Blogtalk: From Journaling to Essay and Memoir 8

If you’re a regular Writing Through Life reader, you know that, in addition to the Weekly Journaling Prompts, I also write and teach about Journaling for Memoir. Recently, I guest blogged on the topic for NAMW and Sharon Lippincott’s site, The Heart and Craft of Life Writing. I also post monthly blogs in the Journaling category of So I’m always interested in articles and blog posts about the integration of journaling and memoir.

Jeff Rasley’s recent article on Indies Unlimited about Memoir Writing from Diary to Publishable Piece makes some good points. He writes about how to use your journal as a resource for experiences, lessons learned, and insights that might be of interest or valuable to others.

Essential to making a memoir interesting and worthy of publication is to have a central theme that carries the narrative forward. Without a thematic narrative, we are back to mere observation or a random collection of insights without a guiding light. The narrative must include factual details to make it interesting. A point made in the abstract is likely to be forgotten as soon as the reading device is turned off.

Suzanne Sherman’s recent Q & A article about shaping memoir (on Story Circle Network’s Telling Herstories blog) gives excellent advice for getting started, using timelines and honing in on the emotional turning points of your life. What better place than your journal to explore these topics?

And finally, a 2010 blog post by Jerry Waxler, of Memory Writers Network, captures the difference between journaling and memoir writing, as well as how journaling can contribute to the memoir writing process:

Of course, informal [journal] writing had its advantages. During those relaxed sessions, I was able to catch my inner critics off guard, allowing me to engage my psyche in an authentic discussion. I didn’t want to give that up. And it turned out, I didn’t need to. On the contrary, memoir writing has become a natural extension of my earlier experience. Now, instead of letting my mind roam wherever it wants, I simply direct it towards particular situations. Once I start thinking about a scene, I am back in journal writing mode, allowing words to flow freely.

I would love to hear from you. How do you use journaling for essay writing and memoir?

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8 thoughts on “Blogtalk: From Journaling to Essay and Memoir

  • Jerry Waxler

    Hi Amber,
    Thanks for the great post and for reminding your readers (and me) of my old blog post from 2010. As a writer I am constantly crisscrossing the line between memoir and journaling. For one thing, journal writing was an important enough part of my life that it becomes a chapter in my memoir in progress about the way I used journaling to “capture” spirituality. And journaling was a powerful training ground for free-writing, which is the first step of all subsequent writing.
    Best wishes,
    Memory Writers Network

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Thanks for the comment, Jerry. I look forward to reading your memoir and finding out how journaling and spirituality came together for you personally. And regarding free-writing, I agree. Allowing ourselves to learn how to write as a form of exploration and without the inner critic whispering in our ears is vital to discovering metaphor, theme, and the driving force behind any piece of writing.

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  • Sara Renae

    Hi Amber,

    I’m so glad I found your blog! I am new to online “journaling”, or blogging, and am finding it to be a worthwhile venture, although I find myself lost in other people’s blogs too often (so much fascinating reading!)

    When I was pregnant, I knew it would most likely be my only pregnancy, so I wanted to preserve every precious moment. I also knew my track record for keeping a journal, most of mine have met the same fate: unfinished, discarded, forgotten. To keep this from happening during my pregnancy, I decided to journal to my unborn son. My committment and dedication to him were much stronger than to myself so I managed to keep a regular journal throughout my pregnancy and his first year.

    Now, I am planning on using that journal to inspire my first memoir.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Hi Sara, and thanks for the comment. Congratulations on keeping a journal successfully during your pregnancy. Hopefully, you won’t stop there, but will continue writing for your son. I’m sure you will find your journal to be a wonderful resource as you work on your memoir.

      One quick comment—I don’t view journaling and blogging as the same thing. Journaling is a personal form of writing for oneself (or one’s children, perhaps), whereas blogging is a public form of writing, though often less formal than magazine articles. And though blogs may often contain personal information, in the same way that memoirs and personal essays do, they don’t usually encourage the same opportunity for unguarded, open, self-honesty and reflection that journaling does. Just my 2 cents.

      • Sara Renae

        Thanks for your perspective on blogging, Amber. When I first started looking at blogs, I thought I would find the personal ramblings of each blogger but I have noticed how personal experience is eloquently woven into more universal content. That’s where I find myself now, trying to figure out how to blog about my own life while at the same time offering valuable content for my readers. It’s been fun and, at times, frustrating but the more I reach out and connect with other bloggers, the easier it becomes!