Friday Speak Out!: On Memories to Memoir Word

Friday, January 02, 2015
by Priscilla Whitley

Recently a friend inquired why so many authors feel the need to write and then….gasp….publish a personal, sometimes, very personal essay. Why would anyone ever put out these stories which can be about pain, loss or their own intimate struggles? Her question startled me as I take for granted the power of expression.

“Whether you can really draw or not, whether you can really act, or write or not, just trying to do it always gives you a different relationship to meaning.” --Anna Deavere Smith in Letters to a Young Artist

Writing a memoir is an opportunity, a gift to many, to sort out the memories which may have lived in our minds like Alice in a Wonderland maze. But as you move through a first draft you begin to distance yourself from the event as you write it down.

To look back, to write down our experiences can be like viewing the past through a prism. Look at it one way and you get a certain view, turn and look at it again and it takes on another, maybe even sparkling perspective which can be more vivid than the actual event. By picking and choosing, sometimes draft after draft, what to include, what to leave out, your story, your memory narrows to a meaning and a resolution which can be life altering. Writing your memories offers form and form turns into control.

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” ― Gabriel García Márquez

To reflect on our lives is to understand who we are.Writing our stories reminds us, and hopefully the reader, of how much we all have in common. Worldwide. We can easily stay in our own minds believing our experiences belong to only us but as so many writers of memoir know, the process of writing sorts out the confusion. It can be cathartic to the writer and on the very best level it can remind a reader our circumstances may be unique, but we all share the humanity of emotion.

Memoir writing is bravely putting out your life and saying, “This is what I’ve gone through, this was my reaction, and this is where I am now. Maybe you can learn something from that, maybe you can view another side you hadn’t considered.”

To write of one’s experiences lets you find out what you think. The essayist EB White wrote, “the practice and habit of writing not only drains the mind but supplies it too.”

I couldn’t quite articulate to my friend at the time why we memoirist do what we do, but as I finished writing this I’ve discovered why I choose this form of creativity. My past may not totally define me but has certainly shaped who I am….now what do you think?

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Priscilla Whitley has been a writer most of her life. She attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism as well as Fordham University where she majored in Creative Writing. She has been an on-going contributing feature writer for Hersam/Acorn Press. Her work has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls with a current piece, Barn Tales, in Weston Magazine Group Her memoir, August on the Porch, placed first in the Westport CT Arts Center Memoir Contest. As facilitator of the Candlewood Writer’s Group, Priscilla runs workshops for writer’s in Fairfield County Connecticut. Her website is

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Sioux Roslawski said...

Writing CAN heal us. And what we learn about how our past shaped us can help others.

Anonymous said...

Loved this post, and especially the quotes used. Very meaningful.

I agree with Sioux on the healing properties of writing.

Thanks for the inspiration!

BECKY said...

Hi Priscilla! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I, too, am a memoirist. I completed and self-published my memoir, "From Pigtails to Chin Hairs: A Memoir & More" in November of 2013. I agree wholeheartedly about writing being therapeutic. In fact, I discovered some hidden feelings as I wrote about my mother in different chapters. I'm going to check out your memoir! Thanks again.

Tami Lowe Whiting said...

I agree. I agree. I agree. I just finished the first draft of a memoir, and feel it would be a mistake not to share. For those who are able to learn by other's experiences, perhaps we can save them grief or pain. Perhaps we can bring hope. Certainly some may feel less alone in their own situations by relating to ours. In the very least we are helping to grow a community of women writers!

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