Memoir Guest Blog and Writing Prompt: Linda Joy Myers Discusses the Power of Memoir

by Kendra Bonnett on March 2, 2010

Writing Prompt LogoPost #35 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

“Even before birth, we’re a part of other people’s stories. It’s said that we enter the world in the middle of our family’s story and become one of the main characters in its drama, immediately woven into the tapestry of family, friends, and community. On our path through life, as in fairy tale, we encounter wizards, witches, dark forests, and good fairies; we experience joys and challenges, heartaches and hope. Through struggles, failures, and successes, we discover the unique story that is ours alone. We find out who we are and where we are going.”

That’s the opening paragraph of Linda-Joy-MyersLinda Joy Myers new book, The Power of Memoir–How to Write Your Healing Story. And, frankly, if you read that paragraph carefully–and commit it to memory–you’ll fully understand the power of memoir. No, not the book…you’ll still need to read The Power of Memoir to learn Linda Joy’s “Eight Steps to Writing a Healing Memoir.” But that first paragraph sums up the unique journey (the good, the bad and the ugly) that is ours alone and how it fits into the context of the generations that comprise our families.

Linda Joy is the perfect person to teach us how to heal through memoir. As a therapist, she’s spent 30 years using memoir as an instrument in her healing tool chest. She is also a memoirist herself. Don’t Call Me Mother: Breaking the Chain of Mother Daughter Abandonment won the Gold Medal Award  from the Bay Area Independent Publishing Association. In fact, Linda Joy is a versatile writer; she’s published both poetry and nonfiction in various literary journals.

Women’s Memoirs invited Linda Joy to post a guest blog on the occasion of the release of The Power of Memoir. In the book, she takes you through understanding, research, planning, psychology, organizing and more. With us, she examines the concept of writing from the inside out and how we get to the core, where our stories begin.

We invite your questions in the Comment form below
And now, before we turn this post over to Linda Joy Myers, we invite you to join us on Friday when we interview Linda Joy for our Author Conversations series. But first, we need your help. Tell us what you want to know. Use the Comment form below this post to leave a question for Linda Joy. We’ll incorporate your questions into our conversation. Here are the details for getting on the Friday call:

Date/Time: Friday, March 5, 2010, 6:00 PM EST (3:00 PM Pacific)

Phone Number: 712-432-0600 (access code: 998458#)

Linda Joy Myers is the president and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers. You can find out more about The Power of Memoir on her website. She blogs at LindaJoyMyersPhD.

Writing from the Inside Out—Open Your Mind and Change Your Life

by Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D.

Writing a memoir is a profound physical experience! Many people don’t think of it that way, but it has been shown that our memories reside in our body, and when we tune into the body-mind and write from a place of openness, we can free ourselves from past traumas and open ourselves to a new future. Parts of our brain are involved in how we hold memory and emotion and process traumatic events. If you have had upsetting or traumatic experiences, you know about intrusive memories or flashbacks. Research has shown that writing engages these stuck parts of the brain and helps to create new neural pathways that free us from the past. But we don’t have to be stuck in the darkness in order to write—writing from happy memories creates changes in the brain too, enriching the fullness of our joy and sense of well-being as we bring forward in scene the full colors and sensual detail of our lives.

To create this kind of transformation means that we must be willing to engage in the journey of memoir from the inside out. When we write from the inside out, we have a “Beginner’s Mind.” We enter the journey with some idea of what we would like to write about, and allow the process of writing to guide us. Dr. James Pennebaker, the premier researcher in the area of writing as healing, says, “Story is a way of knowledge.” In other words, let the story tell you where it wants to go; allow the process of writing to lead you into the heart of your memoir.

As we begin, we ask these questions:

  • What do I want to say?
  • What memories keep coming back to me?
  • How do I feel about what happened in my life?
  • What significant events changed my life?
  • Who was important during my life’s journey?
  • When and where am I in time as I muse about my life?

The questions who, what, when, where, and how appear as a mode of investigation into the heart of who you are, into the layers of what your story might be. We write to discover our story, we write to find out what we don’t know.

In my new book The Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story, I talk about the journey of memoir writing from your early ideas and motivations all the way to publication. I know from personal experience how memoirists struggle with the inner critic and writing the dark stories, and I offer tips about how to overcome these obstacles. In other chapters, I present the research about how writing helps to heal both body and soul, and discuss the psychology of memoir writing.

I suggest that writers begin to unravel the complexities of their story through discovering their turning points. Think about the moments when your life changed and your journey took a whole new turn—these are moments of powerful emotion and depths of feeling. It’s important to enter and embody them through scene and detail. When you place yourself in the body of who you were, you write in an integrative way, using the wisdom of the narrator—who you are now, along with the person you were then—your younger, more innocent self. This back and forth weaving creates integration and changes your brain. It can change your life.

Memoir Writing Prompt

So how to create this amazing pathway toward your new and better self? First, listen to your body. Listen to the whispers of story, image, dream, and memory that waft up in the small moments of the day, when you are gardening, petting your cat, eating a delicious meal, laughing with friends. Spend time with the photo album. Perhaps you would like to paint or sing fragments of memory, your favorite moments. There might be times of grief and loss that you discover you need to process again. It’s important not to suppress or repress these invitations, to listen to the subtle clues arising from your unconscious mind. They will lead you to greater levels of creativity and freedom.

Some tips to help you begin your healing journey:

  1. Listen to the wisdom of your body and the subtle cues from your dreams and unconscious.
  2. Work with photos, art, and poetry to help you develop your sensual details and metaphors.
  3. Be sure to weave the “lighter” stories in with the “dark” stories from your past. Keep your emotional balance.
  4. Honor the process of writing. Think of it as venturing into the unknown, and get more comfortable with that.
  5. Learn how writing in scene and using the dramatic arc of plot can help change what you thought was your story.
  6. Have a “Beginner’s Mind” when entering your stories. Be willing to let your stories guide you.
  7. Read the amazing research on how writing changes the brain and helps to create a better future.
  8. Listen to the whispers of wisdom arising from your body and from all the stages of your life. This can lead you into greater freedom and happiness.

To start writing your own healing story, study a favorite family photograph, and write a brief vignette using sensual details of sight, sound, scent, and texture. Imagine the emotions of the people in the photo and write from their point of view. For a second writing exercise, juxtapose a serious story (dark) with a funny or happy (light) story; discover the power of the emotional balance you create.

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