Write Memoirs from Your Soul: Nan Merrick Phifer

Memoirs of the Soul cover
Book Review: Memoirs of the Soul: A Writing Guide
Revised and Expanded Edition
Nan Merrick Phifer
Ingot Press, 2011
264 pages, with index, exercises, and suggested readings

Textbook author and workshop presenter Nan Merrick Phifer goes beyond standard memoir-writing guidelines and directs readers to a “voyage of the soul.” Public records, photographs, certificates, and other documents are physical evidence of your existence, she writes, but unless you reveal your feelings and thoughts, “few people will ever truly know you.”

Although she covers the basics of writing prompts, rough drafts, revising, negative criticism, procrastination, and so on, she goes much deeper, taking you into the world of yourself and showing how to capture your “love, grief, satisfaction, longing, … values, motives, beliefs, and hopes.” In other words, your soul.

Phifer's clear and direct writing, inspiring exercises, and nourishing testimonies from workshop participants will strengthen your leap of faith, guide your writing adventure, and give your memoir an emotional boost.

Call up your emotions
Phifer suggests you do not begin chronologically, although you may end up there. She recommends listing people who have been important to you, places of significant events in your life, things you would be sorry to lose, and your important experiences. Start by replacing the word important with intense and list times:
  • Your heart pounded.
  • Your stomach tightened.
  • Your skin tingled.
  • You held your breath.
  • You wept with joy, grief, or sympathy.
  • You want to relive.
  • You want to erase.
Smells, lights, sounds, and tastes often can stimulate memories, she writes.

Listening to your draft will help you find weak and strong points. She suggests you read your draft aloud or ask a friend to read it to you.

She divides the book into four parts. Part I, Beginnings, covers how to start and takes you through childhood and adolescence. Part II, Rising Action, helps you write about events that shaped your life including religion, struggles, marriage, birth, and death. Part III, Climaxes and Revelations, deals with love as a gift, dreams and visions, and spiritual well-being. Part IV, The Rewards, is for reflection, review, rewriting.

Make a book
Phifer distinguishes between memoirs and autobiographies. Memoirs focus on hours and minutes when you are most alive, moments of joy or crisis that define you, while autobiographies are broad overviews.

“You may be satisfied to have explored your inner life by means of writing and feel no inclination to leave a written record.” If you want to produce a book from your writing experiences, Phifer takes you through a simplified process. Parts of your book include:
  • Title page
  • Introduction
  • Author photograph
  • Chapters
  • Conclusion
  • Date
She shows how to make deletions and changes, replace general nouns with specific nouns, change passive voice to active voice, replace verbs of “being,” rearrange sections of writing, and proofread for a polished finish. A copy shop or printer can handle actual production of your book.

Pfifer states many writers find writing is more fulfilling than producing a book. “The writing itself may have been a spiritual experience,” not necessarily religious, but “the essential and activating principle at the center of your being, your intangible essence.”

How do you find your spiritual center and write about it? Have you read a good book that helped you and want to review it here? See Guidelines for Guest Posts and  Book Reviews.

Nan Phifer taught at secondary and college levels. She was a National Teaching Fellow under Title III of the Higher Education Act, and granted a Certificate of Award in Recognition of Distinguished Achievement in Adult Basic Education Programs. Now retired from college teaching, she presents workshops to writers' groups, libraries, religious and contemplative organizations, continuing education programs, and retreat and renewal organizations. She may be reached at www.memoirworkshops.com.

Photo courtesy www.memoirworkshops.com