Retreat and Reflection to Start the New Year

Santa Sabina1

It’s a new year, and if you’re like most people, you’re either making new resolutions or resolutely deciding not to. But let’s face it—many of us take the opportunity to begin a new calendar year to reflect on our lives and creative projects and start to think ahead about what opportunities, books, blogs and projects we want to commit to. It helps to weave our right and left brain together as we consider our ideas. To feed the right brain process, we need to get into a reflective mode and take some time to refresh and reconnect with our creative flow.

The first weekend of the year, I attended a writing retreat that offered time to write and time for silence and meditation. We were invited to sample the art materials at the center, which included paper making, collage, and calligraphy. The focus was on going inside our own silent creative process. We had our own small room and plenty of time to write, but we also had group time when we could share bits from our journals, make paper and create collages together. There were even “adult” coloring books with complex mandalas and flowers. I couldn’t believe that I spent over an hour coloring! It was so refreshing and fun. The retreat was not about production, it was about taking the time to slow down, reflect, re-energize, and reconnect with what needed to come through us. We need to be able to do this in our daily lives too.
Committing ourselves to an ongoing practice of inner listening enhances our creativity. There is so much stimulation in our lives now—TV screens, tablets, phones, loud musak in every store—it’s hard to tune out so much noise. The challenge in “everyday” life is to find ways to connect with our creative muse regularly, to create openness and enough silence to hear our emerging thoughts and ideas. I made a promise to myself that I would turn off the noise makers every day, and early in the evening. It was refreshing to make more time to sit in silence to listen in to what I might want to write.
• Find some time to walk in a garden, slowly putting one foot in front of the other, keeping your focus only on your steps, and banishing thinking from your mind. When you start thinking or obsessing, focus on a flower or tree branch and take a deep breath to return to the present moment.
• Take a long luxurious bath, staying in the moment as you listen to the water and feel it relax your body. Sink into the quiet and the warmth of this time to be with yourself.
• Set aside moments to write in your journal, time to reflect, let go, or create something new several times a week.
• Buy flowers to put in vases around your house and enjoy the fragrance and colors they add to your environment. Write a poem or sketch your flowers.
• Turn off your screens—TV, computer, tablets, and phones during the day if you keep them on “for company” and again early in the evening. Lessen the amount of time you are stimulated by electronics. Read or write in your journal during that time.
• If you like to draw, paint, sculpt, work with clay, save some time each week to go non-verbal and listen to what your art wants to manifest.
• Buy a beautiful journal and give yourself permission to write in it—whatever needs to come out. Don’t save it for “perfect” writing!

Memoir Writing Workshops and your Creative Journey


By the time you read these words, the “I” that wrote them will have forgotten
what it was, though the it lingers on, haunting the paper, unheard until you
happen across it and your energy field activates it.
–Margaret Atwood

We write into the unknown, we launch ourselves onto tiny rafts of words so lacy and insubstantial that we wonder how it’s possible–how these black dots on paper hold the most important moments of our lives. Can words truly free us from some of the prisons we have been locked into? I have seen this happen countless times in my memoir writing workshops—the writer is surprised at how powerful her words are to unlock, to open, and to heal.

If you have been writing or journaling, you know that words can lead you out of darkness and help you to find the light. People in workshops talk about this all the time, but even though our identity and our tools for self-expression are words, at times we are at a loss to express how words can help us feel better. It seems like magic sometimes. We write into that unknown, especially when we are journaling, not knowing where we will end up. Story writing is a little different, though it too is open ended and magical.

Story as a Way of Knowledge

A story, in contrast to journaling, invites us to put events into a time frame and make choices. A story has a structure—a beginning, middle and an end that you choose and construct out of your fragments of dream and memory. Creative people—poets, painters, musicians, and writers enter into a kind of reflective dream, written about beautifully by John Gardner in The Art of Fiction. A story writer selects words that convey feeling, action, and reflection, bringing the lived moment alive to the reader. Writing creates a new experience with what had been chaotic. I like to say that story writing, including memoir, personal stories, and even fictional writing, is a “Way of Knowledge.”

Through story, you can learn about the self, about the narrator, the characters, the actions taken and the theme and outcome of the story. This creates a new world on the page and in the heart of the writer. What was perceived as “reality” before writing the story is changed by the act of writing.

Dr. James Pennebaker, who did the major research on writing as healing, points out that once we write a story, we no longer remember what “really” happened—we remember the story of what happened. The story inhabits us, and we are different as a result. Our imagination and the art of the story have created a new reality.

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
Thomas Merton


There are some openings in my online tele-workshops at the National Association of Memoir Writers for the spring session. Tuesday session begins March 27, 3 PM PDT. Monday begins April 2 at 1 PM PDT.

