How I Became Passionate about Memoir Writing


I was seven years old when I began to learn about the power of true stories. During the summers when I visited Iowa, I would lie in a featherbed beside my great-grandmother, Blanche. She was the mother of my grandmother, who was raising me instead of my mother, and I loved to listen to her craggy wisdom–she was eighty and I was eight. (She is in the photo with my grandmother as a baby.)

Blanche, her teeth in a jar beside the bed, whispered to me the stories of her life—crying with joy the first time she heard a voice on the telephone; friends in covered wagons stopping to say goodbye before setting off to the wilds of Kansas.

She told me about feeding fourteen farm hands and seven children, working in the garden to grow the food to can for the long, cold winters. Her young husband, Lewis, died two months after the wedding when she was twenty-one years old, and pregnant with my grandmother.

I learned how the past shapes the future. In my late thirties I began my career as a psychotherapist, tracing the threads of people’s hurt places, learning the power of their family stories. I helped them to weave together the missing pieces.

My secret dream had always been to write the stories that Blanche gave me, as well as to tell about three generations of mothers who had abandoned their daughters. Determined to learn about myself and to heal this pattern, I began to write what became my prize-winning memoir Don’t Call Me Mother.

 As I stumbled through writing a memoir in fiction classes—the memoir craze hadn’t begun yet—I learned about the power of words. I even wondered if all this writing could be healing, and soon found proof in medical journals that writing is healing—not only psychologically but physically.

Writing Heals!

To write my first book, Becoming Whole—Writing your Healing Story, I researched, then called Dr. James Pennebaker to ask him questions about how writing as healing worked, and what were the problems associated with all out writing about trauma, family wounds, and psychological complications of the past.

In his southern drawl he said, “If it hurts too much to write it, then don’t.”  Therapists were concerned that re-injury would take place if people went back to the past to write about traumas. While it’s true that at first when we write about painful things, we feel pain and we might cry, but afterward, it feels as if a great burden has been lifted, as if we’ve cleaned out a wound. As I wrote Becoming Whole, I was my own guinea pig while writing my own memoir Don’t Call Me Mother. You can read more about Dr. Pennebaker’s research here. Teaching other memoir writers always inspired me to keep going. Since then, many people whom I’ve taught have published their work and enjoy the recognition of being an author.  And in 2010, my next book The Power of Memoir was published by Jossey Bass.



Connecting with the Memoir Writing World at the National Association of Memoir Writers

Writing a memoir is an act of courage, healing, and transformation. Writing is the path, the journey, and the destination. Through writing, we discover ourselves anew, and face a brighter future.

For more about the tools, the process, and the joys (mostly) of memoir writing, check back here from time to time. And you can visit my organization site The National Association of Memoir Writers  where there are many tools and articles from people all over the world to support you in your journey writing your memoir.

Here at Memories and Memoirs, you will find articles, workshops, services—ways that I help writers develop their craft, and resources such as blogs, writing sites, inspiring books, , reflections on the writing life, and observations about memoir, writing, and the spiritual path. Sometimes I write my own stories about me and my family, and how the three generational pattern of mothers abandoning daughters, and daughters without fathers has been healed. You’ll see pictures of my kitties—my writing partners—and  my grandchildren, who love to be happy and clown around in pictures with Nana.

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Remember: Be Brave. Write Your Story.

Memoir IS About You! Free your Voice, Write Your Memoir

After the discouraging, depressing articles about bad memoir writers in the news, we have something good to report from an article in the Huffington Post titled Actually, Memoir IS All About You. How nice to hear that we can write about ourselves and not feel like we are a bunch of navel-gazing, narcissistic, nobodies who are boring the world with our stories—as reported from on high in a New York Times article by Neil Genzlinger a few weeks ago. 

I had to wonder if he’d ever been faced with a memoir challenge: write for thirty minutes about the most meaningful experience of your life. That’s what those who were in Dr. James Pennebaker’s early studies about writing and healing, writing and transformation did, and so have many others who go on to write and publish well written books that inspire others. I talk about those studies and the power of writing to create new perspectives and new mindsets in my book The Power of Memoir. My guess is that he might fail the test.

Memoir writing is not for the faint of heart. Betty Davis said, “Getting old is not for sissies,” and the same is true for writing a memoir. We need to find our tribe, those of like mind who are exploring the planet, whether internally, externally, or both, and feel ourselves supported and buoyed up by being around them. We need to listen to that still small voice that invites us to write, to break open the silence in our lives. To speak our truths. When we do that, we open the world to us in ways we couldn’t have imagined. What is your writing tribe? Do you have support in your writing life?

Yesterday I was invited to participate in a wonderful teleseminar by Tina Games who is relaunching her book Journaling by the Moonlight. I met several women I didn’t know—though I knew Tina and Ruth Folit, who has produced the Life Journal program to journal online. Tamara Gold and Lynn Serafinn were new to me, but 90 minutes later, after talking about the transformational power of writing, the spiritual strength that writing can offer us, I felt connected and re-energized about my own writing and what I do with memoir writers.

This is some of what we were all saying:

  1. Writing is transformational.
  2. Writing creates new insights and awareness.
  3. Writing frees us to find our truths and deepen our connection with ourselves.
  4. Writing invites our Whole Self to revel in the creativity and passion of who we really are.

The purpose of writing is to discover, uncover, and recover –and to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others. First, we write for ourselves—not worrying about judgments or criticism—then we write to communicate to others. We might begin in a journal, and continue the journaling as we write our personal stories in a memoir, which is constructed of scenes and created to bring others into our experience.

Memoirs are more popular than ever! Let your voice be heard, and write a new story today! In your journal, online, to a friend, or as a new chapter in your book.

 Sign up for the NAMW newsletter to find out what memoir writers are up to, and to get writing articles and prompts in your inbox to feed the flame of your writing passion. Best of luck in your writing life!

Audio Interview on Today’s World Blog Talk Radio Show Focuses on Writing a Memoir to Heal

I was recently interviewed by Laurie Sanders, host of Today’s World blog talk radio program and veteran radio DJ with KOIT in San Francisco. We discussed the topic of how writing helps to heal and about the special things that memoir writers need to know.

Enjoy the interview and let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below. I truly appreciate your feedback!

MP3 File