Tuesday, December 31, 2019

What do memoirists have in common with shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night?


It never occurred to me that memoirists have something in common with shepherds watching over their flocks by night— that is, not until I heard my son-in-law Brian’s Christmas sermon. That morning it became clear that we memoirists are more like those shepherds than we might have realized.

Yes, shepherds—those behind-the-scenes guys we sing about in Christmas carols, the ones we read about in the Bible in Luke 2. 

They were simply, quietly doing their daily chores when—bam!

“An angel of the Lord appeared to them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were terrified. But the angel said to them,
‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;
he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you:
You will find a baby wrapped in cloths
and lying in a manger.’”
(Luke 2:9-12)

An angel is a messenger sent by God—did you know? The Bible refers to angels a lot.

That night the angel of the Lord gave a stunning message to the shepherds—something about good news. Something about a Savior. And about a baby—a baby lying in a manger, of all things!

That must have sounded wacky to them, don’t you think?

But God was offering them a moment of clarity:
Somehow, they knew this was a divine encounter,
that they stood on holy ground,
and that they had to take the angel’s message seriously.

So they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and check it out!” (verse 16).

I picture them: Wild-eyed. Breathless.

“They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished. . . . [and] they went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:16-20, NLT).

They were never the same after that encounter, after the night God gave them a moment of clarity.

Similarly, “God gives us moments of clarity,” son-in-law Brian said, “in the same way the angel of the Lord gave clarity to those shepherds.”

Think about moments of clarity God has sprung on you—pivotal points in your life, defining moments.

They can occur while you’re carrying out everyday duties. “Pay attention to God,” Brian said. “He can speak to you in even routine events.”

Think back to a time when you, like the shepherds, were carrying out your normal routines—maybe a little bored, or maybe wondering if your life had any significance at all—when your life took an unexpected turn. And the result: a moment of clarity.

Let’s look at the shepherds: 
  • Because God sent an angel,
  • and because the shepherds paid attention to the angel’s message,
  • and because they followed up and verified the message,
  • and because this resulted in a moment of clarity for the shepherds,
  • they “told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished” (Luke 2:17-18),
  • they praised God for what He told and showed them,
  • and the shepherds’ story has lived on long after they died, blessing many generations.

The shepherds shared their story. That’s what memoirists do:
  • We tell others our stories of what happened.
  • And when we see how our all-powerful, all-loving God showed Himself to us in our circumstances, we can’t help but praise and worship Him!
  • And our stories can live on long after we die, blessing many generations.

That reminds me of the following Bible verses:

“Tell everyone about the amazing things God does. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise” (1 Chronicles 16:24-25).

Jesus said, “Go tell your family everything God has done for you” (Luke 8:39).

“Always remember what you’ve seen God do and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9).

“We will tell the next generation about the Lord’s power and his great deeds and the wonderful things he has done. He . . . instructed our ancestors to teach his laws to their children, so that the next generation might learn them and in turn should tell their children. In this way they will also put their trust in God and not forget what he has done, but always obey his commandments” (Psalm 78:4b, 6-7, Good News Translation).

“Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done” (Psalm 105:1).

“Sing praises to the Lord, proclaim what He has done” (Psalm 9:11).

“Declare [God’s] glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Psalm 96:3).

“The Lord has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world” (Isaiah 12:5).

Jesus said, “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs” (Matthew 10:27).

When God gives us moments of clarity
and changes our lives,
He urges us to tell others our stories
in the same way the shepherds told theirs.

Brian concluded his sermon with this encouragement:

“Those shepherds were just regular guys
who shared the message of light and hope and peace.
We should do the same.”






Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Guest Post by Carol Swift: A moment of Christmas joy, love, and hope within a broken and shattered world


Today we welcome Carol Swift 
who tells us a Christmas story from her childhood. 
Read more about Carol at the end of her story—
she’s a lady with a tender heart, 
a lady dedicated to helping those in grief and mourning.