  • Think about one of your favorite family stories–would you like to develop it further?
  • What time frame have you covered in your early vignettes? Place them on the timeline to get a visual image of the quilt of your memoir.
  • Character sketches: Choose some of the people you have written about in your memoir, and create a more complete scene with them. Learning about scene writing is an ongoing challenge–but rewarding. Scenes are how you bring your world to life.
  • Do you struggle with writing your truths, the right to write your stories? Support and community can help you move forward with more confidence.
  • Learn about quilting your vignettes into a larger work.
  • Does your inner critic bother you? Learn new techniques to help silence the inner critic.
  • Write about the landscapes and places that are part of your soul.
  • Editing: We teach you gently how to become your own editor.
  • Revision—means “seeing again.” Writing means revision, an important skill as you grow as a writer.
  • Organization: we will discuss how to organize and keep track of your vignettes.


… Linda Joy is an inspirational mentor who truly makes a difference and convinces you to believe in yourself and your story…..She always provides compassionate and meaningful support and expert guidance and direction.

Kathy Pooler

Re-membering through memoir writing patched together important pieces of myself long ago forgotten or abandoned. After several rounds of classes under Linda Joy Myers’ priceless guidance, all of me is finally snuggled well into my body, mind, and spirit. Prior to Linda Joy’s memoir classes, I never would have called myself a writer, Now, I can say with pride and certainty that I am indeed, a writer.

—-Author Dawn Novotny


Memoir Writing — A Creative Path to Self Awareness


Writing stories heals body and soul, and is a powerful way to change our perspective about the past. Not only that, it’s a creative way to learn about yourself. Dr. James Pennebaker and Joshua Smith published the first research on writing as a way to heal and recover from past injuries in the Journal of the American Medicine Association in 1999. Pennebaker states that writing stories is even more healing than journaling, and helps to heal asthma, arthritis, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Dr. Pennebaker’s site has a lot of articles about writing, healing, and the benefits of using certain language as a means for healing. Though we all have sensed that writing allows self expression and opens up awareness about our life, the research is a powerful testament to the power of words and story to create change.

For most of us, it’s easy and fun to write good memories, but most people have negative memories that linger and need release–the death of a loved one, depression, illness, or  anxieties because of family dysfunction or various kinds of abuse. Society seems to try to get us to forget the past, but traumatic memories do not go away by will power alone, or even years of therapy. The ways we try to escape–through alcohol or addictions, for instance–only makes us more alienated from ourselves. Traumatic images and reactions disappear underground for a time, only to reappear when triggered by an event in current time–often called flashbacks. But these incidents can be healed through writing–and rewriting. Sometimes the same event needs to be written about many times in order to be released.

Traumatic memories are stored in the brain in a different way than regular memories, but research continues to show that writing allows a new kind of processing to occur.

When you integrate the memories into your regular memory, you can move into a present and future renewed and with more energy–the pain of the past is put into perspective–perhaps not forgotten, but no longer seeming like an immediate and current injury.

Writing a story is different from journaling. When we journal, we spill out whatever we are feeling in a random way, and it doesn’t matter how we write it. Writing a story requires that we  choose its shape and focus. This structuring and choice about scenes, dialogue, and characters opens up a creative space where writing can work its magic, where something new is created. Where we encounter the unknown. Pennebaker says, “Story is a way of knowledge.” We learn about ourselves throught writing story.

And there’s another exciting aspect to story writing in memoir: you are both the narrator and a “character” in the story. The narrator choosing what to write as an objective observer helps us to witness our younger self, and reveals a new perspective on the past. We weave a new place in the “now.”

In my book The Power of Memoir, I present an 8 step pathway to write a memoir–from researching your past to character studies, using turning points and the timeline to sort through your memories, and techniques of story structure. The research by Pennebaker and others is presented–and it’s quite exciting stuff. Writing really does help to heal physically–several writers I know with arthritis have improved functioning after writing for a few months, telling their truths, freeing themselves from the past.

The upcoming webinar at Writer’s Digest I’ll be offering a whole course in memoir writing in 90 minutes–which includes a recording, the live webinar, Q&A, and free critique. It will include techniques for writing freely and quickly, taming the inner critic, creating the arc of the narrative, writing powerful scenes, and much more.

Tips for writing a memoir:

  1. Make a list of the ten most important turning points in your life. Then choose a story from each one and write a new story each week.
  2. Write a list of the critic voices –either your inner critic or the voices of family or friends.
  3. Put the worry-critic list aside and begin writing using the turning point list.
  4. Capture your stories in vignette form without worrying about chronological order.
  5. Use photos to spark your memories. Think about what happened before and after each picture and describe the photo in detail.
  6. Create a sacred-space around you while you are writing. Don’t share your stories with anyone for a while. Protect them as if they were tiny plants in your garden.
  7. Write in the “I” voice in present tense for maximum intensity and immediacy.
  8. If you write in the past tense, you can easily move back and forth through time–using reflection as a way to create perspective.
  9. Think about your themes–asking “what is this about? What important message to I want to share with others?”
  10. List 5 things a reader will take away when they read your memoir.
  11. Create a writing schedule –writing 500 words–two pages–per day gives you a whole book in six months.
  12. Meditate on a mountain pool in France–see the above photograph. Linger in the reflections and start writing!

