This is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’m your host and tour guide, Sarah White.
I’ve been leading life writing groups* since 2004. I feel something’s missing from my life when I don’t have a workshop in progress. The purpose of this blog is to fill that gap, for myself and other writers like me.
Here’s where I share the thoughts I might bring up for class discussion. Here’s where I post the writings of my fearless, peerless, workshop participants. Here’s where I share stories from my own life, as well as my pet peeves, pointers, and personal observations. I hope to create the atmosphere you find in my classrooms.
For more about me, visit my website: www.firstpersonprod.com.
*I’ve struggled with what to call this work. Are we writing memoir, autobiography, reminiscences, life stories? Precise word use is of ultimate importance to a writer. Each of these terms captures something of what we do when we write about real life. But each carries nuances of meaning, that shift depending on the meaning each of us brings to the word. Which one works best for you? Cast your vote!
I think your label poll is interesting, but I might argue that the meaning of the words doesn’t merely shift based on “the meaning each of us brings” but that they have some generally accepted distinctions on a spectrum, in particular distinctions of scope, focus, and universality (and some typical value judgements, too.) Just as a for-instance: “reminiscences” typically label the sort of individual writing that probably only a relative would find interesting; “autobiography” implies that for anyone else to be interested, the subject needs to be someone famous and the point of the work partly to see what forces resulted in Famous Person X and their contributions; “life stories” suggests that the writing will focus on some key life lessons, realizations, or adventures that presumably someone else could also learn from; and “memoir” seems pretty accepted these days as focused not on the span of a life but on a specific situation, experience, or struggle that contains some universality. But perhaps I’m interpolating literary definitions that aren’t as agreed as I think. Worthy conversation fodder, anyway.
Thanks for the food for thought re: the various words. I would agree with you on the whole on your parsing of the various terms. The problem this raises is the lack of an umbrella term under which reminiscences, autobiography, life stories, and memoirscould all fit.
Life stories well told are evident in the immensely popular podcast “The Moth”. Their stories do not shine a light on stardom, neither do they sound like reminiscences, nor are they autobiographical. They focus on the “true stories, well told” part even those that are “dark” in content. They usually are told to develop a pithy “life lesson” for the storyteller and the audience. I suspect that folks are hungry to hear these stories–because we no longer tell true stories around a campfire, nor do families participate in the telling of true stories around a dinner table. Instead many families instill the admonition to keep family secrets, inside the family.
Hi Nyla, I think of what I do with my blog and monthly “meet-ups” for reminiscence writers as being like “The Moth,” but without emphasizing the performance of the stories. There needs to be a space where people who aren’t interested in the spotlight and the microphone can share their stories too, and that’s what I’m about. Thanks for your comment that allows me to point out this difference!