Why I Am So Passionate About the Memoir Revolution

By Jerry Waxler

For my whole life, I’ve been intrigued by the variety of human experience. I also love to write. Over the years, these two passions have converged. I want to understand people, and express my thoughts in writing. When I was 52, I received a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology, giving me a rich array of insights into ways that people learn. I collected my observations and posted them on my first website, mental-health-survival-guide.com.

To combine writing with psychology, I began conducting workshops to help writers develop habits, overcome self-doubts, and reach readers. I turned this into a self-help book called How to Become a Heroic Writer.

As I continued to explore, I realized memoir writing combines both my passions. Writing about life lets you turn attention inwards, where you can examine your journey. And it turns attention outward, where you shape a story that makes sense to others. This is what happens in a therapist’s office, too. During therapy people authentically share their lives and in the process increase their self-understanding. I wanted to extend this from individual therapy to include everyone who looks for deeper meaning within their lives.

To develop these ideas, I wolfed down memoir after memoir, devouring its meaning and structure. Each one teaches me two things: what it was like being that person, and what it was like turning that life journey into a story. The lessons poured in, and I began conducting workshops on memoir writing, and again turned my lessons into a book, Learn to Write Your Memoir in Four Weeks. (Not that you’ll write it in four weeks, but you can learn everything you need to know in these 28 steps.)

To share my observations about memoir reading and writing, I started the blog, Memory Writers Network. Like every other type of writing I’ve done, writing the blog has helped me grow. And through receiving comments and visiting other blogs, and finding people interested in memoir writing, I was discovering as well as creating a micro-community of like-minded individuals. This has been enormously empowering. Like the radicals who established a community by printing brochures during the American Revolution, I can spread ideas about the Memoir Revolution, and I don’t even have to stand on street corners.

What is the revolution in which we are all participating? For one thing, blogging itself is a revolution, and the tyranny it overthrows is silence. Turning your individual, unique knowledge, passion, and wisdom into story and publishing it to the world incites deeper understanding. By sharing ourselves in this way, I hope we can learn about each other and in the process, perhaps promote world peace. And while we are sharing ourselves with each other, we are also being challenged to understand ourselves on deeper, clearer levels. Memoir and blog writing collects the wisdom that has over the decades accumulated in our hearts, and writing these observations forces us to clarify what we already know. Through writing we learn who we are. The revolution that interests me most is to grow, individually and collectively towards greater wisdom.

One of the most surprising things about blogging is that it’s a form of public exposure. I have always been shy, preferring to avoid the public. Now, as I blog, I am learning to extend myself towards strangers. Some become friends, in the new internet sense of friendship, while others remain onlookers. This means I am a performer, which is a mind boggling expansion of my social skills that I never expected to achieve.

What’s next? As I learn more about life story telling, I realize that stories become powerful not just because of external events, but because the storyteller found the power inside the events. This has caused me to look more closely at situations I assumed were mundane. What first looked messy and ordinary, like a beautiful old painting covered in grime, begins to flow with elegant meaning. I share what I discover in my blog. Over time I expect my investigation will lead in new directions. I find that aging is a spiritual experience and someday I expect to shift from seeking the wisdom in the past to finding wisdom in the future. For now, what’s next is my next blog entry. I’m on deadline every week, under pressure to learn and grow, and find words that let me share myself with the world.

13 thoughts on “Why I Am So Passionate About the Memoir Revolution

  1. I discovered your blog through 100 memoirs and am glad–it is so refreshing. I have been writing and rewriting a memoir for the last 4.5 years, plus blogging about it. As you say, blogging adds a nice dimension to the learning and sharing and making sentences.

  2. Thanks for finding me and complimenting my blog, Richard. I checked out your blog and find it pleasant, very much along the lines of this one. Like me, you organize your thoughts about living and reading, and post essays for the rest of us to share. At the very least, it’s a fine hobby, and at best promotes a kind of collective thinking I believe will benefit reader and writer alike. I added your URL to my blogroll.

    Good luck with your memoir. Writing it is a long journey that offers benefits at every step along the way.

