Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D. is the president of the National Association of Memoir Writers and the author of the prize-winning memoir Don't Call Me Mother: Breaking the Chain of Mother Daughter Abandonment. Her new book The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story was released in January 2010 through Jossey Bass publishers.
Linda has been a therapist in Berkeley for the last thirty years, and received her MFA at Mills College.
Through her workshops, online coaching, and speaking engagements, Linda integrates the principles of healing and creativity in presenting the powerful healing process of writing true stories. Her first book, Becoming Whole: Writing Your Healing Story, was used as a text by therapists, ministers, and writing coaches, and was a finalist in ForeWord magazine's 2008 Book of the Year Award. Linda's prize-winning nonfiction and poetry has been published in various literary journals. Her novel excerpt, Secret Music, a novel about the Kindertransport, music, and redemption was a finalist in the San Francisco Writing Conference contest.
Linda is past-president of The California Writers Club, Marin branch, and former vice-president of the Women's National Book Association, and has served on the board of Story Circle Network.
Find out more about Linda by visiting her websites:
The Power of Memoir: Writing Your Healing Story
By Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D.
The Power of Memoir is a groundbreaking book that presents an innovative step-by-step program using memoir writing on the journey of emotional and physical healing. By drawing on the eight steps outlined in The Power of Memoir, you'll learn how to choose the significant milestones in your life and weave together your personal story. You'll discover how writing your truths and shaping your narrative propel you toward a life-changing transformation. The Power of Memoir offers the tools you need to heal the pain of the past and create a better present and a brighter future.
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Jossey-Bass (January 2010)
Book Giveaway Comments Contest!
If you received our Events Newsletter, remember, we are holding a contest to win a copy of Linda Joy Myers's book The Power of Memoir to those that comment. So, grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and enjoy the chat, and share your thoughts, and comments, at the end. We will randomly choose a winner from those who comment.
Interview by Jodi Webb
WOW: What led to your work doing memoir writing workshops and eventually The Power of Memoir?
LINDA: I came upon memoir writing from the desperate urge over many years to write about my childhood, to try to express the confusion that was going on inside me. I also wanted to write about those I loved and those who saved me, so it was a way to honor and thank them and to appreciate them. So yes, my work to teach about memoir writing came first through writing to heal—though that was not the phrase used at the time, nor had any research yet been done on that subject.
The impetus to write my first book on healing, and then ultimately The Power of Memoir came from the amazing research first published in 1999 in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Dr. James Pennebaker and others that writing helped to heal physical ailments such as arthritis and asthma. Though I sensed that writing was helpful, and I and many of my friends had been journaling for years, to discover that in fact writing was healing was very exciting. I’d always wanted to find a way to integrate therapy with writing. I read all of Dr. Pennebaker’s articles and talked to him in person as I was working on my first book.
For a few years, I trained therapists in using writing to work with clients, and in those workshops, I discovered how quickly “non-writers” produced interesting and meaningful stories. It became clear that anyone could find the stories within if they were given the time and encouragement. I became quite passionate about spreading the word about writing. I saw that anyone could learn to do it if they wished, and that it was a powerful tool for change and transformation.
WOW: How did you come to write your own memoir Don't Call Me Mother?
LINDA: I completely backed into writing a memoir. The thought of writing a book was so terrifying, I’d stop writing when I thought of it! For so long I struggled with the form all the stories I had might take. I had stories from the 19th century from my great-grandmother, I knew my grandmother’s stories and some of my mother’s story. I was interested in telling their stories, until one day a teacher told me that I should be writing my story. I nearly fainted. What—expose myself like that? I’d been taught that children should be seen and not heard, and not to air the family laundry—or else!
So it was a long struggle to find myself and give myself permission to write my own story. Also I didn't really know how to write! I began with painting my story, then moved into poetry, then into prose. I realized that the deeper story was falling through the cracks of the other art forms, and that prose would tighten the weave. Writing leads to more writing, and the more we write, the more we learn. Luckily I have always been an avid reader, with stacks of books all around me and reading more than one at a time, so I knew what good writing was like. But each of us has our own voice, and we need to find that.
