The Fine Art of Journaling
I’ve written about the healing power of writing, but haven’t mentioned it in the same sentence with journaling. Any type of writing will help, bullet points, brainstorming, I most often start with freewriting as that is what works best for me.
Freewriting is the act of writing without stopping. Many people begin with a set time, like 5 minutes, and they’ll write whatever comes to mind. If you’re unpracticed in journaling or freewriting, this might work if it seems starting might seem overwhelming.
Some people see journals as a way of recording the day’s events, certain thoughts or feelings, or even keeping track of accomplishments and to-do lists. It can be all or any of these things.
It used to be I’d read Sylvia Plath’s journals or Anais Nin’s diary excerpts and be intimidated – how did they create such lovely and thoughtful prose in their journals when what I scribble appears more like word vomit, thoughts and emotions all over the place in no particular order? and there certainly isn’t much poetry within it!
But then a friend pointed out a few things. First: some people keep a writer’s journal (as opposed to or in addition to a personal journal). This may be what I’ve been exposed to within the realm of famous author’s private thoughts. Second: These published journals have probably been edited, redacted, and only the best parts saw the light of day.
The Diary of Anne Frank, most people are unaware, was edited. Large parts of the original text were blacked out by her father who thought some entries to be inappropriate.
Hey – all the best journals have inappropriate thoughts! That’s why they are there in the secrecy of our journals.
But journals serve a number important purposes: Journal writing relieves us of our anxiety by releasing any thoughts and feelings that have been unexpressed or need to be re-expressed. Writing things down is a way to get them out of us, to say them aloud, and begins a process of working out the challenges we face.
Writing regularly helps with mental well-being, feeling more positive and hopeful. Journaling can help us heal.
Some writers do morning pages. Some people journal nightly. The best time is the time that suits you.
The fine art of journaling lies in putting the pen to the paper and doing what feels best for you without worrying what others will think. It is just for you. And we all need that – to do things for ourselves.
Obviously, my mind has been on memoir.
It’s exciting, invigorating, curative even; however, it’s not – as some people believe – revenge.
Just as forgiveness is more about us than those we forgive, memoir is the same. It’s about the author, the writer stating their peace. While some memoirs may read like revenge, they are more about sharing, maybe even confessing.
While Anne Sexton wrote confessional poetry better than anyone else I can name, confessional memoir comes in different flavors.
When I think of confessional memoir, I used to consider Life on the Edge or Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher. Some people would think of Spare by Prince Harry – but these are celebrity memoirs which carry a very different weight in the market.
Confessional memoirs will offer insight, a new way of looking at life and understanding people. Consider Dirty River by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinna who writes about being a disabled queer woman and survivor of abuse. Not the only example – Lit by Mary Karr, Unspeakable by Meghan Daum will offer more mainstream insights into death, illness, alcoholism, recovery. But we will come away with empathy for the human condition as lived through these authors.
These stories that will hurt your heart instead of shock your eyes.
While I’m working on a few pieces of memoir right now, they may not shock your eyes but some parts may hurt your heart. Certain pieces will speak to some people and not to others. Some readers will wonder, others may doubt. A person or two may become upset – upset with me – but confessional or not – it’s personal, it’s mine. And their upset will be their problem.
Writing memoir is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for the shy or the scared – and maybe it’s not even for the “brave” – it’s for those who need to speak, who need to heal, who might be heard, and for those very souls who need to hear it.
Airing out the Demons
Allowing ourselves to recover, the body to heal itself, takes time and work. Sometimes we long for an instant cure, instant pain relief. But the pain is still there after the potion wears off.
If we don’t deal with our emotional suffering, it will work our way into our muscles, tendons, bones and cripple us.
Nothing worth having comes easy. And that includes healing.
In grief, we are told that talking about the person we lost helps with our healing. In abuse, we are also told voicing our experiences helps.
In short, Memoirs are healing.
Airing our difficulties, putting our secrets out there for the world to see may seem daunting.
Reading about challenges others have faced helps us – and writing back to the book, to the experience, to the author, in a private journal never to be seen by anyone but us – can still help us heal.
Your experience may help another; therefore, if you decide to publish it, it does not need to carry your name.
I met a published author who was writing a book about her son’s addiction, how it took years of her life as well as his life. She used a pseudonym for a few reasons. She wanted to protect her son’s identity. As well, her usual genre was not memoir. To publish a series of let’s say detective fiction, and then to publish memoir might confuse or dismay her readers. (Publishers rarely like genre switching anyway).
She felt, rightly so, that many people could identify with and be helped by her personal challenges. She found herself at book signings and conferences with reader after reader coming up to her thanking her for the book. They’d felt completely alone until they read her book, finally understanding others had similar experiences.
Memoir – airing out the demons – helps.
Read. Write. Heal.
The Crucial Element of Memoir
The fundamental element of any memoir is authenticity.
This doesn’t necessarily mean every word needs to be absolutely correct. We all know our memory plays tricks on us, so we’re not going to remember every word that might have been said years ago under stress or in a moment of excitement.
