Interview with Memoir Activist – Founder of National Association of Memoir Writers

by Jerry Waxler

Read Memoir Revolution to learn why now is the perfect time to write your memoir.

After writing my memoir for a few years, I wanted company, so in 2007 I began posting my thoughts on a blog called Memory Writers Network. I envisioned that by sending my essays out into the world, I would connect with like-minded writers. Over the next few years, such a network indeed materialized.

Readers commented on the blog or emailed me to thank me. Many of them included links to their own work, and some shared my interest in creating virtual communities. Shirley Showalter, and Sharon Lippincott, and later Kathleen Pooler and Linda Joy Myers sent “let’s get together and write” vibes into the ether. Linda Joy even created an organization called the National Association of Memoir Writers to gather aspiring writers under one virtual roof. Thanks to these collaborations, as well as my local critique groups and classes, memoir writing turned from an isolated activity to a social one. We were gathering to help each other find our stories.

With each passing year, I found more memoirs to read, more aspiring memoir writers to support, and more groups springing up. I thought I detected a mass movement, and dove in even deeper. The longer I studied, the more robust the movement became. I recently published my observations in the Memoir Revolution, a sort of memoir of my investigation into the birth of this cultural development which has begun to change the way we look at ourselves and each other. To celebrate both the book and the movement it represents, I will be speaking at the prestigious annual Memoir Telesummit hosted by the National Association of Memoir Writers.

The Telesummit, in its tenth year, is a day-long series of meetings, free and accessible by phone, will offer interviews with me and other experts about writing, publishing and marketing memoirs. Whether you are just now deciding to write your life story, or wondering how you would publish or sell it once you complete it, the experts at the Telesummit will offer you enthusiastic, in-depth information and guidance.

I recently asked Linda Joy Myers to help us understand the Telesummit, what it is and why she has worked so passionately for so long to encourage memoir writers. Like all of us, Linda Joy Myers has a story. I knew the roots of that story, chronicled in her memoir, Don’t Call Me Mother. In this interview I learn how those earlier experiences led to her memoir activism.

A Memoir Activist Tells Her Story, Interview with Linda Joy Myers

Jerry Waxler: In your memoir, you talk about the experience of being in an orchestra in high school. I imagine that experience of a young woman, making music in an orchestra pit, seeing and hearing how the music of each one contributed to the sound filling the room. Compared with that, writing is so lonely. When you fell in love with writing, how did you first adapt to this solo activity?

Linda Joy Myers: Actually, playing a musical instrument is a singular activity–you alone can make the music happen, you have to rely on your strength, perseverance, and ongoing discipline to create music. Yes, it’s special to be in a group to play, but every day you practice alone. Just like when you write.

Jerry Waxler: You wrote a memoir and have famously shared the stunning length of time it took you. Fifteen years. That’s a long time to work on a single project. How did you manage to stick with it? Were you ever tempted to set the whole thing aside and give up? What brought you back into the project?

Linda Joy Myers: I hate to admit how long it took, but for a looong time, I was not “writing a memoir” or “writing a book.” The story of my family, three generations of mothers who had abandoned their daughters, seemed unusual, perhaps a cautionary tale for others to learn from. The gripping emotional toll for several generations was something obvious to me even as a child, and later when I looked for books that could help me sort it all out, I found none. It seemed so out of the ordinary to have a mother who acted like my mother, at times even tender and loving when she visited, then who let me know I was NOT her daughter when I visited her when I was older. Even her letters were signed “Love, Mother,” and some of them were tender or reminiscent. I suppose confusion about all this was one reason to write my story. As I wrote, I acted as my own witness, I needed to sort it all out.

So I began and stopped, and began again. I would stop for a year or more, overwhelmed either by the plot, where to start, whose voice to use, or the sheer emotional toll it took to try to wrap words around my memories. I stopped too because there were parts of my life that were simply too painful to write about. But it seemed the memoir was chasing ME–tapping me on the shoulder, getting my attention. It told me that I was a coward, and was I really going to give up on the story I had wanted to write??

Finally, I quit running from it. I turned around to face it and committed to finish the book. I hired a coach and supplied her 20 pages a week until it was done. More time passed until it was published, and it was revised several times after that, but getting the first draft out was important.

Jerry Waxler: When did you first start to think you could help others write their memoirs? What sort of motivation drove you to create a place where other memoir writers could congregate?

Linda Joy Myers: My love of memory and reminiscence, which isn’t valued much by society, drove me to recognize that if I wanted to be happy in work other than doing therapy, I needed to choose something that was interesting to me which I could sustain, so I began to teach memoir writing. I had taught in psychology programs for several years, and my first degree was in education, so I knew how to teach. I started with a group of three, and offered memoir writing trainings for therapists, and memoir writing groups in person, for a while twice a week, for 15 years. I loved the exploration that we all did together, digging into the layers of personhood as well as the layers of craft and story making itself.

