Your Life as Story: Who Would Care?

November 29, 2011
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Lisa Dale Norton

Lisa Dale Norton

"This is the gift of memoir, the power it accords you to interpret your life the way you see it. . ."


Your Life as Story: Writing Narrative Non Fiction
Who Would Care?

December 1, 2011(re-posted from 12/1/2009)

(Lisa's on sabbatical, back soon. Meanwhile enjoy selected past features here)


I traveled to Tucson, Arizona, recently and taught a class on mastering voice in memoir. On the very first day one of the participants spoke to us with words I’ve not forgotten. She stood before the room of writers, shaking with emotion, and recited the story of her mother.

“My mother died thirteen years ago,” she said, “and all these years I’ve had to listen to my aunts tell stories about her that I knew were not true. They were not the stories my mother would have wanted to live on about her.”

She paused.

“I need to write my own story, now,” she said scanning the audience, “so no one will story the world with lies about my life after I am gone.”

There was a gasp of recognition from the crowd in the room.

Yes, I thought. This is the gift of memoir, the power it accords you to interpret your life the way you see it, to not allow the experiences that you have lived to die with you, to not allow others to tell the world what those experiences meant.

Every person who comes to one of my presentations wants to be heard. I see it in their eyes, hear it in their questions. They want their life to be witnessed, if only by family and friends. And yet, they also often stop themselves from doing that very thing with a familiar refrain: “Who would care about my story?”

". . .which of these compulsions inside you are you going to listen to. . ."

The question becomes, dear readers, which of these compulsions inside you are you going to listen to, the one that supports your right to speak, cheers you on and believes you must claim your voice, or the other one, the voice that discounts the validity of your life?

This is a choice, and it is the first step in writing memoir. All the other work you must do to craft a manuscript follows from this one key choice.

Which will it be for you?

About Lisa Dale Norton

Lisa Dale Norton is a regular Authorlink columnist. She is nationally recognized as a writing instructor with a passion for story. Read more about Lisa.

Lisa Dale Norton's new book about memoir, SHIMMERING IMAGES: A HANDY LITTLE GUIDE TO WRITING MEMOIR (St. Martin's Press), is in bookstores now. Lisa is the author of the acclaimed memoir HAWK FLIES ABOVE: JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE SANDHILLS, a work combining memoir and nature writing. She teaches for the UCLA Writers' Extension Program and speaks nationally on the process of memoir. She lives in Santa Fe.


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