Sue William Silverman: Confessional Writing is Painful and a Profound Relief

Sue William Silverman
Book Review: Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir
Sue William Silverman
University of Georgia Press, 2009
Softcover, 237 pages, with biographical notes


Sue William Silverman describes her book as “a step-by-step guide to shaping memory into art, to turning imagery into metaphor – all the elements needed to craft raw experience into a fully formed story.” She speaks from a life filled with desperation.

She grew up with a father who sexually molested her in “houses that felt like prisons.” As an adult, she was in therapy for years learning to cope with her humiliation, embarrassment and shame. Her therapist often suggested she write about her experiences, but she had no interest in putting her hidden secrets onto paper, secrets shared only with her therapist and her husband.

Refusing to Write About Herself
Although she was a writing instructor at a community college, had written thousands of pages of short-story fiction, and had started and given up writing several novels, she did not attempt to write about her own life until her parents died during the time she was in therapy. She began her memoir slowly, writing just the facts; then moving on to interpreting the facts, “reclaiming them, making sense of them.” She picked up the pace, reluctantly stopping “to eat, to sleep, to shop for groceries.” Almost before she realized it she had written three hundred pages in three months.

The resulting book, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, received the Association of Writers and Writing Programs award for creative nonfiction. Her second book, Love Sick: One Woman's Journey through Sexual Addiction, was made into a Lifetime Television Original Movie.

Secrets of Confessional Writing
Her writer’s guide includes not only her experiences but examples from other authors, as well as writing exercises to get you off dead center.

The real take-aways, though, are her insights into the specifics of confessional writing; among them:

“Don’t just state your story; reveal your story emotionally.”

“Use the senses to create an emotion or a mood that reflects” how you feel at the particular moment you are writing about.

“A memoir isn’t about a whole life. It’s a slice of life, an exploration of one aspect of a life.”

“Discover an intimate voice that will invite the reader into your story.”

“Readers want confessional stories. Readers better understand their own lives by reading how you coped with adversity, what you learned from it.”

“Until I write the past it flickers in my mind’s eye, ghostly, like an old newsreel. I leaf through family albums, but no one appears distinct. No one seems ever to have been fully alive. Then I pick up a pencil.”

“Writing about pain is painful—but it’s also a profound relief. With every written word the pain lessens.”

She also covers theme, style, plot, metaphor, marketing your work and yourself, and other techniques (that’s what teachers do), which are essential tools but not nearly as fulfilling as her spot-on coverage of writing about painful real-life experiences.

Sue William Silverman speaks at colleges and universities, professional conferences and to social service organizations on such topics as sexual addiction, child abuse prevention, and family dynamics. She teaches writing at the low-residency Master of Fine Arts program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Photo courtesy suewilliamsilverman.com.

Mike and Cindy Schaffer: The Best We Remember

Tow and Rynie in 1988
One Family's Journal
Mike and Cindy Schaffer of Springfield, Missouri have a treasured written record of many of the things their children said and did while growing up. They started writing one month after their older son, Ryan—nicknamed Rynie—was born in 1981 and continued when their son Aaron—nicknamed Tow—was born in 1986.

Mike and Cindy are retired from the state of Missouri. She was a secretary and he was an employment counselor.

“When I went to work I wrote the children’s activities and sayings on my desk calendar just about every day,” Mike says. “At the end of the day I tore off the calendar page and brought it home where I kept the pages wrapped in a rubber band in a drawer. If something happened over the weekend I would try to remember it and write it on the calendar when I got back to work.”

The first entry, December 17, 1981: “Baby sitter said Ryan gagged himself trying to chew on his fingers. Wanted to be held all evening. Ate his cereal well. May be getting his appetite back after his first shot.”

December 29, 1981: “Got three bright toys for Christmas. Beads, key ring, train. He notices them now. Using his hands some now to grab and move them, but they usually end up in his mouth. Rolls over on his side. Looks intently at the bumper cars and the figures. Makes a lot more noise. Cackles, moans, grunts, whines and cries more than he once did.”

Some Sayings
Both boys had their special blankets when they were little. Mike recalls one morning when Tow was five years old and he got him up for the day that he tied his blanket into a little bit of a knot. That night when Tow went to bed with his blanket he said, “It’s not useful that way.”

Also when Tow was five, Mike wrote Tow was disappointed that Rynie got new soccer shoes and he didn’t. “My shoes are junk,” Tow said.

Seeing a stalled car at the side of a street Rynie said, “They wore out their gas.”

Watching the movie “Dancing with Wolves” with Cindy when a nude scene came up, Rynie said, “Mom do you like this movie?”

Tow: “Will you keep an ear on me while I swim?”

When Cindy told Rynie that tofu comes from bean curd he said, “Where is that?”

Tow’s description of a fried egg: “Put it in a pan and don’t bother it. And it makes a yellow lump.”

Rynie, when he wanted his dad to take him fishing: “Dad, you’ve lived a long time so you should know how to fish by now.”

