For the past four decades, Linda Joy Myers – memoirist and president of the National Association of Memoir Writers – has worked as a therapist. She’s the author of The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story and a staunch advocate of writing book-length memoir with all the therapeutic benefits the practice provides.
“When you write a scene, you become your own character at an earlier time in your life walking through and reliving those scenes. When you do that, you put your life into a new perspective because you’re the narrator, and you’re the character in the scene at the same time,” she explains. “When we figure out how to begin our memoir, how to develop the middle, and how the story – but not our life – ends, we’ve created a structure that holds our experience. And when we do that, we have created a new experience. It’s pretty magical.”
To share that magic, she founded the National Association of Memoir Writers in 2008. The organization offers teleseminars, online workshops on craft and therapeutic writing, a virtual book club, and interviews with writers and memoir experts.
What you’ll learn
The Association regularly hosts multiweek classes in memoir writing online. In early spring 2022, authors Kiese Laymon, Ashley C. Ford, Joshua Mohr, and Anna Qu taught “The Heart of Memoir: Craft Essentials for Memoirists.” Laymon, the author of the memoir Heavy, taught a four-week class in May and June as well, titled “What Made Heavy a Best-selling Memoir?”
Myers finds that one of the biggest challenges when writing a memoir is the shift from academic writing or narrative journaling to an entirely different genre. “Certainly, journal writing is very helpful,” she notes. “But when we write in a journal, we don’t paint the entire picture as a scene with the colors and the essential details and the textures and sounds. If you paint a picture for your readers to experience like a movie they can walk through, they’re going to find your memoir much more interesting to read.”
To that end, NAMW offers two live Zoom events every month. One is a presentation by a memoir expert, focusing on elements such as characterization, setting, dialogue, and more esoteric topics, as well. In April 2022, author and communication specialist Marijke McCandless gave a talk titled “Exposing the Poetry of Presence in Memoir: Naked Writing as Juicy Practice for Getting Present.” In May 2022, author Gina Frangello gave a presentation titled “I See You: The Radical Power of Recognition in Memoir.”
The Association also hosts a monthly virtual book club; authors lead discussions about their published books, and attendees can ask questions about the process of writing, publishing, and marketing. “The authors we invite are mostly ordinary, regular people who are not famous or even infamous,” Myers says. “They’re just people who wanted to write their story and found a way to do it.”
She herself led a virtual book club in 2022, along with She Writes Press publisher Brooke Warner. Titled “Feminist Foundations,” it invited club members to examine memoirs by Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, Erica Jong, and Maxine Hong Kingston – books, Myers says, that have shaped the genre and had a profound effect on female memoirists.
The Association has an active Facebook page open to anyone. More than 6,000 members discuss all things related to memoir. Anyone is welcome to join and participate in lively chats ranging from how to find a literary agent to how to self-publish a memoir.
Members of NAMW hail from all over the world; among other benefits, they also receive access to the organization’s private, invitation-only Facebook group, where they’re able to share events and articles and chat with other writers in the genre – members like Leslie Johansen Nack, author of Fourteen: A Daughter’s Memoir of Adventure, Sailing, and Survival, and Marcelle Soviero, author of An Iridescent Life: Essays on Motherhood and Stepmotherhood.
Some members also sign up for the group coaching Myers offers through NAMW. “People talk with each other, and they talk with me. Sometimes they find people they want to buddy with, or they create a critique group,” says Myers. “It’s very much a ‘let’s cheer each other on’ kind of thing that we’re doing here.”
How to join
Non-members can visit the website to sign up for a free newsletter, read free articles, and download a list of recommended books as well as the eBook Begin Your Memoir Now. The association offers an annual membership for $149, giving writers access to hundreds of memoir-related articles and audio presentations about the craft and business of memoir writing. Members also receive discounts on sponsored workshops, and free books.
Still not sure if your own personal story is worth sharing? Myers has this to say to skeptics: “No one else lived the life you’ve lived and learned what you learned or went through what you went through. Yours is a unique story that is very interesting.”
—Contributing Editor Melissa Hart is the author of two memoirs: Gringa and Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family. melissahart.com