Guest Post: Insights Gained While Writing Memoir by Sherrey Meyer

memoir word cloud

Happy Friday everyone! If you’ve been following clara54, you know I’ve failed miserably at my attempts to write my memoirs. I’m always on the look out for those brave memoirist who keep going until they reach their goals. And I’ve been so blessed to connect with quite a few writers & authors of the memoir. Please join me in welcoming memoir writer, Sherrey Meyer as she shares insights to writing her memoir.

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For most of my life, I wanted to write. Words on paper fascinated me even as a child. Writing exercises in first grade were fun!
My dad was a printer and publisher. I could smell the paper and ink on his skin each evening as he came home. He began teaching me some of the tools of the trade when my age reached double digits. Proofreading and editing became my holiday money-making gambit.
In high school and college, research papers became “writing” on a larger scale. I thrived on those assignments. I loved the search for the best material to prove my point, or the sentence or phrase to place my professor in awe of my writing abilities. I knew I wanted to write something bigger though – a book, something between covers, something others read.
I retired from the working world in 2006 having spent 30 plus years drafting and typing legal briefs and documents. I never wanted to see another brief or contract! BUT I still wanted to write, and so I began.
The book I wanted to write had been marinating inside my head for some time and notes had been made. A little family research done. Some historical documents sought out and filed away. Now I actually had time to write a memoir about a particular part of my life and how it impacted me at the end of my mother’s life.
Where to begin was the elephant in my little writing corner. And so began daily searches online to find the best resources to teach myself about writing memoir.
As I gathered books on the subject, printed out blog posts about memoir, attended a couple of writers’ group meetings on the topic, I decided that I could not wait until I had learned everything about writing memoir, or I’d never get started on my book.

INSIGHT NO. 1
Once you’ve decided you want to write your story, go ahead and start writing, if it’s only a matter of making notes. Your first draft is just that – a first draft. You will have time to edit, revise, and make changes, even add or subtract certain sections, later. Don’t waste good writing time trying to learn everything everyone has ever said about memoir writing. Start writing!

INSIGHT NO. 2
Within your local community, look for opportunities to attend writing group events, especially memoir, or workshops/classes on the subject. I was fortunate early on to hear Jennifer Lauck, author of the New York Times bestseller, Blackbird, a memoir of Lauck’s struggles within a dysfunctional family and the foster care system. By taking advantage of these opportunities, I gained a basic knowledge of what memoir is, how to begin gathering my stories and building a timeline, and writing a first draft. More importantly, I was hearing how other writers worked.
This is not to say that online resources are not valuable. They are. Several blogs and email newsletters on memoir continue as great resources for me.
Once I began drafting my memoir an unexpected realization occurred to me. This. Was. Hard. Work. Yes, hard work. It meant getting into the writing mode each day. Sitting down in a chair in front of a computer and typing. Isn’t that what I’d been doing for 30 some odd years? But, I told myself, this is different. This is my story. Yet this unexpected reality in this somewhat fantastical writing life I had aspired to for so long jolted me at first.

INSIGHT NO. 3
Writing our memoirs is hard work. It means showing up every day ready to write. Of course, you determine how much you write each day, but we must become habitual about our writing. Maybe it isn’t every day for you, but for someone else it is. There is no set formula that fits everyone. But write you must!

INSIGHT NO. 4
Another eye opener is conversations that arise should you decide to talk with family. Differing opinions as to the truth of a particular memory may begin to cause difficulties, even angry discussions. REMEMBER, it’s your story – it’s your truth as you remember it.
If you find yourself confronted with strong opinions against your writing certain things, offer to change identities for family members or leave them out completely and agree not to use images of them. Hopefully they will agree to these concessions. These were issues I didn’t expect I would have to deal with.
Digging back into my memory was easy at first, until I began to sort out certain events and experiences. Sometimes I would find myself questioning events for which I had no rock solid confirmation. I know certain facts about my mother’s life because I have paper records, such as report cards, release papers from employers, my parents’ marriage license, birth certificates, etc. Other events I have nothing but a recollection of stories told by my parents and other family. How do I go about proving that I’m sharing the truth?
An example is her employment during the last 18 months of WWII. Mama was a real-life Rosie the Riveter at a plant in Nashville, TN. She wore the bandana, slacks (oh, my!) and she bucked rivets. According to her stories, an almost thankless job. At the end of the war, she was also one of many women left without work as the men and boys returned. I know this because she told me; an older brother has only vague recollections and a younger brother “never heard of such.” So, what do I do without tangible substantiation?