This authenticity includes a relationship between the author’s character and an honest portrayal of an original truth through the reproduction of the essential elements of the event or topic. This truth must also extend beyond the author into a universal theme that speaks to reader’s hearts.
Let’s break down this breathy statement:
Author’s Character: their moral compass, not the protagonist or antagonist of the story.
Honest Portrayal/reproduction of the essential elements: Not a word by word or play by play re-enactment of the time, but gist of what was happening, the emotions, the actions, the staging of the scene for a reader’s understanding.
Original Truth: The tipping point, the learning moment, the meaning and or purpose of this piece.
Universal Theme: How the reader is going to connect and/or relate to the story, author, or event.
Authenticity in memoir is crucial to a successful connection to the reader. It is the element that makes memoir worth writing and worthy of reading.
About Getting Sued…
Someone asked me today if I ever ask people if I can write about them. I told the person, it never occurred to me to ask.
I rarely write about a person as a whole person. I take a little bit of this and a little bit of that and I create a whole new character.
But even if I used the majority of the personality traits and quirks and characteristics, there’s little danger of them recognizing themselves.
The truth is people rarely see themselves as others see them.
So – when I have written about that rare person – name changed – they never even suspected.
And, if I’m not slandering, endangering their job, family, or life, or using their real name, and they can barely recognize themselves as I or others see them, there is little to no chance of getting sued.
The sad fact is that I’ve created characters who some people identified with and had the mistaken impression that it was a reflection of them. It wasn’t.
Creating characters and writing about people is art.
Understanding who you are and how others see you as opposed how you see yourself takes a lifetime of understanding misunderstandings.
Memoir vs Autobiography
Many people confuse autobiography and memoir. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably; however, there are differences between them.
Although it is written from the author’s perspective, as in memoir, an autobiography usually spans a person’s whole life. Examples of autobiography include Ghandi’s The Story of My Experiments with Truth and I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai.
Memoirs, written usually in first person and from the author’s perspective, focus on an event or pivotal period in their lives. It contains in some instances, more narrative, more storytelling features including thoughts and emotions. Most importantly, the author writes it using their memory of the event, usually toward a certain end or point.
The Glass Castle is a memoir; while it does not cover Jeanette Walls whole life, it focuses on a significant period of her youth and upbringing.
Memoir is more intimate. Consider Memoirs of a Geisha compared to Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela: Whereas an autobiography contains more facts, dates, and times, memoir paints a picture, drawing the reader into an emotional narrative.
Memoir was thought to have been invented in 397 A.D. with St. Augustine. Although his book spanned his whole life, the portions therein where written in a memoir fashion with pivotal events filled with emotional detail and his own point of view.
Memoir has evolved over time.
As a child, I remember reading autobiographies. I would sit enraptured in the corner of the library, reading chapters from presidents, actresses, and others. The librarians would point me over to the easy readers, but I wanted to read something real, something intimate and beautiful. I found a lot of dry stories that included people’s names and dates and facts, but I still found it interesting. I tried to go for the more intimate portraits of life that the librarians definitely guided me away from.
Later, I would steal my mother’s True Story magazines. Far too mature for my young eyes but, apart from the sex scenes, the secrets and innermost thoughts and feelings of the author and the actions of his or her friends or partners captured my consideration.
Ron Terranova’s The Red Wing Chronicles deserve a shoutout for mixing the two genre’s. It’s an impassioned look at scenes from his life, spanning most of his life.
The Limits of Memory – and the Liabilities of Memoir
Think of a memory from childhood. What images do you remember? What stories do you tell?
When you take out a memory – do you or can you connect it to something more current? Why are you thinking about that? What brought it up? What did you learn from that memory? Or why do you enjoy it?
When you just take out a memory out and connect it to something present – you played with it, worked with it, in some way, possibly made it mean more or less, you colored it in, or made it pale in comparison.
Many Psychiatrists say every time we take a memory out – we change it, we try to make sense of it, we add details may have come from somewhere else. Many, many experts believe we have no pure memories. That they are all, in some way, corrupt.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, Professor at UCI who has published twenty-four books and more than six hundred papers, believes memories are reconstructed, not replayed. “Our representation of the past takes on a living, shifting reality,”… “It is not fixed and immutable, not a place way back there that is preserved in stone, but a living thing that changes shape, expands, shrinks, and expands again, an amoeba-like creature.”
How many of us know someone who remembers something different that we do? My sisters and I used to walk in the cool night air; one night, the middle sister saw a jaguar – the car, not the cat – and pulled the little ornament off. We started to walk away, and she instantly felt bad, so she turned back and placed it on the car near the windshield hoping the owner would see it and be able to repair it. Hey – we were teenagers – don’t hate us.
Now, when my sisters and I get together, my youngest sister remembers it differently, she remembers jumping up on the car and ripping it off and bringing it home. She laments losing it and wonders where it went. My middle sister and I just look at one another because that does not match up with our memory.
