Friday Speak Out!: Writing a Memoir – Finding Your Voice

Friday, May 01, 2020
by Nancy L. Pressly

Writing a memoir was a completely new undertaking. I approached it without any preconception about how it should be structured, but with the desire to write something meaningful and with the hope that if I was fortunate it might even be recognized with some good reviews. (I was thrilled to get a wonderful review in Kirkus.) I was aware it was important to find my voice, but I did not consciously try to construct it. I knew the voice had to be authentic and reflect who I am as a person. I am empathetic and intuitive by nature and intensely attuned to peoples’ feelings and in the process be psychologically aware. My son has often accused me of wearing my heart on my sleeve, which is true. But this openness, this candor and willingness to be vulnerable and intimate and to share my insights is who I am and became part of my voice in Unlocking.

I also found my voice through the process itself as I let my story slowly unfold. I tried to remember, to find ways to pull back the veils of amnesia that clouded my memories of my parents and childhood and even the town where I grew up. This was part of my journey and my voice reflects this. It carries the reader along with me as I journey back in time, beginning with my retrieval of memories of the physical environment of my childhood, like the intoxicating fragrance of honeysuckle and Lily of the Valley that seemed to be everywhere in our yard and the musty piles of leaves I use to rake and jump into. It was only after I recalled this world in some detail that I could enter the more interior world of our home, the kitchen aromas, the cellar where our cat would have three litters a year, the holiday table, and finally, emotions and family dynamics. I had no idea where it would end up, but I trusted the journey and allowed myself to plummet deep, to stir the unconscious.

Additionally, as an art historian I am visually aware and I came to see in writing this book that my ability not only to look but “to see,” to intuit meaning beneath the surface of works of art was linked to my empathetic and intuitive nature. My empathetic sensitivities informed how I experienced art and thought about the act of making art, and this visual awareness becomes part of voice as well.

Lastly, voice may also be about inspiration and I found that in the process of writing itself, so different than any other writing I had done previously done professionally. It was the first time in my life I felt like a “real” writer. It was liberating.

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Atlanta Portrait Photography
Nancy L. Pressly, a graduate of Goucher College, received her master’s degree in Art History from Columbia University. She began her career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and subsequently held curatorial positions at the Yale Center for British Art and the San Antonio Museum of Art, where she organized several important exhibitions, most notably the acclaimed Fuseli Circle in Rome: Early Romantic Art of the 1770s. In 1984 she became Assistant Director of the Museum Program at the National Endowment for the Artsin 1992 was a visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts; and in 1993 she founded Nancy L. Pressly & Associates, a nationally recognized consulting firm specializing in strategic planning for art museums. She has authored numerous publications, most recently a a book titled Settling the South Carolina Backcountry. She and her husband live in Atlanta, Georgia, close to their son and two grandchildren.
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...

Nancy--Your book sounds fascinating. The combination of family "stuff" plus a near-fatal illness and art? What a wonderful mash-up.

Memoir is my favorite genre to read and write. I think when we dig into our history, if we're honest with our excavation, our voice can't help but be true.

Have fun with your future traveling (I checked out your website) and good luck with your future writing.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for your comments which are really appreciated. And yes as you say if we dig deep and are honest an authentic voice emerges that also coveys a sense of the author’s journey And thanks for your wishes and same back to you. Enjoy and stay safe. Nancy

Unknown said...

Unknown is Nancy Pressly

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