Memoirs of the Soul:
Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography

by Nan Phifer



Ingot Press (Second edition), 2010. ISBN 978-0-984-20600-1.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 09/26/2006

Nonfiction: Creative Life; Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration

Nan Phifer has written a fine guide for those interested in writing their memoirs. Her chapters, each with several writing prompts, encourage you to gradually go deeper into your psyche. The end result is a picture of not only the person you were, but also the person you have become.

The chapters are short and arranged into several sections: The Vision and the Plan, The Quest, The Rewards, The Community of Memoirists, and The Skills. What makes Memoirs of the Soul so fine for individuals and groups using it made it difficult for me to read through and review. I found myself wanting to stop and try out first one topic and then another. I will have remedied this dilemma by using it for my writing circles this year.

I found the book physically difficult to use as the publisher skimped on page size and has such a tight binding that the pages will not stay open and flat. I hope that this can be corrected in the second printing. That said, I have nothing but praise.

Part one is basically the "how to," the "what," and the "why." Phifer says that spiritual as used in her book "refers to the essential and activating principle at the center of your being, your intangible essence." She writes that the best first drafts are those which are spontaneous, catching ideas as they float across one's mind. Corrections and changes come later. When I lead a writing group, I often ask participants to make lists and then to chose one topic from the list. Phifer suggests these lists always be written on separate sheets of paper to be filed in your "greenhouse folder or file." Her way creates easy access to the many ideas that popped into your head after a prompt.

In small boxes throughout the book are suggestions on how to best use the topics in groups. An individual would skip these. Especially important for anyone are Phifer's guidelines for listeners, telling them to listen with a nonjudgmental, open mind and to be confidential about what they hear.

The next part is about subjects. Phifer begins with the easy ones such as:

  • Who are the people who have been important to you?
  • Where are the places where important events took place?
  • What things do you value?
  • What experiences have shaped you?

Lists and "maps" are important in generating stories and ideas as are the telling and reading of your story to others, as well as your own listening to how it sounds—for changes in the second draft. As an extra treat, Phifer includes many fine stories written by participants in her workshops to illustrate a direction you might take. Along the way, she suggests ways to improve your tale, such as the inclusion of how the event or person involved all of your senses, and beyond that, how did it affect or change you. What went on inside of you?

Some later chapters within Part Two, the subject segment, cover difficult times, transitions, choices, longings and dreams.

The final sections are to help you in the assembling of your book, suggestions on how to use Memoirs of the Soul, suggestions for revising drafts and an excellent bibliography.

I am looking forward to using Phifer's Memoirs of the Soul in both my Circles this year. My Circles have covered some of the topics; however, there is always more than one story in each subject area. If the members of these Circles have followed my suggestion and written on three-holed lined paper, they can move the stories around to suit their desires. Now, it is time to begin, even if the final copy of our spiritual autobiography is for ourselves alone.

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