When writing we can change little things, play with the memories. But how much of the changing and playing with can we do to memories or memoir before we need to change the label from memoir to inspired by actual events?
And… I think the answer to that is – how much have you changed? Who is reading it? And are you going to get sued?
I have a piece coming out that I originally labeled as memoir – but I fought with myself about that label because it’s about my dead brother. In this memoir, I’m talking to him. Obviously, I’m playing with memories of our conversations, of who he is and what types of things he said. I had a conversation with the editor about this who said – do you want to make it clearer you’re talking to a ghost?
My brother, sadly, can’t sue me – he’s passed. No one can sue you from beyond the grave, but their families can sue if the memoir defames any of the family. This piece does not defame my brother, but is it memoir? Or is it “inspired by an actual event”?
The memoirist’s first line of defense is: The first amendment of our us constitution guarantees us the right to free speech –
EXCEPT – there are some exceptions like you can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater, you can’t say bomb at the airport… and you can’t say Johnny Depp abused you without valid, verifiable evidence.
The first amendment does guarantee that we have the right to our opinion, so when we’re writing a memoir, mostly, that is what it is – our opinion of events as they happened. Therefore, in most cases, memoirists are safe from prosecution.
The two biggest issues writers of memoirs face are defamation and right to privacy lawsuits.
Say you’re writing a memoir about your experience. You and your friend had a wild night of partying, you’re say 17, did somethings that you didn’t even put in your diary for fear someone would find out – but you’ve decided to write about that night – for whatever reason, you learned a lesson from that experience, it’s passed the statute of limitations for prosecution – ideally, yes, that is your story and you can write about it – but, wait, your friend swore you to secrecy. You guys had a pact. If you write a memoir or personal narrative or op-ed with a character that has your friend’s name, some variation of that name, character traits, walks like or dresses like your friend, was in the same place as you and that person can be identified, you can be sued.
If you want to write that story, change the names, change the locations, change your friend’s character traits, age, or leave your friend out completely.
Or – get your friend’s permission – IN WRITING!
Augustun Bourroughs, author of Running with Scissors, wrote a memoir about growing up – he changed the names, but the family brought a lawsuit against him and the publisher alleging defamation and invasion of privacy. The author maintains that it was and is his opinion and he kept journals throughout his childhood, and even some public facts supported some of the author’s claims, but the family alleged that events were changed to make them more dramatic – the lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The publisher had to change the label from memoir to book. And the author had to add a note – stating that he hadn’t meant harm and that the family’s memories are different than his own.
If you look at the Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls the youngest sister Maureen has the least written about her. She was at a friend’s house for most of the West Virginia portion – there is some verifiable facts of her time in New York – she tried to stab her mother, she was institutionalized, and then she’s off to California, and in the book, nothing else is stated about her. She had her right to privacy. So whether the author didn’t get permission or she was being respectful or her sister threatened to sue her – who knows. You can find information about the sister if you google – I did, but there seems to be limited information about her.
Our Gentle Sins has a character who is a recovering drug addict – I know a few. One of my friends asked me if he was the inspiration for the character of Jack. It’s actually fiction, but it is inspired by experiences of many people I’ve known or talked too. I felt it was an important story, but I would never use someone’s personal story who dealt with such personal struggles.
Drug addiction is a serious issue. Recovery is very personal. I admire those who are successfully maintaining their recovery. Jack is my tribute to them.
If you’re local – stop by and talk with me! Enjoy Our Gentle Sins – a fictional novel with inspiring characters recovering from whatever life has thrown at them!
The Care and Feeding of your Writer
Reviews are so important to the future of our books and our publishing. It’s the first thing customers look for and publishing companies look for when deciding to publish your work. For some reason, it’s difficult to get readers to review on Amazon, GoodReads, or Barnes and Nobel among others.
I get emails, text messages, letters – sometimes I get them through third party systems. And they’ve been sterling. But they have not appeared in any public place.
Please review, review review.
We love personal notes. I’ve had people send me things. How wonderful. I always respond to emails. And I include – please publish this review.
Beautiful Souls, your writer needs your reviews.
Ready, Set, Release!
Hello, dear readers!
I’m so happy to announce that today – today – today is the day Our Gentle Sins is available at your local bookstore.
Another wonderful review came in by my good friend, Jo Rousseau.
“Ms. Lace has written a novel that is both gritty and tender. Her ability to create very real characters with very real emotions makes this novel a satisfying read. What makes the short fiction of Noreen Lace stand out is, not only Lace’s facility with language, but her ability to connect with her reader. She lays the soul of her characters at the feet of her readers and it’s impossible not to respond. In her fiction, Ms Lace creates a world of darkness and warmth. Her characters, although flawed, find a way to triumph over the hand fate has dealt them, moving forward and rising up through enormous odds. The journey: there-in lies the tale.”
Jo Rousseau can be brutally honest – she told me numerous times during my writing process when the story wasn’t adding up, needed changes, or didn’t follow to a natural end. So – when she gives me a compliment, I know it’s as authentic as she is.
Once you order you read – please, please write a review. Thank you!
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