I awoke to my first Christmas morning away from home, not as an adult celebrating Christmas in my own newly established home or as a college student spending the holiday abroad, but as an eleven-year-old whose father had died suddenly of a massive heart attack only two weeks before Christmas.

Memories from that morning are both blurred and distinct. Strings and strands of Christmas lights, squeals of young children opening their gifts, paper strewn everywhere serve as a hazy backdrop for a clear and compelling image I can still recall.

My sister Janet and her husband had invited my mother and me to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in their home, knowing that it would be difficult for us to be alone in our home so soon after my father’s death.

At ages twenty and twenty-one, they had married two months before I was born. Their sons were more like brothers to me, and their home was always a place where I experienced love and fun and acceptance that was not based on any similarities Janet and I shared, but on our acceptance and love for each other despite our different personalities.

Janet was passionate about sports, all kinds of sports. She loved watching them, participating in them, and having grand discussions about them. Their back yard became a place for neighborhood families to gather for volleyball and whiffle ball games. Children were encouraged to join the sporting events, but I always opted out and chose to sit under the shade of my favorite tree surrounded by books and pets.

Janet approached life in practical and straightforward ways and, at times, she grew weary of my whimsical ponderings. I remember one day she asked me, in an older sister's exasperated tone, why I never could see things in simple black and white terms.

My response to her was, “I don’t try to see things differently than you do. Where you see black and white, I can’t help but see pewter and charcoal and silver.”  

She could have viewed my words as smart and sassy, but she chose to view them as truth, truth that was woven through all of our years as sisters, and truth that is illustrated in one of my most vivid and distinct memories of that Christmas morning.

Back when I was ten years old, my sister had first allowed me to be part of the secretive gift wrapping for their sons’ presents. and I quickly learned how her practicality seeped into her wrapping techniques. Precise paper measuring, carefully folded corners, and perfect bow placement were important to Janet, and I followed her gift-wrapping guidelines as best I could, grateful she had invited me to be part of her Christmas preparations.

The following year, when my mother and I awoke to the many presents piled under their Christmas tree, it was no surprise to me to see the beautifully wrapped gifts awaiting us.

In the frenzy of children unwrapping their treasures, I hadn’t noticed one gift that was tucked among the many boxes. Janet eventually reached for it and eagerly brought it to me.

The gift was not in a box but was instead wrapped in the shape of a cylinder with multicolored ribbons creatively tied on each side. Its stark contrast to the other wrapped presents captured me, and I opened it hesitantly, wanting to hold on to its uniqueness for a few more moments. Eventually, my curiosity won out, and I unfolded it to find a simple but frilly white blouse, a gift I had hoped for and adored, a gift from a sister whose closet held mostly tailored and dark-colored apparel.

At the time, her gift brought a momentary sense of joy and love to me in a time when my broken and shattered world felt confusing and empty.

Decades later, as I reflect on Janet’s gift, it evokes a memory with far deeper meaning for me. Joy and love were surely something I desperately needed that Christmas morning, but hope was what I unknowingly needed even more.

Many view hope as future-focused, the equivalent of a wish. Without Janet or me realizing it, she stretched her love, in ways that were not as natural for her, and she allowed me, for a brief time, to step away from focusing on the uncertainty of the future and linger in the present moment, in the present reality of God’s promises. Emmanuel. God with us.

Its impact has reached across the years from that Christmas long ago to every Christmas I experience as I savor and embrace the gift of Jesus, God’s hope for all humanity. 


Carol uses her roles as educator, speaker, and writer to heighten awareness of the dimensions of grief and mourning. She has written materials for use in church studies, seminars, and retreats. She and her husband are currently facilitating a six-hour workshop for use in church studies, seminars, and retreats. They are offering Shared Sorrow: A Faith Community’s Response to Grief and Mourning to churches throughout Pennsylvania. Carol earned her M.S. in Education at Johns Hopkins University and received training in Death and Grief studies from Dr. Alan Wolfelt, the founder of The Center for Loss and Life Transition.


