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!


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.

Interview: Lessons From a Flock of Memoir Experts

by Jerry Waxler

The National Association of Memoir Writers (, offers a wonderful selection of resources to aspiring memoir writers, culminating in the all-day event called the Memoir Telesummit. Entry is free and you don’t have to go anywhere. The whole thing is conducted over the phone, so wherever you are, you can learn from passionate memoir advocates, authors, and experts. This year’s phone conference is on the fascinating topic of “Truth or Lies,” about the interface between memoir and fiction. For more details and to sign up, click here.

The meeting is hosted by NAMW founder Linda Joy Myers, PhD, a memoir expert, teacher and author, herself. The Telesummit reveals two more of her strengths, conference organizer and interviewer. Thanks to Linda Joy’s open, curious approach to guest speakers, these discussions consistently provide a pleasurable and worthwhile listening experience.

To find out more, I asked Linda Joy a few questions about the Telesummit, about her guests this year, about her passion for sharing memoir-work with the world, and about her own writing.

Jerry Waxler: What is a Telesummit and who should attend?

Linda Joy Myers: A Telesummit is another word for an all-day phone conference, and it’s free to everyone. It’s so great now that we can offer and attend professional conferences casually at home! I love the Telesummit because there’s such great energy when we have experts join us all in one day to offer their knowledge.

This year we are so pleased to have teachers and authors of memoir and fiction to talk with us about inspiration and skills needed to tell a good story. Robin Hemley, Dinty Moore, Jennifer Lauck, and three young memoirists Elisabeth Eaves, Nicole Johns, Anna Mitchael. Penney Sansevieri will talk to us about marketing. What a rich day!

Jerry Waxler: Because we are all flooded with an endless supply of information on the web, one of the best ways to filter information and find the useful bits is to follow people we trust. After following your work for several years, I have come to expect informative, generous, caring people who want to teach and help others to get to the heart of their own stories. I consider this one of the valuable services you offer to the memoir community. So help us understand your process, and how you select people for these events.

Linda Joy Myers: I love inviting people who are inspiring and who are experts in writing and teaching to speak to a larger group. It’s fun to share my passion for the work these people have done and whose skills and passions will fuel great writing in others. All these presenters—authors, real people who work hard at their craft—have so much to offer! I have read the books they have written, finely tuned, thoughtful works that have expanded my world. Each has his or her own style of course, and I’m transported into their worlds through their writing. I go for that gut feeling of “I HAVE to share this person with others!” I want everyone to be inspired and fueled for their writing journey.

Jerry Waxler: I believe memoir writing is a multi-dimensional project, and one reason I love NAMW is the brilliant way you integrate and balance all the dimensions of memoir writing. So let me explain what I mean by “dimensions.”

Memoir writers:
1.    Look inside themselves to sort out the memories and turn them into scenes.
2.    Improve themselves, heal wounds and integrate parts they long ago rejected or forgot.
3.    Reach out to other people, across barriers of culture, gender, and all the other isolating definitions we hide behind, and allow ourselves to connect with the world.
4.    Turn life experience into literature, and contribute their stories into the river of culture.

Throughout the year you do a lovely job balancing these aspects, so I’m not surprised to see the Telesummit extending across all four of these dimensions as well. Help me understand how your presenters will provide attendees with more insight and a greater appreciation for each of these dimensions.

Linda Joy Myers: Jerry, I love how you talk about what we do as memoir writers! There is so much to say about all these fabulous people –Robin, Dinty, Jennifer, and the talented young women writers Anna, Elisabeth and Nicole. All of them have done what you mention in various ways. Of course a humorous book like Anna Mitchael’s Just Don’t Call Me Ma’am has a different tone than Nicole Johns’s book about recovery in Rehab—yet both took me into their personal experience and made me want to keep reading. Elisabeth Eaves’s two books Wanderlust and Bare were very intense, introducing worlds, places, and experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise known.

Robin Hemley’s memoir Nola is so deep and thought provoking, I have to stop reading for a time to gather myself and absorb the complexity of it. His book Turning Your Life into Fiction is one of the best books I’ve read about story writing, drawing from your life, and all the angles to look at when drawing from your life for story.

Dinty Moore’s memoir From Panic to Desire shows me how the brief essay form can work, and makes me want to try that style. His book Crafting The Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Nonfiction should be on every writer’s shelf. Jennifer Lauck’s first book Blackbird inspired me to finish my memoir, and I’ve enjoyed all her books—each of them a jewel of self-exploration and courage. She used her writing to help to sort out and heal a childhood of loss, adoption, and confusion—a great model for me, and now we’re colleagues!

