Five Redemptive Paths Through Memoir
By Sue William Silverman
From about 1980 to 1992, I tried to tell my story as fiction. I wrote several unsuccessful novels all, on some level, about incest or sexual addiction. But hiding behind this fictional veil didn’t work. The voice of each novel I attempted to write sounded false and inauthentic.
The moment I switched to memoir, the moment I began to write Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, however, I felt as if I'd just learned to speak, that I heard my real voice for the first time.
After I finished that book and then went on to write Love Sick, I realized there were different, although complementary, paths that led toward the redemption and authenticity that I sought.
One: Find Redemption through Understanding the Past
Writing is a way to interact with—and interpret—the past. It helps us make sense of and/or recover from traumatic events. Writing sharpens our senses so that images and details from the past emerge in a new context, one that illuminates events for ourselves as well as for our readers.
Two: Find Redemption through the Organizing Principles of Writing
Memoir writing, gathering words onto pieces of paper, helps us shape our lives. By discovering plot, arc, theme, and metaphor, we give our lives an organization, a frame, which they would not otherwise have. Memoir creates a narrative, a life story.
Three: Find Redemption through the Life Force
When writing, if I forge even one good sentence on any given day, I have discovered a kernel of emotional truth. I feel that life force as if it’s my pulse. To write is to give birth to a more complete self.
There is only one of you. Your voice is unique. If you don’t express yourself, if you don’t fully explore who you are, that essence of you will be lost.
Four: Find Redemption through Helping Others to Heal
One thing I most love about writing memoir is that it affords me the opportunity to meet many courageous women. The responses that mean the most to me come in e-mails from readers who thank me for telling their stories, too.
Five: Find Redemption through Confession
Telling family secrets can be scary. But finally I reached a place where not telling the secrets was worse. I felt heavy, weighted down. What I came to learn, from writing two memoirs, is that our job as writers is tell our stories, regardless of family reaction.
Our job isn’t, after all, to make people feel settled, calm, or comfortable. And even if we, ourselves, initially feel uncomfortable, we ultimately sense release and power.
FEARLESS CONFESSIONS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO MEMOIR
University of Georgia Press, paperback
Watch book video trailer on YouTube at http://tinyurl.com/csekan
Everyone has a story to tell. “Fearless Confessions” is a guidebook for people who want to take possession of their lives by putting their experiences down on paper—or in a Web site or e-book. Enhanced with illustrative examples from many different writers as well as writing exercises, this guide helps writers navigate a range of issues from craft to ethics to marketing and will be useful to both beginners and more accomplished writers.
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Author Sue William Silverman says: “It's crucial to cultivate the courage to tell one's truth in the face of forces—from family members to the media—who would prefer that people with inconvenient pasts remain silent.”
Sue William Silverman’s memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction (W. W. Norton), is also a Lifetime Television original movie. Her first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, won the AWP award in creative nonfiction. She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and her most recent book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir, published with the University of Georgia Press (video book trailer at http://tinyurl.com/csekan.
As a professional speaker, Sue has appeared on The View, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Headline News.
For more about Sue, please visit www.suewilliamsilverman.com.