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Guest Post: “Christmas Spirit—Lost and Found,” by Nancy Julien Kopp

Today we welcome writer Nancy Julien Kopp and thank her for sharing her story, “Christmas Spirit—Lost and Found.” It was a winner in the Kansas Voices contest in 2015 and published in the December 2016 issue of The War Cry (Salvation Army).

Be sure to come back next week for the Christmas story Carol Swift wrote!


“Christmas Spirit—Lost and Found”
Nancy Julien Kopp

The first Christmas commercial flicked across the TV screen in early December. My eyes were closed, head resting on the back of my chair, a cup of tea balanced on my lap, but I heard the tinkling of sleigh bells, the sound of carolers and laughter. I stayed still, wishing the joyful sounds away. I didn’t want to feel Christmas this year.

I didn’t spend my days Christmas shopping or decorating the house or baking cookies. Instead, I read books about babies born with spina bifida, asked questions of doctors about hydrocephalus, and made phone calls to a hospital an hour away from our home to ask about the condition of our only child, born in November.

It was 1966, and we didn’t have the option of staying with Julie at the large children’s hospital over an hour away from our home. When she was a few days old, we drove on icy roads to admit her after our pediatrician had made the arrangements. A paperwork snafu gave us four precious hours with her in the crowded waiting room before the clerk told us to go to fourth floor west where a nurse waited for us.

Ken and I rode the elevator to the fourth floor and walked down a long corridor breathing in the hospital antiseptic odor. A white-uniformed woman walked toward us. She put her arms out to take our baby girl. As I placed Julie in this stranger’s arms, I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to crumple in a heap. Instead, I looked into the nurse’s eyes, and we smiled at one another, woman to woman.

She held Julie in the crook of one arm and smoothed the pink blanket with her free hand. “We’ll take good care of her.” She turned and proceeded down the long, empty hallway before I could make any farewell gesture to our sweet baby girl, before I could hold her close and inhale that special baby smell.

Ken and I walked down the hall, hand in hand, too choked up to say a word.

We returned a few days later to find that we could only view our daughter through a nursery window. She lay on her tummy so there’d be no pressure on the bulging tumor in the open area of her spine. She would soon have surgery to close the opening. Later, a shunt would be placed at the base of her brain to drain fluid. Farther down the road would be more surgery to straighten her legs in hopes that she might one day learn to walk on crutches, not a certainty, only a hope.

I asked a nurse about the big wooden rocking chair that I noticed sitting in the nursery.

“Oh that’s for our hospital volunteers who come in to rock the babies. It’s nice to have a personal touch.”

Why couldn’t it be me who rocked her? Why not a mother’s touch? But hospital rules in those days were stringent, and parents were discouraged from asking favors. The rocking chair appeared to be the one thing that didn’t scream institution. Bare walls, bare hallways, no color except in the waiting rooms. But that would soon change.

I still didn’t care about Christmas, but the hospital volunteers must have signed on as Santa’s helpers. The next time we visited, the halls glowed with Christmas banners and ribbons and small, decorated trees sat on tables in the waiting areas. The babies had dolls or toys tied to their cribs, a gift from the hospital auxiliary. The nurses wore Christmas pins on their uniforms, the green and red colors standing out on the snowy fabric. I chose to ignore these obvious signs of holiday spirit. When Christmas drew too close, I pushed it away.

As we waited with other parents to talk to our child’s doctor, I wondered if these mothers were skipping Christmas this year, too. I’d probably go out soon and buy the necessary gifts for our parents and siblings, but it would be an obligation, not a joy as in past years.

On Christmas Day, we stopped by the hospital before going to my parents’ home. By this time, Julie had been there for nearly four weeks and come through two surgeries. When the elevator doors opened onto fourth floor that Christmas morning, holiday music played softly over unseen speakers. The melodic carols fairly floated down the long corridor. The banners and ribbons on the walls seemed brighter than they had on our other visits. A nurse passed by us with a “Merry Christmas” greeting, which I didn’t return.