I don’t know about you, but for me literature, including fiction, has helped me find solutions to the problems of life, starting way back when I’d search eagerly for insights and answers in books from Dickens to Atwood, Woolf to Steinbeck. Of course many, if not most, fiction writers have drawn upon their own lives to offer their marvelous stories to us, but memoir goes a step further—it offers us truth. Memoir promises that “The tale I’m telling you is the way it really happened, and here is my story, my learning, my mistakes, and my lessons. Take them to your heart, and allow my story to help you, change you, entertain you.” This is why memoir is such an important force in our lives now—inspiring lots of stories and writing that now can reach audiences very quickly and easily. Of course, they need to be edited and shaped so the reader can get the most out of them—but it’s a whole new world out there now!

Jerry Waxler: I think everyone has a story worth telling. But then in addition to having the story, they need to tenaciously develop the skills, put it all down on paper, and then polish it in a way that will be engaging to readers. What support and encouragement do NAMW programs offer people who travel this road? What steps do you suggest for these people? How will the Telesummit and other resources of NAMW help?

Linda Joy Myers: Creativity needs nurturing, regular feeding and watering, like plants. As creators who draw upon the inner self for our writing, we need to have input—stories, teachings, and the experiences of others who have walked the path of life, the path of writing, people who search for words to express the inexpressible.

NAMW and my team—friends who are writers like you—are always looking for new ways to meet that need, as well as offering a huge array of resources on the website. We have over 50 audios that members can download from the last several years, along with free articles and discussions that we want to offer the public to help them with their writing. The presenters all have books and websites that everyone who comes to the website can draw upon for inspiration.

The Telesummit gives everyone an opportunity—for free—to engage in a conversation with renown writers who led the way of creating works of excellence that help us know that we can pursue our dreams of writing, creating a story out of personal experiences that will touch and move others, and even help them in their lives. We all are searching for fellow travelers and here at NAMW, I’m excited to join together with communities who want to share with each other the special trip we are taking through life—and through art!

Jerry Waxler: I know that the mission of NAMW is to help members tell their own story, so I seldom hear you talk about your own memoir, “Don’t Call Me Mother” about a girl whose mother has severe attachment problems. I found it to be a valuable addition to the Coming of Age subgenre. You said that you worked on it for 15 years, so obviously during that period you continued to grow and learn about yourself. Could you say something about the influence that writing the book had on your own life and career and ability to help other people?

Linda Joy Myers: Thanks Jerry—it’s always great to have fans! When I began Don’t Call Me Mother, I was still in the middle of living with a situation where my mother didn’t acknowledge I was her daughter, and didn’t want people in Chicago to know she had grandchildren either. The title of the book comes from the first time I visited her in Chicago when I was twenty. As I grew up in Oklahoma with my grandmother, mother would come to visit, and while these were fraught with fights between them, mother would hug and kiss me, though coolly, but I was used to that. So it was a shock to find out that she had told no one she had a child. Over the years, I would occasionally bring the children to see her, but she’d rush us through back stairways, and admonish all of us not to call her mother or grandmother. I was proud of my 14 year old daughter — on one of the last visits she marched up to the hotel desk and announced she was Josephine’s granddaughter! But scared too because my mother could be quite cruel in her demands and control, and I didn’t want the children to be hurt by her.

As I grew up through the decades, I’d pondered the generational pattern I’d seen in my family—three generations of mothers and daughters who were lost from each other in various ways, who had conflicts with each other that lead to a permanent breach between my mother and grandmother. I saw this as tragic, and had already determined to break the pattern, but as long as my mother lived, it was hard to forgive something that continued to hurt me/us. Writing helped me to heal a lot of it, along with therapy. I was able to be with her when she died, where waves of compassion and forgiveness for this broken and lost person became part of the new story being lived out. That allowed me to move forward and with more resolution and a healed heart to finish the book.

When we write our first book, especially if it’s full of intense feelings and memories of past pain, it takes a lot of time. I hoped that my story of loss that leads to generational healing and forgiveness for all the mothers who did the best they could, who were themselves wounded, would help others find their way. I discovered the research about how writing heals—the work of Dr. James Pennebaker which I have written about in The Power of Memoir.

I was so pleased to find out that there are studies about how writing can heal—which as a therapist I had seen and experienced myself, but here was official research! It galvanized me to finish my memoir and to help others write theirs—starting with the notion of healing and finding a new perspective, moving toward creating a well-written story that changes others’ lives. As Toni Morrison says, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So I did, and so can everyone.

Jerry Waxler: What book are you working on next?