The way I finally wrote my book was to write each individual vignette and not worry about a book or any order, and after a while I realized I might be writing a book, but still it took a long time for me to own that desire. My inner critic, remember? But when I turned my back on the project, I discovered that it chased me, wouldn’t leave me alone, haunted me. Finally I faced the demands the book was making on me, and got brave enough to finish it.
WOW: I've written many personal essays, snapshots of my life, but never really considered a memoir simply because my life feels...well, boring and predictable. Is every life memoir worthy?
LINDA: A lot of people ask that question, but often it’s in the form of: “Gee, I don’t really have a story worth telling.” Then they launch into the adventures they’ve had, the life challenges they’ve overcome—births, deaths, natural disasters. Spiritual learning, love, the joy of children, pets, and gardens. The thing is—everyone’s life is interesting if we look through the lens of the turning point moments, the moments of transition and transformation. People read memoirs to find out about how other people lived; we are all looking for guidance from others on life’s journey–how did they solve life’s problems, and how are they doing now? Can we overcome some of the challenges we face, and how? A memoir is a grass-roots sharing of life as we have lived it.
WOW: How do we decide what facet of our life experience to focus on in a memoir?
LINDA: Start with listing the 5-10 significant turning points in your life, and write about them. See where that takes you. Most of us will learn something from doing that exercise, getting more insights about our lives, and surprising us perhaps about how interesting our lives have been after all.
WOW: Although we think of memoir as being our life stories, the fact is other people get dragged in to the tale. How do we balance the need to tell our story with the needs of our memoir's co-stars to NOT tell their story?
LINDA: Most memoirists struggle with the issue of revealing secrets when they are searching how to tell their own powerful, and often shameful, truths. Secrets maintain a great power over us, and we are diminished by them. We become co-conspirators in a way to the family dynamics that we actually don’t agree with and want to break away from. So we get caught in a conflict—to speak or not to speak. To remain closed and complicit, or open up and take the risk of losing friends and family, of being ousted from the family, or shamed once again into submission.
I tell all my students to be open to writing two versions of the story: first, write for yourself, to clear out your emotional closet, to sort the events that are jumbled up in your mind. Research has shown that this kind of writing is powerful and creates changes in the brain. In other words: it’s healing.
Write your whole first draft in silence, in secret, so that you can finally hear your own voice. Don’t tell anyone you are writing it, and only share it with your supportive writing group or your therapist. Watch out even for friends, because sometimes they can misunderstand what you are doing. Do not think about publication, as it is way too soon for that.
When you have finished, and know what your unvarnished and unedited story is, then you can decide what you want to do with it. You might not want to share it with anyone. Or you might decide to rewrite it so that it can face the world, and so can you.
If you want to publish it, you do have to consider the rights and feelings of others—though this is an ethical decision that everyone has to make on the basis of their own integrity. Most authors “vet” the book with those who appear in it, and nearly everyone changes the names of the guilty or innocent.
Liable and slander are legal issues that I can’t address here, but a literary attorney can answer questions like that if you feel that someone will get litigious with you. After all, anyone who knows you will know who the people are that you’re writing about. If you really want to write about things that are controversial, disguise everything about the situation, and proceed carefully into fiction. I understand that even though Saul Bellow changed names in his fiction, he was writing, and getting even with, people that everyone knew. He wanted revenge and got it. I don’t know the cost to him or the degree of satisfaction he got from that.
You have to decide the reasons for what you include in the book, and ask: is this necessary to my story? How can I write it so it’s true and not cruel or demeaning? And by the time it’s ready to be published, have you worked out the anger and other negative feelings? If not, write another draft. Be patient. Writing a memoir is a long process of writing through layers. The story will tell you when it’s done.
WOW: Great advice! So, what are you working on now?