Jerry Waxler: As the leader of NAMW, you are in a sense the orchestra leader. But the analogy isn’t perfect. We are all out here writing on our own and only come together occasionally. How do you see yourself in relationship to this loose conglomeration of writers, teachers, and other participants? Help us understand the role you see yourself playing in this movement I call the Memoir Revolution.

Linda Joy Myers: I’m doing what I love. I thought that if I started an organization, we could all gather under its umbrella and talk about memories, story, and share the intimacy that writing memoirs brings to a group. And we share the creative process, which has been an important part of my life since I was a child and began learning piano and cello, and later I learned more about the process of creating something from nothing through painting and sculpture.

Jerry Waxler: I have glommed on to the National Association of Memoir Writers as a wonderful safe and supportive place for turning self into story. What sorts of other feedback have you had from members? What sorts of dialogue with members helps you keep the organization serving the goals of members who want to write and share their life stories?

Linda Joy Myers: People tell me that they are getting a lot out of our programs at NAMW. The free monthly Roundtables invite people to get to know us and learn from the presenters without being members, and there are a lot of free resources on the site. Members enjoy connecting with each other and with me on a regular basis, asking questions, saying hello to each other, and discussing various publishing, marketing, and writing questions on our Facebook site. Everyone needs an outlet where they can share this special challenges and rewards of writing!

Jerry Waxler: Thank you for offering the Telesummit to members, and thank you for inviting me to participate. I find it one of the best places on the Internet where a variety of memoir specialists come together to talk about the various aspects of the genre. What do you hope attendees will take home from this event?

Linda Joy Myers: People join us from all skill levels with different needs, so each person will take what they need from the presenters. However, I try to offer a well-rounded group of experts–in writing, marketing, and publishing–so they can learn about various aspects that have to do with writing and publishing.

This Telesummit is celebrating the “Memoir Revolution” which is the title of your book, and bringing three top memoir specialists in: Denis Ledoux, who started over 15 years ago offering programs for memoir writers, long before the “memoir craze” began; and Matilda Butler, whose Women’s Memoirs programs focus on the voices of women as they write their stories. I’m pleased that Stephanie Chandler, who is a whiz at marketing and creativity at helping writers find their position on the net and develop their brand, and Joel Friedlander, another marketing, book design, and self-publishing guru, can join us. As they say, it takes a village–and that is what the memoir revolution is all about–a village, a community of writers who passionately care about sharing their stories and creating a great book. At the same time, we all become each other’s best-friend-networkers. That’s how I met you: on the web!

Jerry Waxler: There are so many aspects to writing a memoir, from digging deep within yourself, to learning to construct a story, editing, publishing and even marketing. I notice this broad range in the topics you offer in the Telesummit. Do you ever wish it was easier? What do you tell aspiring memoir writers about the gamut of activities required to go from start to finish?

Linda Joy Myers: Sure, at times we are all too busy trying to write, learning about platform, figuring out how to blog and post to Social Media. Sometimes, I have to unplug and just let it go, even when the things on my to-do list are still shouting at me–and this is true for everyone I know. Still, it’s a world that invites us to join in with our own voices, this writing-publishing-blogging-sharing world. We are free to express in ways that were unthinkable only a decade ago, and that is not going to change. People’s lives are enhanced by being able to reach out and touch someone!

People can tune into our NAMW monthly Roundtable Discussions, which are always free, and join our membership teleseminars each month–as a member you have access to over 130 audios and articles in the membership area–and you will learn so very much about all aspects of the writing life.

Jerry Waxler: When I started writing my memoir, I couldn’t have foreseen the lovely experience of learning to construct a story, and learning to see myself through the lens of story. After I had been writing for a few years, I experienced these things for myself, giving me some of the most intriguing creative rewards of my life. As a memoir activist, how do you try to communicate these future benefits to potential writers? What do you wish they could know about the process?

Linda Joy Myers: I talk about the invitation and magic that writing offers us. Everyone who is interested in writing has written enough to have experienced moments when the writing seems to have a life of its own, when writing reveals thoughts and feelings and even new memories–and these moments are a kind of ecstasy that lift us from our “regular” lives to another level of existence. While writing is also hard work, these special moments are the gift of the muse, a reward for perseverance and ongoing attention to our stories. I enjoy reminding people about this!

Notes

For brief descriptions and links to all the posts on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order Memoir Revolution about the powerful trend to create, connect, and learn, see the Amazon page for eBook or Paperback.

To order my how-to-get-started guide to write your memoir, click here.

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