Lyn Alderson

Copywriter, Journalist, Blogger

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The magnetic pull of memoir writing

Memoir writing is an exploding genre. Creative writing courses are packed with eager students of all ages, poised to learn the craft of artful storytelling.

And phenomenal numbers of memoirs are being published as it becomes not just acceptable, but highly fashionable, to spill the beans.

image by Damian Gadal

Image by Damien Gadal

I see the current trend as a heartening one; a move away from the sound bite culture which really took off in the 1990s and has been dominating mass communications ever since. And although some critics of the genre say there are too many badly-written memoirs out there, there are a lot of good ones too.

So why this magnetic pull towards memoir writing?

Writing therapy

As a journalist for more than two decades, I’ve listened to a lot of people telling their stories- and I know it’s often very therapeutic. Telling your story at length addresses a deep human need to be heard and acknowledged, and that’s something that can’t happen on social media platforms.

Writing a memoir helps us to see the narrative thread in our lives, reflect on the consequences of past choices, and even find redemption or closure. It gives us permission to articulate feelings that we couldn’t express in the past, and writing about the trauma we have experienced has scientifically proven healing effects.

It looks very much as if writing therapy, whether in the form of keeping a journal, or publishing a full-length memoir, is gradually taking over from the talking therapies in Western culture. It’s not hard to see why. For some people, psychotherapy still has a stigma attached and has to be approached in a covert fashion, while becoming a writer carries societal approval but allows you to bare your soul in much the same way.

Connecting to like-minded souls

And writing, even if you are still honing your skills, allows you to connect to other like-minded people.

As New York Times columnist and short story writer Steve Almond so succinctly put it: “writing allows you to join a flesh-and-blood community of fellow writers, readers and critics, all of whom have chosen the rigors of narrative over the emotional fragmentation of the digital age”.

Publishing a memoir is more than an act of self-expression and connecting to others, however. Your story may help someone else who is going through similar issues and that is a great motivator for many memoir writers.

So if you’ve started a memoir, I’d encourage you to keep going. You could be doing yourself and other people a big favour.

For more information on the therapeutic aspects of writing, see The Write Therapy: How Keeping a Journal Can Make You Happier, Healthier, and More Productive : many of the benefits of journaling apply to memoir writing too!

To see more Damien Gadal images click here






Writing a memoir: what are the benefits?

woman-41201_1280Should you write a memoir, and what are the benefits of such a project?

I’ve been thinking this through while ghost writing two very different memoirs for ladies who both have fascinating stories.

These women are inspirational characters who have given a lot to other people, and they both have great insights: the world needs to hear what they have to say.

So think about whether you have a great story that will benefit others when they read it. You don’t need to be famous or wealthy, although you might be. But you do need an eventful life story, one that involves overcoming challenges, or triumphing over adversity.

The best and the worst memoirs

In the best memoirs I’ve read, people have reflected on- and owned up to- their mistakes as human beings and found a positive way forward despite what life has thrown at them. The worst memoirs are the ones that people write to settle old scores, where they insist on blaming everyone else for everything that’s gone wrong.

True life stories are more entertaining than fiction, as long as they are courageously and honestly narrated. And memoirs can have many different angles. They can be about business or career achievements, traveling or hobbies, or family and personal relationships- or a mixture of many varied elements.

Many memoirs are about illness, or coping with the illness of significant others in your life. Memoirs don’t always involve high drama, because sometimes it’s not external factors that have the most impact on us, but what happens on the inside as we go through life.

The healing power of memoir

book-841171_1280So consider writing a memoir if you have something to say to inspire or encourage others, or if you want to record your experiences for future generations.

Telling your story often has a healing effect: we feel purged of negative emotions as we write them down. So it can be positively therapeutic to write a memoir. Psychologists say that memories of traumatic events are reorganised internally as we speak about them, and filed away more neatly in long term memory, so they become less intrusive and less disturbing in the here and now.

And it’s not just about coming to terms with the past. Don’t forget the joy you can experience again as you relive mountain top experiences of your life! At the very least, writing a memoir will increase your self- awareness and that’s a positive gain.

It also gives you something unique to pass on to family members, a treasured possession that helps them understand you and their family history.

The difficult part in memoir-writing is coaxing the story out, and deciding which bits are relevant to your narrative. Planning the central themes in advance is paramount. Work out what is important to you- it’s your story after all.

Help with memoir writing

You may have something important to say but lack the spare time or skills needed for a book project. In this case, don’t be deterred. You could employ a ghost writer to help you do justice to the story. They could interview you face-to-face or on Skype, and write the narrative on your behalf- I’ve used this process with clients and it works well. There are lots of people out there who can assist you with writing and publishing a book.

Remember that the process of story-telling is valuable for you, whether you write every word yourself or engage a professional to help you. Your book will be an accomplishment and treasured by those who love you. And you never know, it might be a best-seller too!