LINDA: My next project is to write a book to help young adults write their stories. People do not need to be “older” in order to write and share their stories. Young people are writing and expressing themselves in amazing and refreshing ways these days. But still they have to deal with the same family issues of guilt, shame, and silence that adults struggle with. So I hope that my book can help free them from fear and silence and help to offer a way to heal and help them move forward in their lives in a powerful way.
WOW: Thank you so much, Linda, for taking the time to chat with us today about memoir writing. You shared some wonderful tips with our readers!
Want to join Linda on her blog tour? Check out these dates and mark your calendar! You can also snag a copy of WOW's Events Calendar HERE.
Blog Tour Dates: Come and join the fun!
March 8, 2010 Monday
Linda will be chatting with WOW! Women On Writing at The Muffin. Stop by and share your comments! One lucky commenter will win copy of Linda's book!
March 9, 2010 Tuesday
In today's interview, Mary Jo Campbell is asking Linda Joy Myers everything we've been wondering about memoir writing. You can also enter to win a copy of The Power of Memoir, Linda's inspirational guide to memoir writing.
March 10, 2010 Wednesday
Linda stops by Meryl's Notes today to share some more tips on memoir writing. If you want to pen your own history, stop by and get some pointers from a pro!
March 12, 2010 Friday
There is no happiness without some sadness. No sadness without some happiness. And when you're writing for the YA market you often have both emotions in the same scene! Linda Joy Myers, author of The Power of Memoir, discusses the importance of balancing dark and light stories and emotions.
March 15, 2010 Monday
Linda Joy Myers visits Pick the Brain, a wonderful site dedicated to self improvement with a focus on personal productivity, motivation, and self education.
March 16, 2010 Tuesday
Linda stops by Cathy C.'s Hall of Fame to share her thoughts on accidental enlightenment. You'll also have the opportunity to win a copy of her book The Power of Memoir!
March 16, 2010 Tuesday
Stop by today for C. Hope Clark's review of The Power of Memoir and come back tomorrow for a guest post from author Linda Joy Myers.
March 17, 2010 Wednesday
Are you dreading the annual 4th of July picnic already? And not because you hate aunt Mary's potato salad? Don't miss Linda Joy Myers' post "How to Write a Memoir and Still Go Home for the Holidays" at C. Hope Clark's blog today!
March 19, 2010 Friday
Stop by Words By Webb for a review of Linda Joy Myers' The Power of Memoir and a chance to ask her a few questions about memoir writing.
March 23, 2010 Tuesday
Stop by Shai Coggins' blog for a review of The Power of Memoir and an interview with the author Linda Joy Myers!
March 24, 2010 Wednesday
Linda Joy Myers stops by 100 Memoirs to tell writers how to write your memoir and still go home for the holidays.
March 25, 2010 Thursday
Linda Joy Myers is back at 100 Memoirs, but this time Shirley Showalter interviews Linda about the role of friends and family members in a writer's memoir. You can also enter to win a copy of Linda's book The Power of Memoir!
March 29, 2010 Monday
Linda Joy Myers will be visiting Jerry Waxler at the Memory Writers Network today. I can't wait to see what these two memoirists come up with!
April 1, 2010 Monday
Laura Cross is putting memoir writer Linda Joy Myers in the hot seat with her weekly feature, "Five Questions with..." You can also enter to win a copy of The Power of Memoir!
April 2, 2010 Tuesday
Today Jerry Waxler will be reviewing The Power of Memoir by Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D. at the Memory Writers Network. His reviews are great, so be sure to stop by.
We have more dates to come! To view all of our touring authors, check out our Events Calendar HERE.
If you have a blog or website and would like to host Linda Joy Myers or schedule a tour of your own, please email Angela and Jodi at: firstname.lastname@example.org
And be sure to comment on this post to enter in a drawing for a copy of Linda Joy Myers's book The Power of Memoir! And check back in a couple of days in the comments section to see if you won!