One of my groups at the Writer’s Workshop builds memoirs, and its members have been hard at work being vulnerable, fierce and flawed while they tell stories about themselves. It’s a challenging assignment to use creative nonfiction to write a memoir — these stories usually have pain and loss to go along with lessons and laughter.
This kind of writing can help you help yourself. Yes, self-help, that phrase that’s been denigrated since it first appeared well over a decade ago. Of course, you still see Self Help on the bookshelf signs at Barnes & Noble or our local Bookpeople. But for some of our writers, finding self-help practice inside of a memoir group has been surprising.
It’s surprising to me to think that writing about yourself would not be helpful — or even the most rewarding result of creating a memoir. One of my early Workshop students recently expressed a common feeling: Writing is Hard. As we shared about this on her Facebook feed, a friend noted that the therapy of writing is one of the biggest prizes to be earned from the effort.
Writing is ultimately therapeutic – getting it clear on paper means getting it celar in your head, which means getting it clear in your heart sometimes.
So working on memoir, or any heartfelt writing, has the potential to be much more than comparison of narration vs. scene, or how to construct an elegant transition, or how many of your paragraphs get to be one-sentence grafs. (Tip: if there’s more than one single-sentence graf on your manuscript page, you may be undercutting every one of them after the first one. Sports columnists rely hard on the single-sentence paragraph. Even the prize-winning ones.)
The connection: The sports columns are creative non-fiction, just like a memoir. But the subject of memoirs is yourself and your heart, where the battles are conflicts between friends and family — so we want to read about struggles overcome, not just gamesmanship. Memoir is writing that will become therapeutic with enough practice and honesty. Making a memoir can produce self-help, with a gentle group to spread courage.