"You have a story to tell!" Cheryl Butler Stahle says on the title page of Slices of Life: The Art and Craft of Memoir Writing. She's right. Everybody has great stories to tell, and no one can tell your story but you.
If you're having trouble getting started, progressing, figuring out what to include and exclude, digging for your deepest truths, or gaining perspective on why events matter, Stahle's book offers a bridge between the concept and the completed story. Her exercises and advice take you from knowing you have a story to tell to actually producing the story.
In her chapter, "Storytelling With a Twist," Stahle says, "Your memoir will be able to answer why an event happened, how it occurred and most importantly what did it mean and teach you." She invites you to give meaning to the events in your life, to explore and dig deeply because "facts require further explanation through storytelling."
In addition to explaining why memoirs matter, she offers readers numerous exercises. The first one, "Your Intention," asks you to "think about why you want to undertake this journey." Although I'd already answered the question for a memoir I'm working on, I tried it again. After ten minutes of writing I remembered why the story of my first marriage at age 62, would make a great read and be a ray of hope for older, single women. Her exercises generate material and focus your writing. The help you discover what belongs and what you really mean to say.
The topic "Bold Restlessness" spoke to the times I've felt paralyzed by the writing process. I'll return to that one next time I'm really stuck.
In the chapter called, "Being a Writer," Stahle addresses writer's block. She says, "Remember the common causes of writer's block: fear of failure, fear of success, lack of concentration, and lack of energy." The first two are a bit generic, but the last two speak directly about two of my biggest issues. Her cure is to return to your original intention. While that might not completely cure my concentration or energy issues, she's given me a good path to take.
I love her combination of advice and prompts. It's a technique that worked for me in my own book, You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers. The structure works.
I was surprised, though, to see "memoires" instead of "memoirs" in the early pages—a proofreading issue. The beginnings of several chapters in the last third of the book are missing. The problem could have been resolved if the text started further down on the page.
Everybody has great stories to tell, and no one can tell your story but you. If you need help, Cheryl Butler Stahle's Slices of Life: The Art and Craft of Memoir Writing is a useful resource. Check it out and see how much it has to offer.
Cheryl Stahle, MS, MEd, has been teaching writers for over 10 years to craft compelling life stories. Cheryl earned the signation of National Writing Fellow from the National Writing Institute. Learn more about Cheryl on her website.
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