In a previous post I recommended 5 books for autobiographical writing—books helpful to you even if you are not a writer, but you want to explore and record your life stories anyway.
As memoirist Beth Kephart writes, “Journal keeping, diary making, blogging—it’s all a curious thing, and it isn’t…memoir. But it’s a start, an inroad, a gesture.” And, in my opinion, an undertaking worthwhile in its own right.
Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.
Memory is an ever-changing, elusive thing. Jogging our memory to call forth stories may not be easy, but there are ways to make your memories more accessible—to probe and to explore and to revisit them in ways that tease out not just recollections, but strands of truth that connect us to the universal. Personal writing is never more powerful than when a reader sees himself in new—hopefully deeper—ways through the writer’s experiences.
In Tell the Truth. Make It Matter (CreateSpace 2017, $18.95), National Book Award Finalist Beth Kephart encourages us to “move away from anecdote toward meaning,” to discover what matters most to you through the actual process of writing. Writing becomes an act of creating the self as much as creating memoir.
“Search for the truth, and write that truth, and you’re not just putting words on a page. You’re shaping your own sense of who you are and what you’re capable of.” —Beth Kephart
Tell the Truth is billed as “an illustrated memoir workbook created for those who write and teach memoir, those who recognize the power of truth in our everyday lives, and those who simply (though it is never simple) wish to remember.”
The prompts and exercises within are wonderfully original, expertly crafted (Kephart is, in fact, a seasoned memoirist and compassionate teacher), and simultaneously pointed and open-ended enough to have you furiously filling in those blank pages with purpose.
You are prompted to “tiptoe toward the writing of truth by writing a little bit of fiction,” to glimpse the truth through writing about objects and photographs and secrets, to write freely then build upon your thoughts, to experiment with language. Do you tend toward fine writing or plain prose? Either way, this workbook stretches you to try new approaches, and to understand which words have that “magnificent power to penetrate,” as Annie Dillard wrote.
A small section of the book titled “On the Hunt for Memory” asks us to ponder how we remember—where do we go to find the past? In my work I often hear, “I don’t remember enough to share my stories.” Through guided reminiscence and conversational interviews, though, the stories and specificity of memories that emerge are often astounding. In this section of the workbook, Kephart offers a series of highly effective exercises for tapping into your memories, for rediscovering them as the raw materials for writing your life stories.
Life story writing of any kind is a journey, and Kephart recognizes that one workbook will not be your sole guiding force. “Your true story is a question waiting to be answered,” she writes.
Answer the questions in this workbook. Answer the questions in these unexpected resources. Most of all, answer the questions you write for yourself. What preoccupies you? What do you dream about? What probing conversations do you return to again and again around the dinner table over a bottle of wine?
Truth, Kephart says, “is a raw and quivering thing.” Are you ready to begin a journey to find—and write—your truth?
Tell us about your life story writing.
I would love to hear about your own journey towards writing your life. What are your biggest struggles? How do you access memory? Please comment below so we can keep the conversation going.
- Read sample pages from Tell the Truth. Make It Matter. by Beth Kephart.
- Who will tell your life story?
- In need of inspiration? Read an excerpt from Beth Kephart’s book Still Love in Strange Places, and learn more about her memoir writing workshops.
- “If not now, when?” What you can learn from Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper.
- Lots of food memories & family recipes passed down through generations? Consider making an heirloom book documenting those—but first, read from our Taste of the Past series for inspiration.
- How to use photographs as prompts for writing life stories.
Note: This is an unsolicited review of a book I purchased at full price. I did not receive any compensation or free products in exchange, and the endorsements within this post are my own.