INSIGHT NO. 5
The truth as you know it should be sufficient as you write your memoir. After all, this is your story. Several memoirs I have read actually include a disclaimer indicating that the story told is as true as the writer’s ability to recall it. Basically, a memoirist writes the truth as he or she knows it.
In this case, if I decide to include this vignette of Mama’s life, I tell the story just as I know it. No references are necessary to my brothers, and I know what she told me, more than once.
Tell your truth as you know it.

These are just a few of many insights you may gain while writing memoir. For me, they have stretched my writing style and mental process. I hope that sharing them here today will help you.

Thank you, Clara, for inviting me to share time and space on your blog. It has been a pleasure.

Sherrey, the pleasure was mine. Thank you for sharing your memoir writing insights with me and my readers! I’m energized to continue to fight the good fight of writing my memoir!

How far have you come on your memoir writing journey? Has Sherrey’s insights given you food for thought?

Here’s a bit more about Sherrey Meyer:

A retired legal secretary, Sherrey Meyer grew tired of drafting and revising pleadings and legal documents. She had always dreamed of writing something else, anything else! Once she retired she couldn’t stay away from the computer, and so she began to write. Among her projects is a memoir of her “life with mama,” an intriguing Southern tale of matriarchal power and control displayed in verbal and emotional abuse.

You can reach Sherrey on her websites: Healing by Writing and Found Between the Covers or via email at salice78@comcast.net.

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15 thoughts on “Guest Post: Insights Gained While Writing Memoir by Sherrey Meyer”

  1. Once again, Clara, I want to thank you for the invitation to write for your blog. I enjoyed working on this particular post. As I told you, I learned things about myself while writing it. Look forward to our continued connections online.

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  2. Sherrey, I enjoyed reading your post! It helped to reinforce how hard writing the memoir is AND the fact that we just have to do it! I’m not surprised you learned a few things from writing your memoir insights from a fresh perspective 🙂 Thanks for taking time to pencil in clara54 on your busy writing memoir schedule. Let’s do keep the awesome networking and support going!

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  3. Sherrey, your insights into memoir writing are gold nuggets for anyone who tackles the challenge of writing a life story. I especially appreciate your thoughts on truth-telling and memory recall, two of the greatest challenges memoir writers face. Mary Karr once said, “tell the essence of the truth.” I also think it makes sense to put a disclaimer at the beginning, that this is your truth as you recall it. Of course, others close to your story most likely will have different perceptions of the same event but I think the disclaimer covers that. Thanks for sharing your rich insights. And thank you Clara for featuring Sherrey in this excellent post.

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    1. Hi Kathy,

      I agree with your thoughts about Sherrey’s insights and I’m learning golden nuggets both of you:) It was my pleasure and it is my pleasure to host awesome memoir writers who are willing to share their insights with others.

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  4. Sherrey, your perspective on this process is invaluable for writers who are just getting started. You’ve learned so much along the way, but you’re not so far down the memoir-writing path that you don’t still remember what it feels like to be a newbie. Fantastic insights!

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  5. Welcome Sue,
    As an on again-off again beginner in this genre, I can appreciate what you’re saying. I’m also appreciative of how Sherrey breaks it down for us newbies with such valuable take-always for starting and completing the memoir writing journey.

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  6. As always, Sherrey’s tips on memoir writing are spot on. Sherrey notes the tremendous discipline it takes to write a memoir and I can attest that it is every bit as demanding as the rigors of being a professional athlete. She has been a great mentor to many. I, too, have been Healing by Writing as she says on her aptly named blog.

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    1. Welcome Cate! I agree. Sherry’s insights on writing memoir writing gave me plenty food for thought.I’ve been procrastinating on writing my story and I’m always keen to learn more from those brave enough to start and finish the process. I’m so happy to host writers and authors of the memoir and other genres at the site.

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      1. Don’t hesitate to write your story. I know it sounds overwhelming, but if you do it in chunks (just one chapter at a time and join them together later), it becomes manageable. Plus it is so rewarding! You won’t regret it.

        Best wishes.

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    1. Clara, I would venture to say that 90% of the books you see on library and bookstore shelves were created in an on-again off-again process. As Sherrey points out, writing is real work, and there are times when we need to set it aside. Just make sure you always do come back to it! While programs like NaNoWriMo prove that you can produce a 50,000 draft in a month, that is not the way most manuscripts are written, especially those that require as much contemplation and emotional upheaval as memoirs do. I second what Cate said about writing in small pieces and would extend that to include writing for short periods of time, if that helps you get started. If you set a goal to write for 10 minutes on three days this coming week, you’ll be back in business!

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  7. Sue, I’ve gained so much insight to writing my memoir. I can appreciate feedback from everyone here who took the time to encourage me on my journey and also share their own journey at whatever stage they’re in or even to completion. Sherrey, Kathy, Pat, Cate, and Sue:) Thanks for sharing and encouraging all of us to write that personal story we’ve either started or feared starting.

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