Friday, April 2, 2010

On Memoir Writing with Linda Joy Myers (Author Interview)

Linda Joy Myers, Author of "The Power of Memoir"
It has been some time since we shared an author interview. Today, we're doing one for WOW's Blog Tour, featuring memoir writing specialist, Linda Joy Myers.

In typical social media fashion, can you tell us something about you in 140 characters or less?

Healer-therapist career for 30 yrs, began my memoir w/painting and poetry. Love reading and books & helping writers; started NAMW to help memoirists.

So, how are things going with the promotion of your latest book, "The Power of Memoir"? Any interesting stories you'd like to share?

Great! I’ve enjoyed meeting so many new people on my blog tour this month, and sharing ideas with them about memoir writing. We have had a wonderful response to some of the topics—writing the truth, balancing the dark and light stories, and the current research about writing as a healing tool. From the many comments I received, I think that reading my articles and interviews gave people more permission to capture their personal stories, and helped them understand that the process of writing a memoir has a life of its own. It can’t be hurried, nor does it help to approach it entirely in a technical way. The heart of a memoir is your own heart, relationships, and the tragedies and comedies of life. People on the blogs connected with me and each other, and it was fun!

For those who may have not read your book yet, can you tell us a brief description/summary of the book?

The Power of Memoir is a groundbreaking book that presents a step-by-step program using memoir writing on the journey of emotional and physical healing. By drawing on the eight steps outlined in the book, people can learn how to choose the significant milestones of their lives and weave together a meaningful personal story. They will discover how writing important truths and shaping their life narratives can help change their brains and their lives. Psychological issues are addressed such as family dynamics, roles, and rules, the psychology of writing a memoir, and balancing dark and light stories. Skills such as building scenes and creating the narrative arc are useful not only to write well, but to facilitate the healing process. A discussion about agents and the publishing process gives readers practical tips for taking their memoir into the larger world. Chapters on meditations and affirmations help the writer conquer the inner critic, and one chapter is specifically directed toward therapists, helping them learn how to use writing to help clients heal trauma and resolve family issues.

Who is this book for? Why should people read it?

The book is for anyone who wants to learn how to begin a memoir. The turning point and timeline techniques, scene development, and a chapter on creating the dramatic arc of narrative give memoir writers a good grounding in how to think about their memoir, how they might begin, and how to structure it.

Most people begin a memoir with the desire to capture memories and to explore issues from the past, not necessarily with the idea of healing. But writing anything that requires us to think, feel, and look again at who we were, who we are, and where we came from can shift our perspective about ourselves. And for most people, their lives are sprinkled with both happy and not so happy moments and memories. The book helps them to sort through the emotional material of their lives, and discover how to make peace with it.

Can you tell us about your other books and work?
My first book was Becoming Whole—How to Write Your Healing Story which was inspired by the research of Dr. James Pennebaker about the power of writing personal stories to heal both physical and emotional imbalances. I’ve also written my own memoir Don’t Call Me Mother, a poetry chapbook Songs of the Plains, and I’m editing a novel Secret Music.

It's interesting how you approach memoir writing as a therapeutic process. How did you come about this approach - and what are your experiences when teaching this process?

I discovered the research that Dr. James Pennebaker and other psychologists were doing on the healing power of writing stories. Time stopped as I read these articles, as I’d hoped someday to find a way to integrate my therapy background with my passion for memoir writing. I began searching for all the research on the topic I could find, and called Dr. Pennebaker to find out more, and even met him in person. Then I began training therapists to use writing with their clients. In these workshops I was blown away by the stories that came out of people who were not “writers.” I decided to write my first book –Becoming Whole—Writing Your Healing Story to share the joyful news of the research and the amazing stories that came out of my workshops. Teaching people “the good news” was the most fun I’d had in a long time.

8. I read somewhere that you were a therapist before you started writing and publishing books. 

Can you tell us more about your therapy background?

I’ve been a therapist for 30 years, trained in depth therapy, family and marital therapy, and hypnosis. In the early years of my work, I worked in family crisis agencies to help resolve conflicts between youth and their families. This was very exciting work, as I learned so much from each family that I encountered. I found that I could reach out to them in ways that helped the family to heal. I have worked with abused women, domestic violence, and trauma victims for many years. I think that the incidence of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse is far greater than statistics report, and this information is useful for my work teaching memoir. Leading memoir writing groups is a little like doing therapy, except that the writing is the technique and the client heals him or herself through the process of knowing themselves better. My therapy background has been helpful in my work as a memoir coach, as I can hold a space for the darker aspects of the human condition. Some memoir writers really need that kind of support. Not all family stories are easy to face or to write.

Do you have any favourite memoirs that you'd like to recommend to our readers?

Mary Karr’s memoirs—Liar’s Club, Cherry, and Lit—wonderful series of skillful, poetic, and gritty stories that can teach us how to develop our own work while we also empathize with Mary’s life story. Tobias Woolf’s This Boy’s Life; Nuala O’Faolain’s Are You Somebody, and her other books; Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain; Rick Bass’s memoirs; Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina—a novel based on her story, and Two or Three Things I Know for Sure. I loved Richard Rhodes A Hole in the World, which is a helpful text to read for those who are writing darker family stories. There are so many I love, but these are a few of my favorites.

If there's one piece of advice you'd like to pass on to our readers who might be interested in starting their own memoirs but are unsure on how to go about it, what advice would you give?

Just start writing for 15 minutes at a time if you are not sure how to start. Think of 5 of the most significant, life changing moments in your life and write about them. Once you have done that, you will have more ideas of where you want to go and what you have to say. When we start writing, the memories start to flow from their hiding places, and the writing gets easier. Most people simply think too much. The key to discovery is in the writing itself.

Can you tell us something else about you outside of your therapy/writing background? Any personal interests and hobbies? 

I’ve always devoured books, so I read a lot, and I love classic black and white movies. When I like a movie, I watch it dozens of times, so it’s a good way to relax. I raise roses and enjoy taking care of them and my two kitties. Going to art museums and galleries and listening to folk music are great ways to spend a Sunday. I love conversing with friends and meeting with my writing group, and I have to say that I love working with memoir writers! It’s my career, but it’s also what I love to do.

 Thank you so much for sharing with us, Linda!


  1. I've read "The Power of Memoir" and I'm working the program as they say. But my comment for this blog has to do with your therapy experience. I am so interested in this. I once volunteered at a crisis center and trained there to do counseling. As a special ed teacher, and now administrator, I work with lots of families to help them through the labyrintihine system. I would love to know more about the connection between writing and therapy as I am moving in that direction toward a second career for my life.
    Love that you also began with poetry and art as those creative outlets work well for me too.
    Renee Cassese
    Hicksville, New York

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Renee! Yes, I'm also keen on the connection between writing/words and art as therapy. We've got similar background, as I've got a psych training but 'am now getting my Teaching qualification (in Junior Primary/Primary and Special Ed settings). Do keep us posted with your own discoveries and thoughts on this!