Memoir Writing and Creativity in The Year of the Memoir—2012

By now quite a few people in my networks have heard that I decided to call 2012 The Year of the Memoir. Why did she do that, you wonder. What will we call next year?? More importantly–what is Snoopy writing in HIS memoir?

First of all, I trust in the powers of creativity. They are greater than I, or you, or anyone, but the deal is, we have to find ways to listen to that still small voice that whispers brilliance in our ears and we need to find ways to bring our creative thoughts and ideas into form in the world. The idea of a baby is quite different than birthing one, don’t you think? The idea of a book is an idea—until you bring it to life on the page. We need help to get our work born, we need inspiration and support. Techniques and goals.

We need to have a sense of being able to do what we want to do—so declaring it is a way to keep ourselves honest. Think of the writers—Dickens, Virginia Woolf, John Steinbeck among others—who wrote and shared with other writers their creative experiences, their doubts and fears.  Each of them announced what they were working on and in so doing, created intentionality and a goal. As well as a well-oiled support group. The Impressionists did this as well, discussing, painting, trying, failing, and still they painted and changed the world.

Inspiration and Perspiration—how much of each?

Inspiration helps many of us get ourselves planted in the chair to write, but as you know, writing requires some effort, some perspiration, in order for us to wrestle with the various ideas coursing through our brains. We wrestle with technique, with images, with memories. With the Inner Critic, with the voice of family.

But we keep writing. That’s the only way. We learn from our reading—how did that author keep ME turning the pages? Why do I find it hard to put down some books and others I can’t finish. Ask those questions, learn from everyone around you. Have a beginner’s mind.

I have likened writing a memoir to a journey in other posts. This week I began teaching my online workshops and was so jazzed to hear the eagerness in the voices of the students in the workshop. They are engaged in such a creative dance on their journey to a finished memoir.

Here’s what some of them said:

  • Writing validates my experience. I feel better about who I am when I write.
  • Not writing made me realize how much I need to write to know who I am.
  • Writing my memoir has helped me get along better with my mother and ex-husband.
  • Writing about the past helped me to let it go.
  • The year of the memoir idea made me realize that I want to get my book done this year!

Having a name for the year set an intention for many of these writers.

How do you set your intention?

How do you keep your goal in mind?

Some people journal, some write out intentions and put them up on the wall.

Others put their intention on the calendar and create accountability.

What method do you want to start this week during the first month of the Year of the Memoir?

How many words will you have written by Feb. 1??

Think of Snoopy writing his memoir, and smile. It keeps you open and flexible, smiling. Keep writing!



The Year of the Memoir–and Juicy Creativity

Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations, the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity into the various forms which are essential to the work of art or poem. –Rollo May




It’s the Year of the Memoir—welcome to 2012. At the National Association of Memoir Writers, we are celebrating the full riches of the memoir, and inviting everyone to write their memoir this year.

Writing as you know is about creativity—and keeping yourself creative, actively writing, and engaged with your material. Post-holiday is a perfect time to center on your creative life and get focused.

When you think about it, a large part of our writing lives is spent reflecting, musing, journaling, and being “pregnant” with creative energy and ideas. We need to listen to the voices within—which means we should write, muse, and write some more! We need to stimulate our creative minds, to “fill the well” as I call it, so we have a lot to draw from when we sit down.

The more we use and stimulate our creativity, filling the well with beauty and good ideas, the more it will be there for us when we need it. For inspiration about creativity, I enjoy Rollo May’s The Courage to Create, which I recommend to explore ideas about creativity expressed without jargon. He talks about inspiration and breakthroughs, and explores the role of the unconscious in creativity—one of my favorite sections. 

He makes several important points about creativity:

1.      He says that “the unconscious seems to take delight in breaking through…what we cling to in our conscious thinking.”

2.      The breakthrough shakes up our calm world, the status quo of our thinking.

3.      During the breakthrough, everything is vivid, as we are in a heightened state of consciousness—which intensifies memory and the senses.

4.      The breakthrough comes during the transition between work and relaxation.

Einstein said, “Why is it that inspiration seems to come while I’m shaving?”

Another expert on the creative process, Brenda Ueland, author of If You Want to Write says,

“Inspiration comes very slowly and quietly…the imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering.”

So, go ahead and clean your house and prune your roses, while tuning into your creative processes bubbling deep within. Who says that only writers who are avoiding their desks have the cleanest houses? Maybe those who are properly messing about are engaged in the highest level of creativity!

Tips to Enhance your Creativity in 2012

1.      Journal every day for 15 minutes. Writing begats more writing, and invites the flow of ideas.

2.      Immerse yourself in creativity—read a poem, meditate on beauty or something that inspires you.

3.      Go to an art museum and allow other forms of creativity to fill your well.

4.      Take long, or even short, walks, as Brenda Ueland suggests, noticing the details of plants, houses, animals, and people.

5.      Read inspiring literature of any genre. If it is well written, it will fill the spaces within your unconscious mind with good raw material to process.

What is your favorite way to invite creativity?

What are your writing plans for The Year of the Memoir?