A Good Time to Stop
The last entries in the journal were in 1995 when Rynie was fourteen years old and Tow was nine.

“It was a time when their interests were turning to friends and school activities, so it was good time for us to stop,” Mike says. Today, Rynie is married and he and his wife enjoy reading the journal. They have a son who is eleven years old. “He is very much like his father,” Mike says.

Tow goes to school part time at Ozarks Technical Community College.

“I love the journal,” Cindy says. “I would never have remembered all of those things if Mike hadn’t done that.”

“It’s priceless,” Mike says.

When Cindy and Mike retired, Cindy transcribed the calendar notes to a computer and added pictures of the boys. She included some scanned items in the boys’ handwriting including a letter Tow wrote from Bible camp and a short story by Rynie. The final eight-and-a-half-by-eleven memoir totals seventy-seven pages. They took the pages to a quick-print shop for binding in a plastic spiral with a clear plastic cover and had several copies printed. They titled the memoir, “The Best We Remember.”

Photo courtesy Cyndy and Mike Schaffer.

Benefits of Journal Writing

Frank Baum
Journal writing has a long history. Famous people who kept journals include Leonardo da Vinci, Lewis Carroll, Andy Warhol, George Bernard Shaw, Anne Frank, L. Frank Baum, and most U.S. presidents.

Journaling can be an excellent way of getting started on your memoirs. Personal development guru Steve Pavlina says journaling can help with problem solving, improve clarity of thought and expression, and provide markers for determining progress toward your goals.

Beyond the Writing
Besides helping us remember things, journaling causes us to think beyond the act of writing and beyond the events we are recording. Benefits include stress management and emotional release, self-discovery, relaxation during quiet time, a learning tool, a teaching tool of medical and academic experts, and an aid to professional and personal growth. Researchers have found that healthy people who journal visit their doctors less often. For those with chronic illnesses, journaling reduces their physical symptoms. Experts declare it to be a gentle and safe therapy.

There is no right or wrong in journaling form or purpose. The important thing is what works for you. I know a journal writer who writes about the day’s news events and adds scriptures and references from religious experts to expand or confirm his ethical and moral positions. Some journal writers use their writing to interpret dreams to help give them meaning to life’s uncertainties. Others simply capture events in preparation for someday assembling their notes into a published memoir.

Memoirist and workshop presenter Sharon Lippincott says, “Journaling means to me: A place to clear my mind, make my thoughts visible and organize them, and record events. Primarily, it's a place to make sense of life and find deeper meaning. Journaling is my Practice, a form of meditation.”

Just Do It
You don’t have to be a great writer, speller, or creative thinker to journal; just write down your thoughts and experiences, although you can be as creative and as self-analytical as you wish. No fancy equipment is required. Some journal writers write in longhand in a three-ring binder while others write on their computers or online. Still others us a bound book of blank pages they carry with them. Some write everyday and others write several times a week or month.

You can even give journaling as a gift. A writer friend of mine distributed bound journal books with blank pages to members of her family at their annual Thanksgiving gathering. She invited them to write for one year and then bring the journals to the next Thanksgiving gathering for sharing.

If you have a journaling experience you would like to share with our readers please send it to me. I promise not to publish your experience without first getting your permission.

Photo: Children’s writer L. Frank Baum (1856-1919), author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, writing with a pen. Courtesy sandiegohistory.org

Regina Paul: Advantages and Disadvantages of Print-on-Demand Publishing

Regina Paul
Guest article by Regina Paul

Print-on-Demand, or POD, isn’t for everyone. There are a number of things to consider before deciding to venture into the world of POD publishing.
 
Advantages
  1. Your book gets published on your timetable. 
  2. You retain 100% of the rights to your book. 
  3. You choose what you want to make for royalties rather than having to negotiate this with a traditional publisher. 
  4. You choose what you want for the cover art of your book. 
  5. Your book gets printed only if someone orders it. You don’t have boxes of your book sitting in your basement or attic getting eaten by moths or mice or destroyed by mold or mildew. 
  6. You don’t have to put out a large amount of money printing copies of your book. 
  7. You can sell your book from the web pages of your POD publisher(s) as well as your own website; this can give you more exposure.
Disadvantages  
  1. You are 100% responsible for marketing your book. No one else will do it for you, including your POD publisher. 
  2. You must be willing to pay your POD publisher a fee to get an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and to have your book listed with online bookstores. 
  3. You are responsible for providing review copies of your book to reviewers and to getting it to the reviewers within their time frame. 
  4. You are responsible for setting up book signings and other such events. 
  5. You are responsible for either creating, designing and printing your own marketing materials such bookmarks, business cards, brochures etc. or be willing to pay someone to do so for you.  
If don't mind spending some money on your book for marketing and education and you want to have total control of your book, then POD can be a great solution to getting that completed manuscript out of your drawer, box, or computer and getting it out to the world.

Regina Paul is the author of eleven books and has published more than 800 articles online. She can be reached at reginapaulwrites.blogspot.com/.

Photo courtesy Regina Paul.