This is part 4 of the interview. Click here to read Part 1.
In her memoir, “Again in a Heartbeat,” author Susan Weidener tells her adult coming-of-age story, through the journey of meeting and losing her husband, and then reclaiming her life. In this part of this interview I ask her about her passion for helping other writers find their own life story.
Jerry Waxler: Tell me about your memoir workshops. You talk about the healing nature of memoir writing? Explain more about that.
Susan Weidener: When you delve into the truth of your story, you remove the “cellophane;” you reveal yourself. That’s when the healing begins. It’s how we deal with trauma that defines whether we can move on and create something new from tragedy.
I provide writing prompts, talk about writing techniques and how to find the compelling narrative of the memoir. Time for solitude and writing is provided. We come together in small groups and read our work, and then the whole group meets for the “read-around.” The women find themselves writing about things that had “gathered cobwebs” over the years. Once they put pen to paper and write it, the power of that memory or that time in their lives to hurt and cause anguish is taken away. Afterwards, they tell me they feel at peace with it. I’m not a therapist, but I can see they feel empowered. So the writing is a way to heal, a way to make sense of our lives.
I started the Women’s Writing Circle because I wanted to offer a place to share writing in a supportive atmosphere, to ease the solitary nature of writing. Although I didn’t start the Circle as a memoir group, it largely evolved into that, although some of the women are choosing to couch their stories as fiction and write in third person. I co-facilitated a memoir writing workshop with Mary Pierce Brosmer, who founded Women Writing for (a) Change in Cincinnati. Mary was a visionary when it came to the women’s personal writing movement. I offered a memoir writing weekend retreat last spring and a mastering writing workshop this past October. I am planning another mastering writing workshop this spring.
Jerry Waxler: When you teach memoir writing, how do you motivate your students to go from raw memory to writing about themselves in a form that strangers could read?
Susan Weidener: I don’t call them “students,” rather I facilitate a supportive atmosphere for adults to share their stories and find their voice. The story may be about addiction, loss, about difficult childhoods. The motivation to get it on paper is usually there by the time they come to me. Taking a workshop, reading a piece out loud and hearing an immediate response from others, energizes them.
I also offer one-on-one memoir writing consultation. We start with one memory and expand from there with details. I teach professional writing strategies, and how to distill the story to one compelling time in their lives so they have a rough draft after the first session. I ask them to write about the meaning behind the memory, to look at the people they are writing about, not in black and white, but in shades of gray, if they can.
Jerry Waxler: How did you feel about letting your sons see so deeply into your feelings? Were you worried about letting them see this side of yourself?
Susan Weidener: My older son has not read the book and my younger son just took a copy the other day, so I am not sure what he thinks. I wrote the story for myself and for John, yet I was always cognizant that this book would be passed along in our family as the years went by. While you write the disturbing, I think you have to keep in mind: Is this something I want my family to read years from now? If the answer is ‘no,’ my advice would be to steer clear of that detail, that incident.
I hope my sons appreciate that by writing my story and their father’s story, it was an act of generosity and goodwill. It was meant to reach a larger audience than just our immediate family and friends.
Jerry Waxler: What are you working on next?
Susan Weidener: I am completing my second and final memoir. It is called Morning at Wellington Square. Wellington Square is the name of the bookshop where the Women’s Writing Circle meets. This memoir picks up from where Again in a Heartbeat left off. Hopefully, it is an illuminating and engaging story of a single woman in middle age; the challenges of raising two children and being a reporter for a big city newspaper, the craziness of dating, the joy of finding life’s passion through a community of writers who meet at Wellington Square.
Click here for Part 3, in which I ask questions about writing the memoir
To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.
To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.