Linda Joy Myers: After writing my memoir, I took some time to write a novel about something I’m interested in—the story of the Kindertransport, children who were sent out of Germany during WWII to escape persecution. I weaved my background with music into this tale that featured a young girl who had to learn how to live without her parents—something I knew a lot about! I enjoyed bringing in the history of WWII in Berlin and England—and I took three trips to Europe to research the story. The fiction book is waiting for me to get back to more edits, but I did finish it, and loved writing fiction—and of course traveling and research. One of the best days was looking at newspapers in the British Library!  Another one was walking down the Unter den Linden in Berlin—a vibrant and healed city.

Linda Joy Myers: My next nonfiction book is Truth or Lie—On The Cusp of Memoir and Fiction—a topic we have discussed in the two Telesummits—as so many people are struggling with these issues. Do I tell my story as “truth” or allow some fictional shifts in the story is the theme of the book, with lots of discussion about the levels and stages of memoir writing, tools, tips, and techniques to help people write, sort through these questions, and polish a manuscript for publication. As you can see, I love this topic!


Click here to visit Linda Joy’s Power of Memoir Page

Click here to read my review of  “The Power of Memoir.”
[click here ]

Click here to read my article about her memoir, “Don’t Call Me Mother”

More memoir writing resources

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.

Learn the inner and outer dimensions of memoir writing

by Jerry Waxler

I have been a fan of Linda Joy Myers ever since I read her memoir “Don’t Call Me Mother.” (Also see my essay “Mothers and Daughters Don’t Always Mix“) The book was straightforward and elegant, transforming a painful past into a compelling story. When I reached out to learn more about how she wrote it, she explained that writing the memoir was itself a journey that lasted more than a decade. During that period, she developed a more sophisticated understanding of her own childhood and at the same time learned the craft of storytelling.

Linda Joy wanted to share these benefits with others so she offered memoir writing workshops and then started the National Association of Memoir Writers, an organization that offers courses, teleseminars, support, and other benefits to aspiring memoir writers everywhere.

I already knew that Linda Joy brings compassion and insight to the memoir field, so I was eager to read her new book “The Power of Memoirs, Writing Your Healing Story.” The book covers the basics of scene and plot to help writers weave the skein of events into a story worth reading. It also offers valuable tips for writers you won’t find in other books, such as insight into the knack of accepting feedback from a critique group, in my opinion one of the most important tools any writer can have.

And then, Linda Joy goes beyond craft and turns inward towards the heart of the matter. As a professional psychotherapist, Linda Joy helps her clients work through their memories. In this book, she performs a similar service for aspiring memoir writers. In hefty, substantive chapters like “Psychology of Memoir Writing,” “The Dark Stuff,” and “The Power of Writing to Heal” Linda Joy provides excellent guidance to help you decipher your memories and bring them to the page.

Families matter

A key goal of a memoir is to portray other characters in your life. This can be especially complex when trying to explain parents, grandparents, and siblings who were influencing you while you were under construction. They are part of you. And so, the more you understand those relationships the better you understand yourself. “The Power of Memoir” offers tips about how to write about family. By seeing them through the eyes of a writer, you will gain fresh perspectives and piece together a more sensible story about your family than the one that was shapelessly tangled in memory.


I have been searching for years to find language to express the spirituality of life. Linda Joy’s “Power of Memoir” contains a superb section about this topic. When writing a memoir, we review our past and explore the way we were influenced by our higher power, our religious framework, and other aspects of the inner connections known broadly as “spirituality.”

However, the past is not the only time frame at work here. You actually write the memoir in the present, a journey that both require spiritual strength and generates it. Linda Joy lovingly offers guidance that fosters this connection with the inner self, to help you get in touch with spirituality right here and now.

Psychology Research

While many authors and teachers observe the healing nature of memoir writing, these observations do not constitute the kind of scientific research that would support its use as a form of therapy. To find such evidence, Linda Joy turns to the research of psychologist James Pennebaker from the University of Texas who has spent his academic career studying this question. His research offers a fascinating look at the emotional benefits of writing. Linda Joy also cites brain imaging research that offers additional evidence for these benefits.

This book will help you write yours

So whether you want to write your memoir because you are curious about yourself, or you want to heal old hurts, or you want to share your journey with other people, or you want to strengthen your brain, or you consider writing to be a wonderful hobby, or you wish to publish a book and enter the stream of culture – for any of these reasons, you will benefit from traveling in Linda Joy’s company while discovering the Healing Power of your own memoir.

Home page for Power of Memoir

Click here to read my essay about Linda Joy’s Memoir, Don’t Call Me Mother

“Don’t Call Me Mother” Amazon Link

Click for my essay about Linda Joy’s Memoir

Read an interview with Linda Joy Myers here.

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on this blog, click here.

To order my short, step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.