Excerpts from The Power of Memoir

Foreword by Kathleen Adams

Step 1 Understanding Your Reasons for Writing
Step 2 Doing Your Research
Step 3 Planning Your Memoir
Step 4 The Psychology of Memoir Writing
Step 5 The Dark Stuff
Step 6 Organizing the Narrative Arc
Step 7 To Publish—or Not
Step 8 The Power of Writing to Heal


Chapter 1 Spirituality, Meditation, and Inner Listening
Chapter 2 For Therapists Who Use the Healing Power of Memoir
Chapter 3 Stories from the Workshops

Recommended Reading
Reader’s Guide

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Introduction to The Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story 
The goal of this book is to help you write the truth about your life, to create a memoir that helps you put unresolved conflicts behind you, heals past wounds, and helps you find meaning, value, and inspiration for your life. You may ask, ‘‘What is my truth—and what will happen if I tell it?’’

Think about what memories are hidden in the folds of your mind. How do they appear in dreams, haunt you, and invite you to take them from their hiding place? What family secrets make you desperate to find out more, those secrets that whisper the things you need to be able to know to heal the past?
It’s important to begin with an understanding of the emotional motivation for writing your memoir. Do you want to set the record straight? Are you writing looking for love, forgiveness, or revenge?

  Perhaps you want to write the story of your spiritual quest or encounters with extraordinary events or people. This book will address these questions.
As a therapist for more than thirty years, I live in a world of words and stories. Every day I observe how language exposes and hides, breaks open and seals off the writer from her inner truth.

  Language can be a sword that penetrates stone, or it can build walls. I listen to the stories of my clients, seeking clues to openings and possible change, and turning my ear toward echoes of forgiveness and deeper truths. I do my best to sprinkle the seeds of growth and wisdom that I hope will take root, as I try to protect the garden while praying for gentle rain.

Coming from a family where three generations of mothers abandoned their daughters, it was natural for me to deeply desire that all beings become healed. I was convinced that if words could be said that had never been uttered before, words like ‘‘I love you’’ or ‘‘I’m sorry,’’ lives would be changed. I had seen words used to sever the ties of my family, but as I learned to read and discovered books, I saw another way that words could be used. As a child, I would hide the flashlight under the covers and read for hours, secretly savoring the magic of other worlds, finding that words created new universes where I could learn how to survive the darkness of the family conflicts. Many writers confess the same secrets to me—how literature, poetry, and story have saved them.

After working as a therapist for many years, I began to write my own story, first in journal entries and later in stories, which led to an MFA in creative writing at Mills College. Writing a memoir turned out to be the path to a greater and deeper healing than I would have thought possible. Writing my story and translating it from imagination and memory into words on the page allowed me passage from victim to healing, taking all the separate bits and pieces of my history—my thoughts, feelings, regrets, and hopes—to weave myself whole again.

  This book is a culmination and integration of other books, articles, blog posts, and many years of work with clients and students. Along the way, I discovered the groundbreaking research of Dr. James Pennebaker and others who supported what I see in my clients and writing students: writing helps to heal mind and body. His work showed me how to integrate the world of therapy and writing, and to search for others on this same path.
 Another important source of inspiration has been Kathleen Adams, director of the Center for Journal Therapy, who trains facilitators and coaches in therapeutic writing. Her work, and my curiosity about the power of writing personal truths, served to launch me into my passion: teaching others how to use personal story and memoir writing to heal.

 I’ve also been inspired by Dr. Lucia Capacchione, Denis LeDoux, Tristine Rainer, Christine Baldwin, Deena Metzger, Michelle Weldon, John Fox, Louise de Salvo, Dan Wakefield, Hal Zia Bennett, Susan Albert, and so many others who dedicate their creativity to the art of writing and healing through poetry, writing, and reading literature. Every time I read a memoir or work with students, I’m thrilled all over again to be part of their path of creativity and courage.

  When you write a memoir, you embark upon a journey from idea and memory to words on the page. To assist your imagination, you might want to draw from journals or family genealogy or unearth the family photo album. As you begin, you will likely wonder how much of your truth to tell, what’s essential to include and what isn’t. You might worry about anger or rejection when you grapple with the reality of dark emotions, pain, abuse, and unresolved conflicts. Your memoir may be focused on exploring family patterns or healing from emotional or physical illnesses.

  It might be a document you want to leave as a legacy to your descendants, or it may be focused on topics you’d like to share with the world. Your stories may be humorous or serious, inspiring or informative. The theme and tone of your memoir will evolve as you begin to write. The most important thing is to start right away!

  Most memoir writers are challenged by the task of sorting through the overwhelming amount of detail in their lives. We’ll discuss how to organize your work, pick the key events to include, discover important turning points, create your narrative arc, and how to shape your arc of healing. You’ll learn about using the tools of fiction, and how to present your memoir to the world. This book will help you begin, develop, and plan your memoir from idea to finished manuscript.

Writing your memoir is an act of courage, an encounter with imagination and memory, and a way to build a bridge from the past to the future. Experience the power of writing your memoir now. Pick up the pen, and listen to that voice inside you.

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