Julie was awake when we arrived at the nursery window. Still lying on her tummy, she raised her head and looked right at us with her big blue eyes. I had a sudden vision of Mary and Baby Jesus looking at one another just like Julie and I were doing. The message was there for me. I needed Mary’s faith, needed to stop the sorrow and self-pity, needed to dwell on the positive strides Julie was making.

Ken put his arm around me while we watched our little girl on her first Christmas morning. The music surrounded us, and I felt the ice around my heart crack and break into tiny bits as I let the spirit of Christmas warm me. I’d pushed it away with every bit of force I could muster, but today thoughts of Mary and her precious son took over. After all, wasn’t this what Christmas was all about? The birth of a child the world had waited for? Wouldn’t we want to teach the treasured story to our child one day, too?

Shame for the way I’d tried to shut Christmas out of my life brought a single tear trickling down my cheek. I should have embraced this special holiday from the day I’d heard that first TV commercial. I needed the spirit of Christmas more this year than any other.

We blew a kiss to our little girl and walked hand in hand to the elevator. I’d finally opened my heart to what Christmas had to offer when I found the spirit in the face of our baby girl. The carols sounded sweeter, the nurses cheerier, and the decorations more elegant. It would be a Christmas etched on my heart forever, the one when God and his holy angels spoke softly to me.


Nancy Julien Kopp, of Manhattan, Kansas, writes creative nonfiction, memoir, inspirational, children’s fiction, poetry and articles on the writing craft. She’s published in 22 Chicken Soup for the Soul books, other anthologies, newspapers, ezines and magazines. She blogs about her writing world with tips and encouragement for writers at www.writergrannnywworld.blogspot.com.





Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Send us your Christmas stories



If so, send me your Christmas vignette by December 10 and I’ll select one or more to publish here.

Spiff up your rough draft (or start writing it), keeping in mind the definition of memoir (click on What memoir is: Back to basics).

Remember, in writing memoir we go beyond digging up memories. Within our memories, we peel back layers to discover what was going on under the surface. Search for overlooked significance. We work to make sense of what God was doing in and for and through us, and others, at the time—and what it all meant.

“Rather than simply telling a story from her life,
the memoirist both tells the story
and muses upon it,
trying to unravel what it means
in the light of her current knowledge. . . .
The contemporary memoir includes retrospection
as an essential part of the story.
Your reader [is] interested in how you now,
looking back on it,
understand it.”
(Judith Barrington, Writing Memoir)


“The author must impose a coherence
on events he chooses to include
that may not have been present as he lived them. . . .
It’s that selectivity that transforms a memoir
from a report to a reflection
which gives meaning to the events
which might not have been evident to the author
as she lived them.”
  
Capture sweet moments, hilarious events, personality quirks, tragic loss, courageous decisions, integrity, tenacity, or high adventure—all make for great reading.

Helpful tips:

Character development: Each person is complex. Develop your main characters’ shortcomings, redeeming qualities, beliefs, prejudices, body language, tone of voice, attitudes, and quirks.

Was he sentimental or no-nonsense? Comical or dour? Consistent or inconsistent? Gentle or gruff? Did she stand tall or did she slouch? Was he optimistic or pessimistic? Did she stress the importance of table manners? What else was important to him?

picture in public domain
Emotions: Incorporate emotions—about happy, joyful events as well as scary things and grief. Not all stories have happy beginnings or endings.

Allow readers inside your heart and mind.

Include your thoughts—even your struggles—to understand what was happening. Write of your delights as well as your doubts. Ask questions even if you have no answers.

You’ll find tips from Method Writing and from Kathleen Pooler’s post, Evoking Emotions: The power of Sensory Detail in Storytelling.

Also bring in adventure and humor where you can. Click on How to Add Humor to a Sad Memoir, Lisa Romeo’s post about how, why, and where to include humor in a sad memoir.

Sensory details: If you want readers to enjoy your stories, you must include sensory details. Invite them to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell what you experienced so they can enter your story with you.

Don’t miss our earlier posts, December’s Details for Your Memoir as well as Details: A must for your memoir. They’re packed with resources for you.

