Memoir Writing Lesson #6: Check

Today’s memoir writing lesson from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away:

“Name three times when it came to you clearly that you wanted to write a memoir. Go. Ten minutes.”

Just after we moved to Phoenix, the gardener handed me a piece of junk mail and asked if I wanted it. The brochure from Gotham Writers Workshop offered online courses. Since I work at home (now that I’m retired from teaching) for our business, an online course appealed to me because I could fit it in “whenever.” When I looked at the genres, I suddenly knew I wanted to study memoir writing. I had an unfinished story that I’d inherited, so to speak, and I wanted to be able to share it. Maybe I wanted to be able to monkey around with it, try to figure things out. Maybe I wanted to solve the mystery and air the secrets. If only I knew them. I’d already studied poetry and fiction years ago when I got my MFA. Creative nonfiction barely existed in those days–and our program didn’t offer them. I wasn’t smart enough to think about memoir as a vehicle for my story in those days, although I tried over and over with poetry. Most of those attempts fell flat. So I signed up for my first memoir course.

Another time I knew I wanted to write a memoir was when my father did something that upset me very very much. I was middle-aged and he was treating me as if I was a kid. And as if I was wrong. When he was irrational and vindictive. Rather than talking to me, he mailed me a letter. When I got it, I was so upset I picked up the phone. Luckily (not) for my mother, she answered it and got my wrath dumped on her. After a conversation where she tried to defend my father as I accused, I finally had enough and said, “This is why I’m writing a book!” While my comment was as vindictive as my father so often was, I don’t think my intent was: I needed a place to vent and sort out the insanity of what I’d been put through for so many years.

The third time I clearly realized how it important it was that I write and finish my memoir was when my father died. While he was dying, we talked every single day. It wasn’t all small talk. My father was compelled to talk to me about the past and our relationship. He apologized. He explained. He told me things I didn’t know–about himself and about me. I finally had the ending for my story, and I also had the reason others would want to read it because it became a story of forgiveness as much as a story of survival.


I find some of the structure of Goldberg’s sections amusing. After naming this exercise, she goes off on a tangent of how important it is to find writing friends (thank you thank you for my writer friends–I love you!) and going to readings (and similar writing or writer-based activities).  I’m not sure how that subject connects with the prompt, but I think the prompt is important because knowing what made you want to write a memoir helps you to find your (true) story.

Go ahead and try it. Start here: Name three times . . . .

Moe is one of two long-haired feral brothers living in the roaming room at Home Fur Good in Phoenix. They are doing well at getting socialized. Moe’s brother Maverick is perhaps more social than Moe. His fur is darker in tone, and he is a bit bigger than Moe. But Moe is the one who wanted to pose for my iPhone. Gorgeous boys, they need to be adopted together.


Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Flash Nonfiction, Inspiration, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

25 responses to “Memoir Writing Lesson #6: Check

  1. Those are important reasons Luanne. I have done a similar exercise about why I write and it was illuminating (and emotional!)

  2. I hope Moe and Maverick soon find a home together. Moe is very handsome.
    (I needed to say this first.) 🙂

    What I got out of your post was that you and your father finally talked, and that he apologized and explained. Also that you learned some secrets. Despite all the stuff that happened earlier, that is a kind of gift. So many times people die without getting to talk and explain things to their children or grandchildren. And bonus, that it gave you and ending for your memoir.

  3. Luanne I was happy to read that your father apologised it was a gift that he was able to do this for you. Many don’t get that apology. I have often felt that one day I will write a memoir on the loss of my brother to suicide, its in there but after nineteen years it still too fresh when I look at my pain in the diary I wrote at the time.

    I remember giving my dad a book on how to write his memoirs when he was dying of cancer he had a raw talent for story telling. On his last week with us he gave it back to me and said its too late for him and that I would have to do it one day. I still tear up thinking about that. I know there is a story that will need to be documented one day, maybe just for family history.

  4. Wow. That was really good.
    1. When we left Army life

    I think I have about ten, but they’re all too personal for here.

  5. I need time to write. I should quit my job and go live in a bare room and write.

  6. I love the elements you revealed of your life and journey towards your memoir writing. My Dad didn’t show his temper towards me very often, he sometimes would turn it on against my rebellious “middle” brother. I learned fun and interesting things when he retired at 55, while he spent a year watching Oprah and talk shows. Again, when he got cancer, I thought of asking him a few questions. We had some close moments throughout my life with him, but I will always be closer to my Mom. <3

  7. p.s. I like Moe and Maverick from a distance and miss them, despite not being able to have a cat as a pet. Three of my seven grandies tend to have allergies. This is a great way to find a new owner for them! <3

    • Moe and Maverick are such beautiful cats. I hope someone special takes a liking to them and can give them a home. They have come so far and will eventually make wonderful pets, but they need to go to someone who understands that they were born feral and that they need to be treated very gently and with trustworthiness.

  8. I love this prompt because it helps you rediscover the material and the impetus for penning your memoir. The segment about your father made me quite emotional, Luanne. Thanks for sharing.

    • Writing this exercise really clarified things for me. Some of the stuff that has turned out so important to my memoir came up after we stopped our meetings. But I will always appreciate your help! xo

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