When writing memoir

I spent the weekend at Kripalu, nestled in the Berkshire Mountains, flanked by the rugged greens of a forest in the throes of burgeoning splendour.

Because of what I had been told, I expected Kripalu to be a special place, but I didn’t anticipate how quickly serenity would envelope me, and then keep me content and at ease the length of my visit.

There is a spirit about Kripalu that helps one’s stresses and distractions just melt away. It can be felt in the slower, meditative pace, but also from a genuine commitment to the health, wellness and renewal of its guests. The rooms are sparse and basic; the common areas comfortable, open and inviting. Large bright windows face a crisp, glistening lake, rolling hillside and a magnificent expanse of wilderness.

I made the 6 hour trek to attend a memoir writing workshop with Dani Shapiro. Her workshop complemented the environment exquisitely. Dani’s approach to the classroom is heartfelt, warm and deeply spiritual. I learned many things about writing, but it’s her smile that is permanently imprinted on my heart.

Her smile frequently erupted, spreading openly across her face and inviting us all to laugh with her. Her intelligent sense of humour brightened the room, invoking a feeling of welcome and contentment. Given the beauty of her own memoir Devotion, this should have come as no surprise. But here’s the thing, reading is as important to me as breathing, and as such authors are my personal brand of superhero. I’d placed her on a pedestal, a celebrity in her own right. I worried that I would be disappointed.

Happily, I was not. She is every bit the person you would expect her to be, and more.

————-

Here’s a small sample of what she taught me:

  • The writer’s job is to get out of their own way. Finding a way to to tell your story requires courage.
  • Writing is a messy job. It’s meant to be bumpy.
  • Writing memoir is the act of embedding your story more deeply in you.
  • Part of the art is knowing what to leave out.
  • The writer’s job is to develop the story as to true to the experience as she can possibly get. However we must recognize that our memories are fallible, fluid and change.
  • When writing memoir, the writer needs to learn to recognize themselves as a character on a page.
  • Part of the process is finding the right kind of reader to share your work with.
  • The shock of connection with a reader will come from writing with specificity.
  • Remember the messiness when writing dialogue.

Most of all I learned that I’m right on track, and I began to feel a sense of confidence in what I’m doing, and where my writing is headed. That is such a gift.

—————–

And so here I am, settled back into real life, ready to keep digging, uncovering and stringing together the words that will one day form my story.

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14 thoughts on “When writing memoir

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience Christine. I’d like to take her workshop in September. What a wonderful way to spend Mother’s Day Weekend.

    Happy Mother’s Day to you.

  2. Okay. I need to go to that workshop.

    Someday.

    Thanks for sharing. And you are on the right track, in so many ways.

  3. Corinne says:

    What an incredible experience… so glad you were able to make the trip 🙂
    I love this: “Writing memoir is the act of embedding your story more deeply in you.”

  4. Sarah says:

    Spending my weekend with you, in that wonderful place, was worth more than I can put into words. Thank you for the push. And even more, thank you for being you. Xo

  5. Oh, lucky you to attend Dani’s workshop! It sounds like just what you needed at just the right time. I enjoy reading about your journey. It gives me hope!

  6. I cannot wait to hear more about your experience! I’m so glad you had a wonderful, peaceful, insight-filled weekend!

  7. Chantal says:

    I am so happy it went well for you Christine. So happy!

  8. Alana says:

    It sounds beautiful – your version and Lindsey’s. Enjoy the digging.

  9. It all sounds fabulous…

  10. Wow. It sounds like such an incredible experience. Good for the heart, soul and spirit.
    Enjoy the digging, uncovering and stringing, the bumps and messiness that are all part of the magic of your story.
    I look forward to reading and cheering you on! : )

  11. Pamela says:

    Love your blog – so glad I stopped by! I wish I could have joined you at Kripalu. The workshop sounded amazing and I am glad you gained confidence – I love your writing and am looking forward to reading your memoir.

  12. I’m glad you had a great time and especially glad that you shared some of the lessons with us! I am always looking for lessons….

  13. Wow, it sounds like a fabulous experience. All good writing is a messy and bumpy process. I would imagine that memoir writing is some of the messiest and bumpiest.

  14. […] Shapiro shared this quote by Sylvia Boorstein in her memoir, Devotion. At our recent workshop, Dani told the story of when she met Sylvia at Kripalu, and how, quite unexpectedly she became an […]

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