Memoir for Journalers?

I'm surprised it took me this long, figuring out how being a life-long journaler leads you naturally to writing memoir. Taking the stories, memories, facts, and emotions from your life and crafting them into something relatable, remarkable, and hopefully, interesting, entices a journaler to look at those pages and pages of scribbling and polish them up, shiny and new. Memoir and memory comes from the same Latin root word, "memor," meaning mindful. Which is really kind of perfect. The act of reliving and remembering in living color the turning points you wish to retell takes a certain kind of awareness, and to be honest, a lot of bravery. Since I've starting teaching memoir, I have been blown away by the revelations shared, the depth of honesty, and sometimes the hilarity of the most dire of situations, given the right slant of details, pacing, and voice.

Memoirists do not write every aspect of their life chronologically, (for that would be autobiography), but ideally, tells each of the most impactful tales through the lens of a theme. Different kinds of memoirs focus on different aspects of storytelling... the thriller memoir, the motivational memoir, the lurid tell-it-all memoir, but more and more what I am reading are the triumph-over-adversity memoirs. As best-selling novelist Amy Tan says in her online Masterclass, (and I'm paraphrasing), "You don't have to survive some kind of terrible tragedy or trauma to write a memoir, but you do need to impart the emotional landscape of your past honestly for the reader to be there with you."

One of the first exercises I like to do with a new class of memoirists-to-be, is to spend time creating a life map. We do this in several ways, but the gist is to indicate the phases of your life, similar to Dr. Progroff's "Steppingstones," of which I am so fond, and begin to follow the path, however circuitous, from where you were, to how you got here. Geographical changes, school, love, loss, career, health... all come under the magnifying glass when we hit the rewind button. And every time we look at the flow of our life, we ourselves come to it a little differently, because we have changed, and so we have a new story to tell, every time. The meaning we give now to the events that happened then is the crux of what we are diving deep for. I stress honesty above all. Not every word written in our weekly exercises must be shared, in fact, some stories are for your eyes only. But once you have gotten lost in the flow of writing your life stories, there's a recognition, a re-seeing if you will, those stories for what they are now. They're yours to tell.


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Journal writing is an effective, creative tool with the intention of increasing wellness and focusing on self-care, but it should not take the place of personal medical attention, or working with a licensed therapist or counselor, if needed.

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