The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing
by Sharon M. Lippincott

Lighthouse Point Press, 2007. ISBN 9780979299803.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando
Posted on 09/25/2007

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Creative Life

This is a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-going book. Its encouraging admonishments should fall on the willing ears of beginning life-writers and experienced ones as well. "Start writing," the author urges the reluctant writer at any skill level. With this book, the writer will never go it alone. Sharon Lippincott is a master project person, a worker bee, not a flitting butterfly. Sticking-with-it is a problem all writers experience at one time or another. The solution? "When you have a'll discover awesome staying power." Having this purpose is critical, no matter if it is to share the story, your story, with family and friends, to use writing as a means of self-exploration, or...?

Since "Sharon's Stories" comprise the first appendix, I feel comfortable using the author's first name. Indeed, after completing the book, I felt we are great and close friends. Sharon defines what she deems "lifestory writing" on the very first page, indeed the first line of the book. It is "the process of transforming your own essence into works on paper for other people to know—daring to expose not only your actions and experiences, but your thoughts, your choices, your perceptions, and your feelings." It may sound daunting, but as Sharon explains, it becomes not only doable but fun and challenging. As a part of the main text, she recounts her own experiences in discovering this creative process. She peppers the text with exercises. Stop and do them! As examples, she uses her own life stories from the appendix. Again, stop! Put in a bookmark and take the time to read the stories as you proceed through the text.

Don't worry about what goes down on the page as you "start writing." "The underlying theme of this book is that anything you write is okay," says Sharon. Fine, so far. But there's more—we can't stop there but must make a choice—let it stand and go on to another story or make this story better. Each choice is fine, but make the decision. Those who make the second choice move on to editing and tightening—fine-tuning their stories. This is a book for storytellers of all levels of skill and degrees of experience. The outright beginner will benefit by starting at page 1 and working through to the level where she is both comfortable and satisfied. The more seasoned writer may do the same or pick and choose. I found the chapter on "Stories from the Shadows" particularly helpful as I did the sections on conflicting family memories and writing other people's stories.

The four appendices will be useful to all. As I've stated, Sharon's personal stories are a delight and can either stand alone or serve as outstanding examples. The "stuck" writer may head for the second appendix, which is a series of memory triggers. There will be something here to get your pen moving. I've worked with word processors for well over twenty years, yet until I browsed "Layout and Other Geeky Stuff" in Appendix 3, I've never known how to insert a caption with a picture. This may be geeky stuff, but it is also neat stuff. Sharon does a great job of explaining. Finally, Appendix 4 offers two bibliographies. The first is of books cited in the text. The second comprises as complete and current a list of books on life-writing and memoir as I have ever encountered. A perfect place to go to select your next book to read in the endless challenge to tell your own story in your own way.

What I'd love to do is hop in the car and drive myself off to spend a few days at one of Sharon's workshops. But until that opportunity comes along, I'll be content with purchasing a new notebook and letting Sharon encourage me via her written word.

Long a writer, author Sharon Lippincott now concentrates on creative nonfiction, especially what she deems life stories. She also leads workshops and gives lectures throughout the country that focus on this genre, most especially near her Pennsylvania home. She draws on her own extensive life-story writings in her presentations and in her book. Visit her website or catch up on her current activities at her blog. Listen to Sharon talk about her book on the SCN Podcast from August, 2007.

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