In April of this year, I took a memoir writing course with Lynda Kirby. This was a six-week course that ran for two hours every Friday evening. Lynda is the chairperson of the Oldcastle Writers Group that I am also part of and a friend. I have, to be honest, the idea of a memoir writing course scared the crap out of me. Delving into memories is not something I enjoy and anyone who has read my book “Surviving Suicide” will know that my father died from suicide when I was thirteen. Reliving these memories is not something I wanted to do and the idea of a course on writing about memories wasn’t exactly exciting, to say the least.
My Memoir Writing Course Experience
The first week came and off I went, expecting the worst. Now I have to say, Lynda was very professional and one of the first things she told us was that our course was not a counselling session. She explained that delving into memories can be very emotional and that there could be tears and we were not to be embarrassed should this happen. She also explained exactly that a memoir is the retelling of a specific memory or event that happened in our lives. Lynda had a very detailed PowerPoint presentation that she used to take up step by step through week one providing information and tips.
There were ten of us on the course, and without jumping too far ahead, I will say that it was one of the most enjoyable courses I have ever been on.
Week one although mainly an explanation, also included some writing and this is where my panic set in. Lynda guided us through an exercise giving her own examples. We all wrote “my first home” in the middle of our notebooks and then added lines coming out to different events, memories, and things that stood out. My home, all I could think of was devastation. I sat for a moment, a little pep talk with myself and decided there and then that this course was not going to be morbid or filled with grief. Surely there was more to my home than just memories of death. After that inspiration seemed to flow and I found myself adding line after line, bullet point after bullet point of all the different things my home meant to me. Long hot summers, everyone outside playing together, swimming in the river, laughter, jokes, songs, the list was long.
Once the exercise was completed we were asked to choose something and start writing for ten minutes. Oh, how my pen flew across the page. It was wonderful, I remembered all the long hot summers I enjoyed as a child, everyone from our estate out playing together. The laughter and the comradery, it really was lovely. After we finished writing we all got to read our pieces out loud and it was a joy to listen to so many different pieces. On the way home that evening, I expressed my gratitude to Lynda, also explaining the apprehension I had.
The following five weeks were brilliant. We had different writing exercises each week along with PowerPoints that we not only covered during the memoir writing course, but also received by email. On week two we had to bring an object, and the following weeks covered the different senses. Each week we wrote our memories down on paper sharing our stories and we received a homework assignment. There was so much to include. We had a piece on smell, touch, sound, taste, and we learned all about the importance of description and drawing our readers in. Memoirs are so personal too, and often times emotional but humour can be added and there were some great stories shared in our little group.
When the final week came we were all a little disappointed to say goodbye to each other after having bonded over our shared memories. We had all created masterpieces and the outcome of this will be a specially printed memoir anthology that will be launched in July.
I really surprised myself during those six weeks and learned to look past the sad memories and remember the great childhood that I had.
My Top Tips For Getting The Most Out of a Memoir Writing Course
Don’t let sad or painful memories stop you: We all have memories that we would rather forget. The times when we were hurt, painful events, even death. These are part of us and part of the reason we are the way we are today. They don’t have to be part of your memoir writing course but if you do choose to use them, you may find the experience very healing.
You can move past the painful memories and find hidden treasures: The instructions and exercises given by Lynda on our memoir course meant that I didn’t have to focus on my painful memories. We had prompts like “My first kiss”, music, something you hate, and so much more. When you focus on these and look past the painful memories there are often hidden gems and memories that will make your heart soar.
Go into your memoir writing course with an open mind: This is a definite must do. Be open to the experience. If you have painful memories, tell yourself that you are only going to focus on good times. You’ve had good times haven’t you? Of course, you have, we all have happy memories, if we didn’t how would we distinguish the good from the bad.
Have fun: My last tip is to have fun. Enjoy meeting new people, listening to new stories, sharing your stories, and of course do it for yourself. There is so much you will learn, especially when it comes to adding description and using your senses.
Until next time,