Title: "The Magic of Memoir: Inspiration for the Writing Journey"

Editors: Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner

Many times when driving past a lonely country cemetery, I’ve wondered about the forgotten stories that lie buried there. Few of those headstones represent people who picked up a pen and wrote bits of their personal histories and how they felt about their life and times.

Fortunately, the topic of memoir writing has come into vogue to help inspire people to share parts of their lives on paper. One of the new books on the subject — "The Magic of Memoir" — offers the testimony of 38 writers who have found transcribing moments from their lives to be a valuable outlet.

Here it might be helpful to note some definitions. A memoir generally contains a collection of memories written about moments or events you remember from your life, whereas the autobiography deals with your complete life story written by you, and a biography is your life story written by someone else. They are similar but not interchangeable.

A Bismarck writer, Sonvy Sammons, wrote a chapter named “Journey to a Memoir,” which found inclusion in the book. Her initial inspiration came from watching her mother write daily in her journal, a ritual that helped her survive her life of isolation in Montana, illness, four children and an alcoholic husband. Living in that setting affected Sonvy, too.

As she matured into adulthood, she discovered and gravitated toward literature written by and about adult children of alcoholics in order to understand her own feelings. The harsh facts of her early life led her to find satisfaction in writing her memoir.

Elizabeth Gilbert is best known for her 2006 memoir "Eat, Pray, Love," which tells of leaving a seemingly successful life and marriage to go in search of something not yet found. To her, the magic of memoir lets her write about certain events, incidents and experiences in her life to gain a sense of worth from them. Her book became such a success that Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

"The Liars’ Club" related Mary Karr’s troubled childhood in Texas during the 1960s. It became a best-selling memoir for her, after which she went on to write two other memoirs plus her own how-to book named "The Art of Memoir." When asked who can write a memoir, she said anyone who’s ever lived can write a memoir. One of her statements seems to put life into perspective: “I went to my high school reunion and it was full of old people.”

Each of the 38 writers included in the book has a different story and reason for turning to the memoir form. They range from themes of overcoming emotional darkness to those of much happier times.

Some great memoirs have been written through the years: "The Diary of Anne Frank," "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," "Angela’s Ashes" and "Tuesday’s with Morrie." 

Editors Myers and Warner contend that through memoir, we relive the past and uncover things we didn’t know were there and even discover new ways of seeing ourselves. Since time passes so quickly, we need to start sooner than later if we want to be the historians of our own lives. This book will be helpful for people wanting inspiration to set out on writing about their journey. Start with a page or two. A memoir doesn’t need to be book length.

Lynn Bueling writes a weekly column for several weekly newspapers and sees regular publication in the bi-monthly Western Writers “Roundup” magazine. His weekly column in the Mandan News can be found online.

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