by Jerry Waxler
How have “memoir tribes” inspired and supported the Memoir Revolution
When I first imagined writing my memoir, I assumed I would be doing it alone. But to learn how to start, I took a workshop. Sitting in a circle with fellow writers, I listened to instructions and then jotted down an anecdote about falling in love with my first girl friend. I couldn’t remember ever telling anyone about the incident. Sharing my writing with these strangers I saw my secret reflected in their kind eyes. By exposing my memories, I had created a room full of comforting friends.
When they read their pieces aloud, we reversed roles. In written form, their embarrassing, painful, private events actually became interesting. Then it was my turn to give support. Our shared goals and mutual trust showed me that memoir writing was going to be a social activity. I’ve been eager to associate with fellow writers ever since.
I attended several monthly writing meetings each month, and a couple of annual conferences. As soon as I realized their importance in my life, I volunteered to help run them. By volunteering to help these organizations, I increased my connections even more. Although the majority of members were fiction writers, we few nonfiction writers stuck together in small critique groups.
As the Internet grew, I began to venture into long distance relationships. My first foray was the Absolute Write forum, teeming with writer’s in all genres, including a small subset of memoir writers. To find writers specializing in memoirs, I had to work harder. My breakthrough came when I began to blog about the subject. At first, I thought blogging might be lonely. Who would ever read my posts? But I soon discovered that by searching for and visiting memoir blogs, I could bond with other writers who were attempting to follow the same path.
My blog network led me to Linda Joy Myers, who runs the National Association of Memoir Writers, a hub of memoir writing energy. Thanks to the critical mass of a national membership organization, Linda Joy attracts aspiring writers and experts into a virtual community. I became a member, enjoying the connections, and the many resources the group made available.
Gradually my online acquaintances have blossomed into tribes — loosely bound collections of writers who see that banding together is more fun and more supportive than doing it alone. And while I miss some of the pleasures of face to face groups, I have grown increasingly comfortable “hanging out” with people I’ve never seen in person. Because writers communicate through written words anyway, long-distance relationships with fellow writers provide a training ground where we can develop the same skills we need for reaching readers.
I have reaped an unexpected bonus from all this distant mutual support. Even though this clan of boosters is spread all over the country and a sprinkling around the globe, their friendship has fostered a new, invigorating way to improve my writing. Now, when I write, I visualize these friendly strangers.
This visualization has done more for my enthusiasm than many years of attempting to wrestle with the inner critic. Instead of shushing my inner critic, I have fun imagining my extended tribes of curious energetic fellow writers, who want to read what I say.
Taking advantage of all these opportunities comes with a price. I have to pour energy out in order to receive energy in return. But over the years, my participation has created a vigorous, energizing social experience that has helped me grow as a writer and a person.
The tribes are dynamic, with people coming and going. Since my first blog post in 2007, I have accrued wisdom, just as I have watched other long-term members grow in their understanding of memoirs. In this era of the Memoir Revolution, with increasing numbers of us learning the power of finding our own narrative, these tenacious elders perform an important service for the virtual community. By sticking around, studying, and growing, the older ones have the responsibility and pleasure of leadership, passing our understanding along to others who have joined the journey more recently.
When I first heard the word “memoir” the task seemed to emphasize an introspective search for interior facts and truths. However, once I became engaged in the actual process of writing a memoir, I discovered that introspection was only half of the journey. The Memoir Revolution can best be understood and enjoyed by recognizing its two sides. In addition to offering a better understanding of one’s self, turning memories into a story offers a valuable tool for mutual understanding and support.