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What's Your Story? The joys and importance of memoir writing

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When teaching memoir writing, I challenge students to write without inhibition. The first draft is free-writing in response to a prompt. Writers shouldn’t worry about offending anybody or using proper grammar—those types of considerations are for the rewriting stages. The goal is merely to unblock and write the memory down. This can be intimidating to someone not in the habit of writing, who struggles with literacy, or who is insecure about whether their stories matter (they do).

Sometimes writers reveal private or unflattering things so I leave it up to them whether they want to read aloud or show their work to anyone. That’s why I was so delighted when I visited the OPtions Program at Saint Mary’s University this week. The program is designed to empower at-risk youth by giving them employability skills and hope for the future. Everyone in OPtions is overcoming challenges. But rather than being weighted down by them, they bravely wrote about the experiences that had a profound impact on their lives, and then they generously read them aloud—without reservation or self-pity. In fact much of the work they shared contained a hopefulness and gratitude I rarely see, which is a testament to the program itself. I wanted to hear more from each of them and hope they will finish the stories they began.

There is a saying that people have interesting or easy lives, and it is the writer who sees what’s interesting in any life. The OPtions students’ lives aren’t easy. But what I hoped to impart was that their challenges can serve as the interesting part, and that their stories are particularly valuable and important because of that.

Writing can be cathartic. It can also be hard. (I know; I’ve been suffering from a dreadful writing dry spell this summer—which ends now.) But when the OPtions students began their timed writing exercise they attacked it. As an instructor, when I see this happening, my heart sings arias.  

If you are interested in having me facilitate a memoir writing workshop with your group, please use the “Contact Me” tab. Rates are discounted (or possibly waived) for nonprofit groups. 

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Reader Comments (1)

It sounds like a wonderful session Alison! It is amazing how cathartic writing and sharing can be. I've seen it time and time again at my retreats.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnne O'Connell

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