Issue 44 - Let's Get Personal - Memoir Personal Essay Journaling - Adair Lara, Sue William Silverman and Linda Joy Myers

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

WOW! Classes

Truly Useful Site Award


Go to wow-womenonwriting.comArticlesContestMarketsBlogClasses



Do you want to know a secret?

The best writing is personal.

What goes on between a writer who gets personal and the reader is like an intimate friendship, where you exchange secrets, share emotions, and feel your friendship growing. It comes from somewhere inside, a certain vulnerability that you expose on the page. Once you learn how to write this way, you can apply it to any genre and achieve success.

I was talking to a writer friend the other day who shared a personal breakthrough with me. She was having a block in fiction, so she decided to focus on her nonfiction freelance career. She hobbled along writing short articles for content sites and blogging occasionally until she decided to take a workshop on personal essay writing. Her instructor suggested she journal throughout the course as a way of forming story ideas. A couple weeks into journaling, she broke down and sobbed. She realized that all this time she’d been unable to tap into her emotions. It was the reason why she’d been unable to write anything other than school-taught structured pieces that lacked any sort of creative oomph. No, she didn’t unearth some big secret from childhood or recover repressed memories, but she did have an epiphany the equivalent of a literary breakthrough. She learned how to spill her guts on the page, and then edit them into print. Since then, she’s used this skill for copywriting, personal essay writing, article writing, and even fiction. And this is in the past month! Her writing and confidence level improved tenfold.

Personal writing can help you, too. It’s an avenue of writing that never gets old and never fails to reward. It’s about you. Like Jung said, “That which is most personal is most common.” By learning to write about yourself and what’s uniquely you, you are growing as a person and helping others relate to you at the same time.

But how do you do that? We have experts to help you! In this issue we explore journaling, from the history of journal writing to journaling for health and happiness. One of our Twitter followers asked us if we had an article on writing to help women deal with traumatic experiences; and at the time, we didn’t, but now we do! We asked journal-writing expert Mari McCarthy to write about that topic specifically for our Twitter friend. We also explore forms of memoir writing in depth, from personal essay writing and writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul to beginning your memoir and creating your narrative arc to bringing people in your memoir to life. When you finish reading this issue, you’ll have the tools and techniques to get started producing pieces that are true, real, personal, and ultimately satisfying.

Let’s bring back the passion and love of writing! Let’s get personal.

A big, warm thank you goes to our freelancers and staff members:

One of the reasons I wanted to do this issue is because I was so inspired after reading Adair Lara’s book, Naked, Drunk, and Writing. (My husband still teases that the title is perfect for me.) So when WOW! columnist LuAnn Schindler asked me if I was interested in an interview with Adair Lara, it was as though she read my mind! Lara dares writers to shed their inhibitions, so they can construct a personal essay that gets to the very essence of the piece: the shared bond of humanity offering a confession that unites us all. She also shares an effective outlining exercise, where you fill in the blanks to create the structure of your essay, and some creative revision techniques you can put to use right away. Plus, LuAnn serves as our literary bartender, getting us sauced with her punch-drunk prose. Cheers!

One of the hardest decisions to make when you’re writing your memoir is where to begin. After all, you have your whole life as potential subject matter, so what do you focus on? We welcome Linda Joy Myers to the WOW! family and thank her for her fantastic article, Beginning Your Memoir and Creating Your Narrative Arc. Linda is the president of the National Association of Memoir Writers and the author of The Power of Memoir, so she knows a thing or two about memoir writing. Her article is a must-read for anyone beginning their memoir and a great primer on memoir writing topics. It covers forming a story from your life, an excellent timeline exercise, themes in memoir, writing scenes, plot, narrative arc, and ultimately becoming heroines.

Voice can be tricky no matter what genre you’re writing in, but Sue William Silverman’s article, Finding Innocence and Experience: Voices in Memoir, makes it seem like a snap! I seriously had an a-ha moment when I read it. This is our shortest article in this issue, but it’s a pitch-perfect explanation of how to use voice. Like our previous two guests, Sue is also an author of a memoir-writing book, Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir, and we welcome her to the WOW! family.

The most discussed topic in memoir writing is probably people in memoir. Many writers are concerned with whom to leave in and out and what their family members will think if they share too much; but there’s an even more important topic—bringing the people in your memoir to life on the page. It’s a common misconception that if you’re writing about real life, you don’t need to describe yourself or other people. Yet, the best memoirists have learned from fiction writers how to develop characters that leave a lasting impression. We welcome Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett to the WOW! family and thank them for their in-depth article, People are Characters Too: A Guide for Bringing the People in Your Memoir to Life. And when they say “guide”, they’re not kidding! This article is jam-packed with exercises and approaches to character development that can be used for both memoir and fiction writers alike. It covers five dimensions of character—identity, description, demographic factors, psychographic attributes, and personality—and includes exercises for each, as well as links to tests that will help you figure out things such as personality types. This is an article you’ll want to bookmark and spend some time with!

Switching gears here a bit, we delve into the world of journaling. It’s the foundation of all personal writing. Thinking about it now, it’s probably where I should’ve started the issue! But it actually fits here because journal writing, at its core, is a diary—a secret friend that takes a backseat to our social lives, but helps us work through everything from heartbreak to hedge funds. We welcome WOW! instructor Linda Rhinehart Neas and thank her for her beautiful article, Journal Writing: Making it Personal. Linda teaches us the history of journal writing and the important role it played in women’s lives throughout the ages, the various purposes a journal can serve—including a repository for favorite quotes and poems and leaving a legacy—and shares some wonderful resources that will inspire you to journal.

