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Back to School!

By Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., NAMW President

Have you noticed? The trees are already showing the colors of fall, kids are going back to school, and this time of year means–learning! There seems to be a trigger buried in my memory banks: notebooks and books, pens and pencils, erasers and chalk go with the smell of freshly polished floors, the well-coiffed teachers and their firm guidance into realms of learning. Whole worlds opened up through books and maps, reading and research.

I always loved gathering pens, pencils, and paper, and even now I enjoy buying them, feeling a little like a first grader. I wish I could walk back into a Woolworth’s, the five and dime, as it was called to buy a Big Chief thick pad of paper. Today I went into Staples, but it was slick, impersonal, and not nearly as much fun as buying paper and pencils in the same place where you could find a pretty bracelet or rose scented soap. But still, as I pried open a new set of pens, I felt smart and ready for school, or for writing.

Be sure to capture some of your own school memories–each generation has a new and different experience of school. In Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, for instance, written about the era of WWI in England, I learn about the subjects required for high school and the first year of college–Greek, the classics, Byron, Dante. Tell your children or grandchildren what it was like for you in school, what you learned, how you felt about it, the sensual details of your world. That way they can join you, time traveling through worlds that you create on the page. Open a new notebook with all its blank pages waiting for your stories, and begin. By the way, Brittain’s memoir is a classic about the world of another era–pre-WWI in a small village in England. Her writing is superb, and she captures so well the joys of youth and the tragedies of her generation after the war started, it’s as if you are with her back in the early part of the century.

Calling All Speakers!

The NAMW Fall Telesummit, scheduled for Friday October 15, 2010, is shaping up, and we want feedback from you. Our theme for this Telesummit is Emerging Trends for Authors in the Digital Age: How and Where to be Successfully Published. At this day long event, open to the public, we wil present information about web 2.0, developing the skills you need to get published, and ways to market and promote your work. If you know anyone with expertise in these areas, would like to speak or would like to request a topic of particular interest to you, please let us know by contact Staci at Staci at namw.org.

We received a lot of great responses to our August teleseminar with Mary Mackey about using poetry to inspire your memoir writing. My first autobiographical sketches were through painting and poetry, but then I realized that parts of the story were falling through those forms, and chose prose as a way to weave the story together, connecting how I saw the world of the Great Plains and my family through poetic imagery. If you missed the teleseminar, be sure to login to the member area to listen to it. I think it will inspire you as much as it did me and the members who were with us on the phone.

We are looking forward to a terrific fall with roundtable speakers and teleseminars that bring so much expertise to help you with your writing life–Jane Friedman, Heather Cariou & Adair Lara, to mention a few. And for our next Roundtable, which is now open to the public at no charge, this Thursday, you can now send us your questions in advance via email or by posting them in the comments section on this page on the NAMW website. Be sure to register by clicking here to participate live on the call or to receive an email with a link to the audio recording of the call, shortly following the call.  And don’t forget to post or email your questions!

Remember–be brave, write your stories!


Linda Joy Myers
NAMW President

Upcoming Events at NAMW

We have several events and new workshops that are being planned for the coming months at NAMW that will be helpful to the development of your skills as writers, memoirists, or personal historians. You can find all the finalized events outlined below, but please be sure to visit the NAMW website often for new additions!

Jane Friedman-The Most Progressive Media Professional You'll MeetSeptember Public NAMW Memoir Roundtable Teleconversation: September 2, 2010: Evaluating Your First Page for Red Flags with Jane Friedman, Contributing Editor at Writer’s Digest & Linda Joy Myers, NAMW President
Cost: FREE FOR ALL| Click Here to Register & receive call-in details
Fall Memoir Writing ClassIntermediate to Advanced Healing Memoir & Spiritual Autobiography Teleworkshops — 9 sessions with Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., NAMW President
$375 for NAMW Lifetime Members / $390 for NAMW Annual members/ $525 for non-NAMW members | Become a member to receive a discount!
September NAMW Member-only Teleseminar September 17, 2010: Standing in Your Truth:  Finding the Courage to Tell the Story You Need to Tell with Heather Cariou, Author of “Target Stores Recommended Read,” Sixtyfive Roses: A Sister’s Memoir.
Cost: FREE FOR NAMW MEMBERS | Become a Member
Writing Your Memoir One Story at a Time Tele-class — 6 Tele-classes with Online Support Component with Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D.
$175 for NAMW Lifetime Members / $190 for NAMW Annual members / $325 for non-NAMW members | Become a NAMW member to receive a discount! 6 FRIDAYS Beginning October 1st (No Class October 15)
1 PM PDT | 2 MDT | 3 CDT | 4 EDT
October NAMW Public Memoir Writing Roundtable Tele-conversation: October 7, 2010: Prepare to Write Non-fiction in November with Nina Amir, Author & Founder of the Write Non-Fiction in November Challenge and Linda Joy Myers, NAMW President

Cost: FREE FOR ALL| Watch your Email for Registration Details!

