Why Is Memoir Writing Transformative?
Writing a memoir can be life-changing. Here's why.
Posted January 20, 2020 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
For more than 20 years, I’ve been teaching writing for healing and transformation. I continually remind my students of the importance of enjoying the writing journey and not focusing too much on the destination, which for many, means having their memoirs published. They usually conclude that enjoying the process means that they’re more mindful of their writing and what it has to offer.
It’s also usually the case that students, journalists, and those contemplating writing memoirs ask me how doing so is transformative. While I’d like to answer each person individually, that’s not possible, so this article will serve as a summary of my thoughts. I know a great deal about the subject because my dissertation research focused on the healing and transformative powers of memoir writing.
In simple terms, a transformation may be defined as a dramatic change in one’s physical or psychological well-being. It’s about becoming more aware of and facing our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Crafting a memoir about our personal narratives can lead to self-realization and a sense of empowerment.
The reason is that, during the writing process, we’re moving our feelings from inside of us and onto the page; and like therapy, it can help us work through our challenges. Writing can also be transformative because it helps us gain a better understanding of ourselves. With that understanding comes deeper reflection and consequently, a more profound sense of harmony.
We transform when we write about our lived experiences because writing helps us make sense of them and also reminds us of the lessons we’ve learned along the way. Sometimes when looking back at a life event, it’s easier to see it in the grand, universal spectrum of life rather than as an isolated experience.
Events change us, and those that transform us the most may be thought of as pivotal or life-changing. These situations may involve the loss of loved ones, evolving relationships, becoming a parent or grandparent, sexual relationships, and meaningful conversations with others. Many of these subjects can lead to further exploration in our writing.
Writing our memoirs can help us reclaim our voice after it’s been taken away or silenced by difficult circumstances or traumas. Finding our voice as a way toward healing can lead to huge leaps in transformation. Some people find it useful to write as they move through chaotic or difficult times, but more often than not, a certain distance from the event offers a better perspective.
Another transformative moment in the memoir-writing journey occurs when writers try to get their memoirs published. When they do so, they continue to transform, because they learn how others also may have become transformed by their words, especially if their stories resonate with readers who might have had similar journeys. Ultimately, healing, transformation, and empowerment are all parts of the same path—leading to self-awareness, self-discovery, and growth.
In addition to being transformative, reflection is what sets memoirs apart from other forms of writing, such as straight journalistic reporting. Writing a detailed summary of our life stories is important, but what is most transformative about the memoir-writing process is being able to reflect on our experiences, what we might have learned, how we were changed, and how we feel at the present time about what we’ve gone through.
To sum up, writing memoirs is transformative because memoirs:
- Create a sense of well-being
- Relieve stress through the act of writing them
- Provide a container for our thoughts
- Increase self-awareness
- Foster self-discovery and personal growth
- Help us focus our thoughts
- Enable us to cultivate a relationship with our higher self
- Give us the freedom to let go and accept that we might not find all the answers
- Provide a space for us to process and release negative emotions
- Shift our overall outlook
As with any ritual or practice, the best results occur when you write with a sense of continuity and regularity, as doing so will result in a more profound sense of self-awareness. The deeper you go, the more transformative your experience will be. And just like everything else in life, you’ll get out of it what you put into it.
Memoir-writing prompt: Write about your most transformative life experience. Reflect on what you learned and how you feel about it now.
The ideas in this post are drawn from my books, most notably, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life and Writing for Bliss: A Companion Journal.