By Linda Ruggeri
A few months ago, I posted my Memoir Writing 101 Series: Getting Started Part 1. Today I’m sharing Part 2, where we discuss with the same authors I wrote about, the positive things and surprises that came out of their memoir projects—the unintended consequences memoir writing can have in our lives.
When I work with memoir writers as their editor and/or writing coach, there is an inherent bond of trust that is forged. They promise to share their best work with me (which usually nobody has seen), and I promise to listen, read, and give them honest and helpful guidance that can make their manuscripts stronger.
It’s a delicate act and not one for the faint of heart (for either of us). I know I’ll be treading through different and sometimes difficult stories: some painful, some rewarding, some that took years to write, and some that are born out of pure passion—so what I say, and how I say it, can break or strengthen a person’s soul, or both.
In all manuscript revision processes, there are hard moments of truth we need to acknowledge (things we missed or omitted, points we never got across, sections we could have written differently). But there are also moments of great joy, where the writer finds themself in the words they’ve written and a sense of pride permeates the pages. The writer has found their voice and their story.
Here is part two of our conversation, printed here with their permission.
Linda: Can you tell me three positive outcomes that came from writing your memoir?
I found writing my memoir to be very therapeutic. It allowed me to understand and work through some of my traumas. That isn't to say that I've completely fixed myself, but writing it all out was a good start. When I finally did go to counseling I knew exactly what I needed to work on and heal from.
Writing also forced me to sit down and focus on one thing for a certain amount of time every day. I work as a certified nursing assistant, so my mind is usually racing and cluttered, but when I had to sit down and write, I had to be very intentional and grounded with what I was doing. This approach worked and I enjoyed the process very much.
I also kept a promise to myself: That before I died that I would write a story about my life in hopes that it would inspire others out there who are going through a rough time. I also want to be able to share my story with my future children someday. When I finished writing it, I felt very proud of myself for not giving up, and for being honest with all the parts of my life.
The most positive thing that came from writing my memoir, was that I finished it and saw it through to publication. When I started writing it I wasn’t sure I’d be alive by the end due to many medical conditions, so that part went exceedingly well! My memoir is about a forty-year friendship I had with my neighbor Doris, and I didn’t realize how meaningful that friendship was until she passed away. It was this realization that moved me to write this memoir. I was afraid of how her family would take the book, but they had a very positive reaction, far better than I ever could have hoped for.
All the artwork in the book is mine, and that is something that I am immensely proud of. This memoir has brought new friends into my life and discussing my book has deepened friendships. Hearing that someone has changed their thinking and felt something more deeply has been a powerful reward I never had expected to have.
What I enjoyed the most while I wrote my memoir was how many events I was able to recall triggered other memories. The "triggered memories” helped make connections to understand "how" and "why" some things happened. I was able to see my past with different eyes, and that of my parents and grandparents with so much more perspective, curiosity, and compassion.
I also enjoyed visiting historical societies and learning the specifics of certain things. How and why an early 1900s photo of my grandparents had been staged a certain way. What every item in that image meant. Touching historical documents and artifacts from the late 1800s—like a stereoscope, or a Twinplex blade stropper like the one my grandfather used—was very moving as well. I was able to revisit my past in a very tangible way and appreciated every minute of it.
From what I'd heard about "editing" I didn't think I would like or appreciate the suggestions and critique I received nearly as much as I did. This part of the writing process (revising my work after a developmental edit) was actually the MOST helpful and I appreciated it the most—even though sometimes it was very challenging to think through and figure out what I am/was really trying to say and how to say it more clearly.
I never realized how much chapter order—or the order of what is presented—can add to or detract from a story. The input I received on this was eye-opening for me.
I enjoyed experiencing firsthand that having someone edit your work isn't just for the mechanics of writing, it can help you be a better writer. I wasn’t expecting to learn so much. It’s made me a better writer.
Writing a memoir can seem overwhelming but with a game plan in place, not only is it doable, but it can be extremely rewarding. The following five tips/mindsets can increase the enjoyment of writing memoir:
Now it’s your turn. Are you writing a memoir? What positive experiences have you had so far? Please share them with us down in the comments!
[Note: In Part 3 of this series we will discuss different ways to revise our memoir.]
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Linda Ruggeri is a full-service editor and project manager based out of Los Angeles. She co-authored the historical memoir Stepping Into Rural Wisconsin: Grandpa Charly’s Life Vignettes from Prussia to the Midwest and can be found online at The Insightful Editor and on Instagram. Her new book Networking for Editors will be released this summer.
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