it was Olivia! I think I haven’t seen her in over ten years. “You don’t look any different,” she said.

What is the significance of this chance encounter?
Did the writer include this event in her journal because the compliment made her feel good, or was she confronted by this woman from her past with happy or painful memories?

Memoir Writing Prompt:
If you are interested in memoir-writing but have not been keeping a journal, begin one. If you have a collection of journals, or even as a beginning journal-writer, just a few weeks’ worth of entries, review them. Look for entries like the ones above that could be more fully developed: generalizations that are not illustrated with details; short summaries that could be elaborated; themes that recur. What is the story you want to tell?

{ 3 trackbacks }

An Editor’s Perspective: The Value of Journaling | Telling HerStories: The Broad View
January 30, 2011 at
Editors on Editing: Using Primary Sources for Your Memoirs, Part 2 — Memoir Writing Blog
April 12, 2011 at
Editors on Editing: An Editor Is Writing Her Own Memoir — Memoir Writing Blog
July 18, 2011 at

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Janet Riehl February 1, 2011 at

This post is so useful because it illustrates exactly the dilemma we face in toggling between our journals and longer work that will become more polished.

This is timely for me as I sort out journals and papers. The technique of dialoguing with the entries to ask questions of it helps us go both deeper and broader.

Janet Riehl

janell moon July 18, 2011 at

Interesting in the grieving process how life around us goes on, yet we can feel the life force of our loved one.
Stop and we are somewhere between stop and go.
For me, it’s a time out-of-time experience and it hurts.
But I try to feel it rather than to go numb. Thank goodness I have friends who encourage tears.
Best to you.

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