Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sue William Silverman: Five Redemptive Paths Through Memoir

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.

University of Georgia Press, paperback
Watch book video trailer on YouTube at http://tinyurl.com/csekan
Click here

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.

To order from Amazon.com:

Click here

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.
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Sue Silverman said...

Mike, thanks so much for including my article on your blog. I'll be checking back throughout the day and will be pleased to answer questions from your readers. Sue

Jodi said...

Did the feeling of release outweigh the grief you got from family members about sharing your story? I often wonder if I'll just be trading one problem for another.

Sue Silverman said...

That's a good question, Jodi. For me, the answer is "yes."

I'm lucky, though, in that my family's reaction (really my extended family, since my parents had already died before my first book was published) was rather positive.

I have to say, though, that I honestly don't know of any writers who, when all is said and done, really regrets pubishing their life narratives.

Sure, there can be rocky times. But most still feel it's important to get their truths out there, to stop living the lies with which they were raised.

That's not to say it's easy. Nothing about writing, really, is easy. But it's still so important to get our words out there.

Adam said...

Mike, thanks for the great post.
Sue, I believe you said so many things about the art of writing that are true. In particular, when you express "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." Thank you for sharing your feelings about the past, self-discovery, and the act of creation.
Adam Dustus

Sue Silverman said...

Hi, Adam, thank you so much for such a lovely response! That really means a lot to me. Sue