October NAMW Member-only Teleseminar October 22, 2010: with Adair Lara, author of Naked, Drunk & Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay. Watch the NAMW website for full details, coming soon!
Cost: FREE FOR NAMW MEMBERS | Become a Member
Writing in Wine Country: October 29-October 31, 2010: 2010 Harvest Writing Retreat with Linda Joy Myers. Weekend Writing Retreat Workshop with Wine Tasting and Spa Treatment Options. Visit the NAMW Website for full details including new lodging & entertainment options!

NAMW Featured Member

We are pleased to announce that MaryLynn Archibald has been selected by the NAMW Advisory Board as the NAMW Featured Member of the month for September 2010! You can visit the NAMW website to see our interview with MaryLynn. Congratulations, MaryLynn!

MaryLynn recently stopped by the NAMW blog on her blog tour and we are happy to report that Lynn Goodwin is the randomly selected winner of a copy of Accidental Cowgirl:  Six Cows, No Horse and No Clue. Congratulations, Lynn!


by Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D. MFT–NAMW President
Memoir writers often tell me: “My memoir has been whispering in my ear for a long time. I finally decided to listen to it.” That’s what our stories do–they invite us in and invite us to listen. As we listen to that small voice, a yearning comes over us to write down our memories. After all, they are special to us, they have formed who we are.

We ARE stories, we contain within us worlds of amazing adventures and soul stirring moments along with moments of heartbreak and soaring happiness. We have litanies of turning points and meaningful moments, and it is up to us to make them into a story that others can read and appreciate. But first, we must write it for ourselves.

But–I’m not a “Writer”!

Most people don’t feel they can write or somehow deserve to write down their stories, but rather than worry about that, the best thing to do is to BEGIN. Most memoir writers have these kinds of questions:

  • Where do I begin?
  • What about my family?
  • What is my truth anyway?
  • Will I lose friends and families if I tell it like it was?
  • I don’t have any writing background–what if it’s boring or doesn’t make sense?

It’s important to keep an ongoing list of the memories and scenes that have the most meaning to you, and keep adding to the list. Have a copy with you in your journal, and keep a list in the computer. Think about the turning points in your life–the times that changed your life forever.

Visualize these special times, noticing the colors, sounds, and aromas around you. Who is in your scene? What are they doing? What are you doing and how do you feel?

Sit down with paper and pen, or at the computer and freewrite–allowing the words flow from the pen, immersing yourself in what you see, feel, and know. Write for twenty minutes without stopping. This method bypasses the critic and distractions that we have when we first write. Set a timer. Then when you are done, you can feel happy and proud that you wrote that day! Do this three times a week, drawing from your lists. Soon you will have a body of stories, and the beginning of your memoir.

Writing Prompts for September

This is how you do it:

  1. Write about the first day of school. What were you looking forward to and what were you leaving behind? School is about learning and it’s also about friends, teachers, routines of the week, sports, and growing up year by year. Choose some scenes that show how you felt about school without saying the feeling.
  2. Describe a mentor or teacher who influenced you or changed your life. How did you meet and how old were you? What did you learn from this person? Write a scene about meeting him or her, and reflect upon how you are different from having known this person.
  3. Food is an important part of our memories–family picnics and barbecues, special loving dishes that your grandmother, aunt, or mother fixed. What was the favorite pot luck dish your family would brag about? Write a story using sensual details of sound, sight, taste, and juicy description to allow us to savor the food with you.
  4. Reading and writing: reflect on books you loved or hated; how did you feel about writing–were you supported to keep writing or did you feel turned off by it, and why? Write an autobiography of your writing life from the beginning to now.
  5. Write a list about the 10 important memories of your childhood. Then move into adolescence, young adult, and go through each decade. This will help you to stay organized and it will feed your memory banks with more memories.
  6. Find photos to go with your memory list. Write portraits from these photos, snapshots of moments you want to preserve.

It is important to know yourself and your feelings. You can feel better in just a few minutes. Write like this every day. This is the first day of the rest of your healthy life.

NAMW Featured Work for September:

Naked, Drunk & Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay by Adair Lara

Editor’s Note:  Adair’s book is available beginning today at your local bookstore or online!

The Synopsis
The material is right there in front of you. You’ve known yourself for, well, a lifetime–and you finally feel ready to share your story with the world. Yet when it actually comes time to put pen to paper, you find that you’re stumped.

Enter Adair Lara: award-winning author, seasoned columnist, beloved writing coach, and the answer to all of your autobiographical quandaries.

Naked, Drunk, and Writing is the culmination of Lara’s vast experience as a writer, editor, and teacher. It is packed with insights and advice both practical (“writing workshops you pay for are the best–it’s too easy to quit when you’ve made no investment”) and irreverent (“apply Part A [butt] to Part B [chair]”), answering such important questions as:

  • How do I know where to start my piece and where to end it?
  • How do I make myself write when I’m too scared or lazy or busy?
  • What makes a good pitch letter, and how do I get mine noticed?
  • I’m ready to publish–now where do I find an agent?
  • If I show my manuscript to my mother, will I ever be invited to a family gathering again?