    Jerry

  3. I found your website today, and I’m glad I did. I’ve been struggling with my writing for a while now. My Mom passed away when I was only 32 years old. In my 20’s, I had two children, and worked every hour I could to support us. I was only beginning to know my mother as a person. There was so much more to know about her.

    My kids are in their 20’s and busy establishing their own lives. They only know me as their Mom. I want to leave my kids more than the usual tangibles. My (third) husband died at age 48 years old about three years ago. My kids aren’t ready to get to know me as a mortal woman. They talk as if they know I will live another thirty years.

    My current idea is to leave my memoir in my safety deposit box for my children to have when I’m gone, or until they become curious about who I am outside of being just Mom.

  4. Hi Lynn,

    I’m glad you found my website, too, and thanks for sharing your story. All these things add up, and it’s hard to make sense over time. Writing is one of the best ways to gather this information, lay it out, and see how it all worked. It’s great that you want to share your whole story with your kids and let them see the whole person. Even if they are not ready to hear it yet, someday they will thank you for sharing more about their mother’s history. However, the real payoff comes much sooner, as you experience the pleasure of climbing this writing mountain, and achieving a higher vantage point over your own life.

    Best wishes,
    Jerry

  5. Jerry, your posts on Absolute Write are always relevant and informative. Now that I’ve spent some time on your site and see the thought and work that has gone into its development, I understand your in-depth knowledge of memoir.

  6. Hi Jerry,
    I found your blog today when I did a memoir book review search on google. It looks like you’ve read a lot of memoirs. I agree with what you say about how writing a memoir can be healing. In my case, I started a memoir about my sister Annie shortly after her death in 2009. Annie was born with severe brain damage a year after me. I wrote the memoir to celebrate her life, mourn her death, and inspire others. I self-published Dancing in Heaven last month and am actively seeking reviewers. If you have any suggestions or advice, I welcome it.
    Christine

  7. Hi Christine,

    Thanks for stopping by. I checked out your blog and it looks lovely. Congratulations for completing the book, a huge undertaking and wonderful accomplishment. I’m glad you found it healing, because I think that is the powerful magic of memoir writing. The second part of the magic, reaching out to readers, can also be healing because it brings you into contact with the rest of society in a manner that honors and reconstructs your authentic presence. I think this is wonderful, and my motivation for “Memory Writers Network.” I wish I could read all memoirs, (which of course I cannot) but by networking together through the internet, we memoir readers and writers can stick together and find each other, sharing a virtual community.

    It took me a minute to find the link to your book, because the link says “Dancing in Heaven.” If any readers of this comment want to click straight through: , here is the link.

    Jerry

  8. Hi Jerry.

    I found you via your beautiful comment on Kathy’s post. My two co-authors and I have written two memoir-style books for women over 50. Little did we know when we started what a huge impact this style of writing would be for us. I always say that as the journey went farther, it went deeper as well. Based on the value we derived from writing this way, we developed a workshop called “Writing Your Life.” The joy I receive from watching women start on their journey of self-discovery and of healing is beyond words.

    Best,
    Renee Fisher (born and raised in Philly)
    Invisible No More: The Secret Lives of Women Over 50
    Saving the Best for Last: Creating Our Lives After 50
    http://www.invisiblenomore.com

  9. I’m so pleased to see that my friends Christine Grote and Renee Fischer (Life in the Boomer Lane) have found your blog, Jerry. I also just noticed that my blog is on your blogroll. Thanks so much! I ‘m going to add you to mine, as well. And thanks again for sharing my link on Facebook. You made my day.
    Kathy

  10. Hi Renee,

    Thanks for visiting, and thanks for your note. I am looking forward to digging into your memoir-style books. I like your titles, “Life in the Boomer Lane” and “Invisible No More” and the sound of your workshops. I love your comment that “Little did we know what a huge impact this would have on us.” I think the reason the wave is growing so strong is because people try and discover its power and then spread the word.

    Jerry

  11. Via the memoir advice threads on AbsoluteWrite, your site has helped me in a very profound way today. My gratitude for this incredible resource you have provided. I would elaborate further but thanks to you, I’ve realised that a confidence knock I took earlier on didn’t quite extinguish the spark. Back to it, ho. Will return to read more of these articles.

    ‘Obrigadíssimo’ as they say in more exotic lands than mine.

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