Not everyone understands why some write their memoirs. They dismiss it as narcissistic vanity. Why write something so personal they ask? Who cares?
Stories are my passion, so I am biased that writing memoir, if done well, is an act of love. We accept our imperfections, our flaws, and our gifts. Hopefully, we bring to the conversation something which “speaks to”―maybe even enlightens―all of us. This is the alchemy, the magic―the transmutation―of life story writing: taking the chemical element that is lead and turning it into gold. Writing our stories doesn’t mean you hold the keys to truth, rather your truth, pardon the overused expression in the memoir community.
In my memoir Again in a Heartbeat, I didn’t glamorize myself or my marriage with John. I might even have taken it too far―becoming the “villain” for screaming at my dying husband, “I wish I’d never met you!”. I hoped that by revealing my vulnerability and admitting how much pain I was in at the prospect of imminent loss, it might give others going through a similar journey the knowledge they’re not alone.Memoir writers might also consider how their stories are in service to others.
In my memoir, Morning at Wellington Square, I wrote about coming to terms with loss by giving back, using my gifts and talents in the community. There is, after all, a silver lining as we move beyond grief. For me, this became the Women’s Writing Circle, a group which I believe―and hope―offers women a chance to share their stories in camaraderie and support.When writing memoir, keep in mind there is a great deal of difference between self-love and excessive interest in oneself. I have been in writing groups where writers forgo their talents and insights to rant about past hurts or wounds. They get so caught up in anger; they forget to honor the healing aspects of their stories. Like a two-year-old child demanding attention, they indulge in the narcissism of “me, me, me” …As writers, we take on the role of “truth speaker.” We speak the truth as best we can, move out of the way and invite our readers to join us on our journey. This requires a “confidence of voice” which has been especially challenging for women.In Lena Dunham’s bestselling memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, a young woman tells you what she’s ‘learned,’ Dunham writes:“There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman. As hard as we have worked and as far as we have come, there are still so many forces conspiring to tell women that our concerns are petty, our opinions aren’t needed, that we lack the gravitas necessary for our stories to matter. That personal writing by women is no more than an exercise in vanity and that we should appreciate this new world for women, sit down, and shut up.
Religious mystics and contemplatives have always known this: the deeper you go, the more you spiral both down and up on your journey. The creative medium that is memoir writing leads to awakening―and opens the writer to the great possibility of connecting with others. It’s a joy and maybe even the ultimate act of love.
About Susan G. Weidener
A former staff writer with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Susan started the Women’s Writing Circle in 2009. The Women’s Writing Circle is a place to share stories through monthly read around and critique and a yearly writing workshop. The group’s aim is to break the isolation of writing and join in camaraderie and goodwill, finding in writing a way to heal, to empower and to find voice. All genres and experience levels are welcome.
Susan is the author of Again in a Heartbeat: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Dating Again, about being widowed at a young age and a Story Circle Network selection as one of the best memoirs of 2011. Two years later, she wrote and published its sequel, Morning at Wellington Square, a woman’s search for passion and renewal in middle age. Her novel, A Portrait of Love and Honor, completes the trilogy inspired by and dedicated to her late husband, John M. Cavalieri, on whose memoir the novel is based. Susan earned a BA in Literature from American University and a master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania. She offers editing services for writers aspiring to publish their manuscripts.