Your opening: A story’s beginning can make it or break it. It can invite readers in—or send them away. Most writers experiment with many openings before they get just the right one. Spend lots of time on your opening. Some don’t even try to write it until they’ve finished the main body of the story.

Check out these helpful links about writing your vignette’s opening.  (Keep in mind these posts are about crafting the opening of an entire memoir, but they also apply to the opening of chapters/vignettes.)

Links:

Important: Click on this link to look at


Please submit a vignette that
has not been published before, or
 is a story you published in the past 
and it’s copyrighted in your name.

Aim at writing 1000 words or less in a Word document sent as an attachment to LindaKThomasAuthor [at] gmail [dot] com. (Replace [at] with @ and replace [dot] with a period, scrunch everything together, and your email should reach me.) Please write “Christmas vignette for SM 101” in the subject line so I’ll know it’s not spam. Thanks.


Ready, set, go!







Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Send me your Christmas stories, Part 2


WooHooo! I’ve already received a Christmas story from one of you dear followers of SM 101, and I’m excited to read stories others will submit. How’s your story coming along?

Remember, I need to receive your stories by December 10 and I’ll pick one or more to publish here. See below for submission details.

If you missed last week’s post, Click on Send me your Christmas stories. It contains tips on character development, emotion, sensory details, and your vignette’s opening.

Today we’ll look at the importance of
  • sense of place, and
  • endings.


Your story’s sense of place: Establishing a sense of place will draw readers into your story.

“To achieve intimacy with your reader,” says Danielle Lazarin, “you have to say to them: here is your key to the apartment, here is the school, there’s a set of trees that perfectly frame the river, that’s where your friends live, your sister’s down that road.”

How do you do that? You include sensory details. What do readers need to see, touch, taste, smell, and hear?

If you invite readers into your “place,” whether indoors or out, whether in a big city or a rural spot far from any town, readers will:
  • feel they’re experiencing your story with you,
  • get to know you, feel connected to you,
  • feel grounded in your story,
  • discover the mood, atmosphere, and emotions of that place and time,
  • and, in the end, take away important lessons for their own lives. 

You’ll enjoy these words by L.L. Barkat: “. . . A writer must have passions and a sense of place. . . . The words of a region, a philosophy, a passion . . .  come with their own sounds and rhythms and fragrances.”

Make time to think deeply
and describe the culture that exists in the town or business
or church or family in your story.

Pin down the words and philosophy
and passion and rhythms and fragrances
that belong to your story.

Click on these additional posts about creating a sense of place for your story:

The importance of place in your memoir (This one includes a Christmas setting from my new memoir, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir.)


Your story’s ending: Pay attention to your vignette’s conclusion. A weak ending can make a story fall short of its potential impact, but a strong one makes a memoir shine.

That means you need to put a lot of work into crafting it.

Remember this: You just cannot write an ending that gushes, “And they all lived happily ever after.” No, you must not!

Give your vignette’s ending muscle.
Impact. Pizzazz.

Or turn it into a melody
Or a prayer.

For the benefit of your readers—and yourself—make time to discover the core, the heart, the soul of your story and highlight that in your ending.

Your goal is to write a satisfying, compelling conclusion that gives readers wisdom, compassion, courage, faith, hope, and inspiration for living.

You want to maximize the power of your vignette’s ending.

Ask yourself: 
  • How do I want readers to feel after reading my story?
  • How do I want them to think as a result of reading my story?
  • What do I want them to do and how do I want them to live because they read my Christmas story?


The beauty of your story will shine brightest at its ending.

Click on this link for help in crafting your conclusion: The beauty of memoir: Your vignettes’ strong endings. 

Be sure to look over and apply the important writing tips from last week’s post (click on Send me your Christmas stories). When you’ve edited and polished and proofread your Christmas story, submit it for consideration. I’ll be happy to edit it before publication.

Please submit a vignette that
  • has not been published before, or
  • is a story you published in the past and own the copyright.