Purchase the Book: Buy from Amazon.com

About the Author
Adair Lara started her career writing for local magazines–first at San Francisco Focus, the city magazine, and then at SF, a design magazine at which she passed herself off as someone passionately interested in interior design. She wrote freelance humor pieces for the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday section, and in 1989 they invited her to join the staff and write a regular column of my own. The newspaper was famed then for its columnists, which include Pulitzer Prize winners Stanton Delaplane, Charles McCabe, and Herb Caen. She has published some ten books or so, including several collections… Read more

Contests & Outside Events

First Person Writing That Sells, with Adair LaraTuesday Evenings, Sept 7 through Nov 23

Where: 97 Scott Street, San Francisco (parking is easier than you think) [Google Maps]
When: 6:45 pm to 9:45, Tuesdays – for 10 Tuesdays between Sept 7 and Nov 23 (there will be weeks with no class during that period)

Naomi Wolf Nonfiction Book Proposal Writing ClassNaomi Wolf’s Non-fiction Book Proposal Webinar Writing Class

NAMW Members receive a 10% discount off the cost for either of the two three-class Sessions.  Email info@namw.org for details!

Session 1: September 14th, 21st, and 28th 8pm – 10pm EST
Session 2: October 13th, 20th, and 27th  11am – 1pm EST

San Francisco Writer's Conference 2010The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Changing the World One Book at a Time will take place November 13 and 14, 2010 at the Hitlon Financial/Chinatown. The keynoters: million-copy selling authors John Robbins (Diet for a New America) and Dan Millman (The Way of the Peaceful Warrior). Authors will discuss food, politics, personal development, the environment, social issues, law, spirituality, and technology. Attendees can pitch their books to literary agents and editors from major houses.

Women of Faith 2010 Writing Contest

Submission Period: August 1, 2010 through January 15, 2011. All writers of previously unpublished full-length books, fiction or nonfiction, of any genre, subjects, and/or memoirs are eligible to enter.

Click Here for complete contest details.

Get Through Writer's BlockWriter’s Block

by Adair Lara, NAMW Member-only Teleseminar Presenter for October

(reprinted with permission from Adair’s blog)

Here’s the idea. On the desk is what appears to be a small cinder block… you know, grubby, off-white the color of old cottage cheese, two holes in the top. It’s about 4″ x 8″ and maybe 10″ high. But it’s not a cinder block at all. It’s a stack of peel-off pages. In the graphic on top, in the hole on the left side is “Writer’s Block” in big. Each page has a writing prompt, then perhaps four blank lined pages after it.

Every Monday is a new assignment, weekends off.

Try this: Set a kitchen timer for 15 minutes. Write as fast as you can — anything that comes to mind. Writing often feels like a duty — “I’m supposed to be writing.” A timer means you have to write only until the bell rings.

My student, Cecilia Worth, described what it’s like for her to write in short timed bursts:

I do not stop for a minimum of 15 minutes. What I have found is that it will be weird and superficial for a while, and suddenly, like breaking through a long cloudy airplane run and seeing the green field below, I consciously put off the voice that tells me to stop because I have to go to the store, to phone, to lay off because the topic is garbage. Sort of like I’m waving it off, while writing furiously, saying, wait, wait, I just have to finish this. This is certainly not a new exercise, but it works every time for me. I believe that doing it impresses my subconscious that writing is indeed a priority. Once I did this every day at the same time for three months, at the end of which my piece on a patient with HIV was published in the Sunday New York Times magazine.

Steve Martin had this to say on the subject of writer’s block: “Writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol.” His trick is to find a wonderful sentence in a novel, and copy it down. “Usually, that sentence will lead you to another sentence, and pretty soon your own ideas will start to flow. If they don’t, copy down the next sentence in the novel. You can safely use up to three sentences of someone else’s work—unless you’re friends, then two. The odds of being found out are very slim, and even if you are there’s no jail time.”

Try it.

Write for 15 minutes. Try to get image and detail into every sentence. You’ll be amazed at what comes up on your screen. Instead of saying, “My mother was untidy,” you’ll show us your mother in her laddered nylons, her shimmering slip with the lace coming off, the lipstick hastily slashed on.

Editor’s Note: Adair is our NAMW Member-only Teleseminar presenter for October. This article is just a sneak-peek into what you’ll experience during her Teleseminar!

Learn More About The Power of Memoir by clicking here.

Keep writing! If you have any questions, or would like to suggest a workshop, teleseminar or roundtable topic please let us know. Email us at: info@namw.org.

Warm regards,

Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., MFT
President & Founder
National Association of Memoir Writers

Be Brave. Write Your Story.

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