Journaling to Memoiring
By Kelsey Weber
For the 2016 Winter Residency, every participant was required to read a book of linked essays called Small Fires by Julie Marie Wade. It’s a wonderful book and if you like to read memoirs then I highly recommend it to you. Even if you don’t like to read memoirs I would recommend this book, since it might just change your mind.
Julie was a speaker at our winter residency, and in her craft talk she spoke about writing a memoir of linked and stand-alone essays. As she spoke about her writing process, Julie made a clear distinction: there is a big difference between writing a memoir and writing memoir. It is your perspective on your goal that is different. Writing a memoir adds a level a pressure because what you are writing has to go into your book. Whereas writing memoirs gives you the freedom to write about whatever you want and not have to worry about where that particular essay is going to wind up in the end.
Julie told us that she memoirs every day and she never know if the piece she has written is going to go into collection she is working on or if she will hold on to it for a long time. She writes a little about something from her life whether it comes from the recent or distant past. That idea sparked a connecting thought for me. Julie had mentioned in one of her essays in Small Fires that she had kept a journal when she was younger and I asked if she felt there was some connection between her journal writing and writing memoir now. She stopped to consider my observation and acknowledged that one type of writing could lead to the other. She said that she no longer journals because journaling is only the accounting of events whereas memoiring is exploring those same events through a particular lens. She gave this example: Journaling would be describing what I had for breakfast and memoiring would be exploring how I felt while eating breakfast or what feelings that breakfast evoked. This difference reminded me of something that I had noticed in my own writing.
For the past year, I have been using two journals to help me jump-start my creative juices. One asks a difference questions for every day of the year and the other just has you write one or two lines about every day. The both have enough space for five years worth of answers so you can compare your answers over time. The line a day journal is simply that, a journal, and I tend to write about what happened that day. The question journal often inspires me to write about what I feel rather than what I have experienced. These journals have done their jobs in the sense that some of the questions have sparked longer works and now I feel confident holding on to them as they may spark future pieces.
Julie Marie Wade reminded us all to keep pen and paper nearby because you never know when inspiration will hit and I will add to that: write down everything and never throw anything away. You never know where that little spark of an idea might lead you.
Kelsey Weber has lived in Kentucky all of her life, a fact she is mostly proud of, and currently lives in the small town of Nicholasville. Although she has a fondness for creative non-fiction, her focus has been primarily fiction and has only her thesis defend to complete her MFA. She recently cut her hair and dyed it bright red, such a drastic change she is still surprised by it weeks later.
Published on February 15, 2016