Aim at writing 1000 words or less in a Word document sent as an attachment to LindaKThomasAuthor [at] gmail [dot] com. (Replace [at] with @ and replace [dot] with a period, scrunch everything together, and your email should reach me.) Please write “Christmas vignette for SM 101” in the subject line so I’ll know it’s not spam. Thanks.

Also please include a short author bio along with links to your website, blog, Facebook Page, and other social media.

Happy Christmas writing!





Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Send me your Christmas stories


Have you written a story about Christmas for your memoir?

If so, Gentle Readers, send me your Christmas vignettes between now and December 10 and I’ll select one or more to publish here.

Spiff up your rough draft (or start writing it), keeping in mind the definition of memoir (click on What memoir is: Back to basics).

Here in SM 101, we go beyond digging up memories. Within our memories, we peel back layers to discover what was going on under the surface. Search for overlooked significance. We work to make sense of what God was doing in and for and through us, and others, at the time—and what it all meant.

“Rather than simply telling a story from her life,
the memoirist both tells the story
and muses upon it,
trying to unravel what it means
in the light of her current knowledge. . . .
The contemporary memoir includes retrospection
as an essential part of the story.
Your reader [is] interested in how you now,
looking back on it,
understand it.”
(Judith Barrington, Writing Memoir)


“The author must impose a coherence
on events he chooses to include
that may not have been present as he lived them. . . .
It’s that selectivity that transforms a memoir
from a report to a reflection
which gives meaning to the events
which might not have been evident to the author
as she lived them.”
  
Capture sweet moments, hilarious events, personality quirks, tragic loss, courageous decisions, integrity, tenacity, or high adventure—all make for great reading.

Helpful tips:

Character development: Each person is complex. Develop your main characters’ shortcomings, redeeming qualities, beliefs, prejudices, body language, tone of voice, attitudes, and quirks.

Was he sentimental or no-nonsense? Comical or dour? Consistent or inconsistent? Gentle or gruff? Did she stand tall or did she slouch? Was he optimistic or pessimistic? Did she stress the importance of table manners? What else was important to him?

Emotions: Incorporate emotions—about happy, joyful events as well as scary things and grief. Not all stories have happy beginnings or endings.

Allow readers inside your heart and mind.

Include your thoughts—even your struggles—to understand what was happening. Write of your delights as well as your doubts. Ask questions even if you have no answers.

You’ll find tips from Method Writing and from Kathleen Pooler’s post, Evoking Emotions: The power of Sensory Detail in Storytelling.

Also bring in adventure and humor where you can. Click on How to Add Humor to a Sad Memoir, Lisa Romeo’s post about how, why, and where to include humor in a sad memoir.

Sensory details: If you want readers to enjoy your stories, you must include sensory details. Invite them to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell what you experienced so they can enter your story with you.

Don’t miss our earlier posts, Your Memoir's December Details, as well as Details: A must for your memoir. They're packed with resources for you.

Your opening: A story’s beginning can make it or break it. It can invite readers in—or send them away. Most writers experiment with many openings before they get just the right one. Spend lots of time on your opening. Some don’t even try to write it until they’ve finished the main body of the story.

Check out these helpful links about writing your vignette’s opening.  (Keep in mind these posts are about crafting the opening of an entire memoir, but they also apply to the opening of chapters/vignettes like you’re writing.)

Links about openings:

For now, go ahead and work on your rough draft. But come back next week when we’ll look at

  • the importance of creating a sense of place, and
  • crafting your story’s ending.

Here’s something to keep in mind for the future:

Please submit a vignette that

  • has not been published before, or
  • is a story you published in the past and it’s copyrighted in your name.

Aim at writing 1000 words or less in a Word document sent as an attachment to LindaKThomasAuthor [at] gmail [dot] com. (Replace [at] with @ and replace [dot] with a period, scrunch everything together, and your email should reach me.) Please write “Christmas vignette for SM 101” in the subject line so I’ll know it’s not spam. Thanks.


Ready, set, go!

P.S. Remember to come back next week
for tips on developing a sense of place for your story
as well as writing its ending.





