Journaling Your Way to a Memoir


My first diary was a 6×6 inch leather bound book with a lock and key. I only wrote brief code-like entries. The rules in my house were that I could have no privacy, so I played it safe and didn’t record my truths, but sentences and phrases that reminded me of my memories. Years later, diary and journal writers like Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin, and May Sarton showed me that writing personal stories could invite the reader into musings and intimacies that helped me learn about my own life and showed me new ways to live.

Do you keep a journal? What do you write in it? Is it a place to download your memories, or try out writing ideas? Do you draw, doodle, or vent? Is it a legacy keeper or a way to gather ideas for your memoir?

 I got over my shyness with journals, and I, like many people, have dusty boxes filled with journals. For years, I didn’t look at them, but sometimes I do, which is a mixed blessing when I see the same themes over and over again! But I also see that the basic bones of my memoir appear again and again in my journals. The first drafts of every chapter in my memoir were born in my journals. The pages are torn and stained, a testimony to my efforts to write my memoir over the years.

Writing in a journal means that we can freely write, we have invited our writing to flow without thinking of the critics whispering in our ears because we’re not “really writing.” We are journaling, spending time in the private creative space of our minds, weaving imagination and memory.

I’m looking forward to my monthly teleseminar at the National Association of Memoir Writers on May 18th with journaling expert  and writer Amber Lea Starfire. Her book Week by Week—A Year’s Worth of Journaling Prompts and Meditations is a wonderful collection of ideas, themes, and writing prompts that will chase away any writer’s block—and inspire a new relationship with your journal. The book will inspire you to investigate memories that you may have forgotten, and lead you to new ways to make the connections in your heart and mind to write more–and better.

We are going to talk about the many ways you can use your journal to enhance your memoir writing—and help you get to “The End” sooner! We all know what a journey it is to write a memoir.

Where are you on your memoir journey?

What books have inspired you the most as you continue to write?

Tell us about your journaling history–do you have boxes and stack of journals?

Three Memoir Writing Tips to get your Book in Your Hands — and a Teleseminar with Marion Roach Smith


If you have been writing your memoir for a while, you know that it takes time, patience, and a workable process to get you to “The End.” And even that is just the beginning—of another round of rewrites, edits, and proofs until you hold your book in your hands.

I’m intrigued by what Marion Roach Smith says about all this in her book The Memoir Project, and I’m so pleased that she’s our guest at the April 27 Member Teleseminar at the National Association of Memoir Writers.

1. Marion has a unique approach: don’t do writing exercises—just write! I have mused about why this approach might be helpful, and at first I was surprised at the idea. We all write “for practice,” don’t we? We have our writing practice, our morning pages, and our journal. We steadfastly write the exercises in some of the writing books we love. But Marion makes a good point—many writers take SO long to get a piece or a book or even a blog post completed. Are they using that “magic juice” of creativity that we all have—measured out in spoons sometimes and other lucky times it’s a flood—while the project doesn’t get done?

I can understand what she’s saying: when I focus on a particular piece to complete, my writing process is different than if I’m musing, or doing less focused writing. We will talk about all this and more during the member teleseminar. The lesson here is: write your project, and focus.

2.  I work with many people who run into tangles— the emotional kind rather than craft—when writing a memoir. All manner of “visitors” show up—from the inner critic, with its demeaning comments, to the outer critic clamoring with the (imagined) voices of family, to conflicts about truth and memory. The solution: keep a writing journal that will help you work through these tangles. My friend and colleague Amber Starfire is going to speak to us at our May 18 Teleseminar at NAMW about Journaling your Memoir—a technique that also focuses you to get your memoir done. Amber has many tips and prompts on her website Writing Through Life. Be sure to join us for both of these terrific teleseminars!

3. Share your work with other writers, take classes and workshops, and read, read, read to develop your craft. Every book can teach you more about writing. Read Sharon Lippincott’s post on the NAMW website on this topic A Great Writing Class for Free. Check out some of the recommend books on the National Association of Memoir Writers website.

Do writing exercises seem to help you, or do they feel like just practicing writing your book instead of ACTUALLY writing it?

When do you write in your journal–and is it ever about your book project, or just downloading your feelings about something. There are no rules for journal writing, so we often can feel more creative and free there.

What is your deadline for having your manuscript done? For having your book in your hands?

 Learn more about the Memoir Teleseminar here.


Marion Roach Smith Author of The Memoir Project