« More blog articles

Curiosity by Patti Miller - Writing True Stories

Posted on: May 28, 2024

This article includes contributions from Patti Miller, the author of "Writing True Stories".

It's a curious way to spend one’s days; writing memoir and helping others to write theirs. And I do mean curious. Memoir is, for me, the expression of an unending curiosity - a desire to know the texture of being in the world. But writing a life story and writing memoir, is also about history and for many, it can be about healing.

I think for me at first, memoir is a way of exploring some fundamental questions. What is it really like to be here, not just what it looks like? How is it for me, for you, to be here? It is something that I have always been curious about. I feel the hunger to know, and to find the words to express it, when I catch a bus, or sit in a café. I want ask to each person, what is it like for you to be here in this world with only a set of stories to guide you? How do you do it? How do I do it?

When I teach memoir, I always like to begin with the early stories, not because they come first chronologically, but because they nearly always produce original writing. There is freshness and a clarity in those child memories that creates clear and powerful writing. As each person reads out his or her story in class, the rest of the group listening, waiting their turn to read out their own story, are astonished at the way the words re-create the past, make it live in the present. Well chosen words can make a reality convincing to both the senses and the emotions.

My most recent memoir, True Friends, explored friendship both through personal experience and research. In fact, it included quite a lot of research so could be more accurately called ‘narrative nonfiction’. Memoir is a genre wide enough to explore history, psychology, philosophy, science – indeed any area of knowledge and any of the questions murmuring through out our lives.

Some of the writers I work with write of painful experiences: childhood neglect, marriage break-ups, severe illness. These are experiences that can and do unravel lives – but the extraordinary thing about writing is that it can knit a life back together. Both the writer and the reader are strengthened, and for both, it can be a healing journey. At the same time, it is the art and craft of language which transforms experience, so the words always come first.

When I ask people why they want to write their story, some say for their children to have a record of their lives, some say to understand and try to make sense of their own lives, some say for healing, some say to share what they have learned from living. Some say for the sheer joy of writing! Whatever your reason, the pleasure of writing a life is its own reward.