Many people talk about the healing properties of journaling, and I personally know this to be true. I’ve used journaling to help me through grief from the loss of my mother. I don’t know what I would’ve done without it! But there are other forms of healing you can use journal writing for, and that’s why we invited journaling expert Mari McCarthy to help us discover the possibilities. We welcome Mari to the WOW! family and thank her for her article, Journaling for Healing, Health, and Happiness. (This is the article I mentioned in the intro that is a direct response to our Twitter friend.) Mari provides advice and journaling exercises for those with physical ailments, helps us make peace with the past, and guides us through the grieving process. If you’re going through something right now, remember there’s no magical cure; but journal therapy can help you process and express your feelings in a safe, nonjudgmental place.

Once you have a journal full of thoughts, feelings, events, and experiences, why not turn some of the material into stories? And get paid for it! WOW! editor and columnist Margo L. Dill interviews Chicken Soup for the Soul Queen Linda Apple who shares her essay writing secrets. She’s published stories in thirteen editions and even has a book on how to write for the market called Inspire! Writing from the Soul. In this interview, she shares some tried and true ingredients for cooking up a successful, soulful personal essay, as well as some other paying markets for this type of writing. Not to miss!

As Linda Rhinehart Neas put it in her journaling article, “Today, journaling and diaries have morphed from special books hidden in secret spots to online exposés found on blogs and social networks.” Whether you’re using your blog as an online journal or blogging for business, you’ll want to build an audience of readers. We welcome back freelancer Kristie Lorette and thank her for her article, How to Attract New and Repeat Visitors to Read Your Blog. Kristie covers the characteristics of a successful blog, ways to attract more visitors, and the anatomy of a blog post. If you’re new to blogging, this article will save you some time by providing you with a checklist of what you’ll need for your blog.

Speaking of blogging, if you’re a fan of The Muffin, then you know that WOW! blogger Robyn Chausse has embarked on a journey of personal discovery to find her inner author by attending the Tom Bird Retreat. Her blog posts, in diary format, sew a cohesive thread throughout her retreat experience, and bring you, the reader, along for the ride. Now, she ties it all together in her review of Tom Bird’s Write Your Book in 5 Days Retreat. If you’ve been following along on her journey, this is the finale you’ve been waiting for!

We’re also proud to announce the Winter 2011 Flash Fiction Contest winners! We thank literary agent Elaine Spencer of The Knight Agency for judging this season. Congratulations to all the winners and to those of you who had the courage to enter the contest as well. We hope you enjoy reading this season’s stories!

And even though this issue is all about getting personal, I’d like to thank WOW!’s contributing editor Margo L. Dill for not letting all our grammar errors hang out and making this issue a pleasure to read!

On to the issue… enjoy!






Angela Miyuki Mackintosh is Editor-in-Chief and Art Director of WOW! Women On Writing. She has been published in Maxim, Transworld Surf and Skate, Vice Magazine, and numerous trade publications for the action-sports industry. She is an award-winning artist whose works have been commissioned for public art by the city of Long Beach, and has received grants from Funds for Women.

Angela lives in Placentia, California with her husband, Michael, and her cat, Noodle.



Margo L. Dill is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis, Missouri. Her work has appeared in publications such as Grit, Pockets, True Love, Fun for Kidz, Missouri Life, ByLine Magazine, and The Chicago Tribune. She is a columnist, instructor, and contributing editor for WOW! Women On Writing. She is assistant editor for the Sunday Books page in The News-Gazette and a writer for AOL’s City’s Best St. Louis page. Her first book, Finding My Place, a middle-grade historical novel, will be published by White Mane Kids. She writes a blog called, Read These Books and Use Them, for parents, teachers, and librarians. She owns her own copyediting business, Editor 911, and is an instructor for the Children’s Writers’ Coaching Club and the WOW! Women On Writing Classroom. When she's not writing, she loves spending time with her husband, stepson, daughter, and two dogs—Chester, a boxer, and Hush Puppy, a basset hound. You can find out more about Margo by visiting her website:


Joanne Hirase-Stacey is an attorney turned freelance writer. She lives on a mountain pass in southeastern Idaho with her very supportive husband, Bill. Joanne and Bill love rescuing the “dangerous breeds” of dogs, and currently have a Belgian shepherd named Maggie, a Rottweiler named Isamu, and a Pit Bull named Zebekiah. Joanne has been published in legal journals, and various magazines and anthologies. She will soon have her own “star” on the “Walk of Fame” in Pocatello, Idaho when her poem is engraved into stone and embedded into the sidewalk in Historic Old Town. When she’s not writing, you can find Joanne running up and down the mountain, quilting, painting (watercolors, oils and acrylics), practicing her karate (she’s slowly making her way to a black belt!), and trading in the Forex market. You can visit her website at!


    About WOW! Women on Writing | Ad Rates | Contact Us | Privacy Policy
Copyright © 2011 All rights reserved.

Graphic Design/Illustration by Mackintosh Multimedia.
Web Design/Programming by Glenn Robnett.