Tuesday, November 5, 2019

“Beating back the past with grace . . . and with the power of language.”


Every human has experienced pain—pain caused by bullies, or unfaithful spouses, or flawed churches, or ill-equipped parents, or egotistical bosses, or cheating co-workers, or jealous siblings. The list could go on and on.

Such experiences shape people, define people. They can result in festering wounds for years. Sometimes people can’t get over the injustice of it all.

And many write memoirs about hurt and unfairness they’ve suffered.

It’s okay to write about such experiences
  • if doing so helps you heal and
  • if your goal is to help others heal from their own painful pasts.


But you must write your story with the correct perspective and honorable motives. 

William Zinsser, one of my dearest writing mentors, says this:

“The marvel of Frank McCourt’s childhood is that he survived it. . . . The second marvel is that he was able to triumph over it in Angela’s Ashes, beating back the past with grace and humor and with the power of language. Those same qualities are at the heart of all the good memoirs. . . .”

Zinsser mentions three such memoirs, A Drinking Life, by Pete Hamill, The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr, and This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff.

He continues, “Anyone might think the domestic chaos and alcoholism and violence that enveloped those writers when they were young would have long since hardened the heart. . . .  

“Yet they look back with compassion. . . .  These books . . . were written with love.

“They elevate the pain of the past with forgiveness, arriving at a larger truth about families in various stages of brokenness. There’s no self-pity, no whining, no hunger for revenge; the authors are as honest about their young selves as they are about the sins of their elders.

We are not victims, they want us to know. . . .  We have endured to tell the story without judgment and to get on with our lives. . . .”


Zinsser offers advice to today’s memoirists writing about people who caused pain:

“If you must use memoir to look for your own humanity and the humanity of the people who crossed your life, however much pain they caused you, readers will connect with your journey.

What they won’t connect with is whining. Dispose of that anger someplace else.

Get your intention clear before you start and tell your story with integrity.” (Writing About Your Life)

Remember Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him” (NCV).

That verse reminds me of something Chuck Swindoll said many years ago, something along these lines: “God will not waste your suffering.” That fits with this Bible verse:

I will not cause pain without allowing
something new to be born, says the Lord.” 
Isaiah 66:9 (NCV)

Chuck Swindoll elaborates on that: “Pain, when properly handled, can shape a life for greatness. History is replete with stories of those whose struggles and scars formed the foundation for remarkable achievements. In fact, it was because of their hardship they gained what they needed to achieve greatness.” (Chuck Swindoll, Insight for Today).

Read Isaiah 66:9 again, believing it is aimed directly at you: “I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born, says the Lord.”

Believe that God can use your pain and injustices
as preparation for exceptional feats and triumphs
such as, among other life-changing things,
sharing your story in a memoir.

Let’s choose our attitude and our words carefully. “Rid yourselves of . . . anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. . . ” (Colossians 3:8).

“Let your [words] be full of grace, seasoned with salt [a preservative]. . . ” (Colossians 4:6, NIV).

“Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others . . . not put them down. . . ” (Colossians 4:6, The Message).

We read this in Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey: “It is so important to choose words wisely. When we are boiling with anger and eager to throw bitter words at our opponents, it is better to remain silent. Words spoken [or written] in rage will make reconciliation very hard. Choosing life and not death, blessings and not curses [Deuteronomy 30:19], often starts by . . . choosing carefully the words that open the way to healing.”

Nouwen also writes: “Often we remain silent when we need to speak [or write]. Without words, it is hard to love well. When we say to [our loved ones] ‘I love you very much,’ . . . we choose to give life.

“It is not always easy to express our love directly in words. But whenever we do, we discover we have offered a blessing that will be long remembered. . . . A whole new blessed place can be opened up, a space where it is good to dwell. Indeed, words have the power to create life.”


Write a memoir full of love, honesty, and grace.

Write a memoir that shines light on not only your own darkness,
but also shines light on the darkness of others.

Offer readers hope and healing.
Offer words with the power to create life.