It’s one thing to give voice to a story and quite another to address an audience so others can receive the story’s gifts, which bring me to the third defining characteristic of spiritual memoir: The writer works to tell his or her story in such a way that the experience of the sacred is made available to the reader. When you take time to craft your work-revising it, finding thematic threads, developing scenes, smoothing over transitions, and uncovering the story’s inherent unity-you invite readers into your world. You help them experience what you’ve experienced. A well-crafted work welcomes readers, takes their hats and coats, and gives them a thorough tour of the house. The readers then feel at ease enough to dwell in the story for awhile and perhaps be changed by it
Most people setting out to write memoir don’t have literary aspirations. Yet learning the craft of writing brings rich insight about the past and about one’s relationship with mystery. The process of shaping and deepening a draft helps satisfy the fundamental longing for connection. The rigor of learning to write well-not just getting the story down but giving it a pleasing form-extends our insights, enlarges our thinking, and widens the scope of our world. When we craft stories for an audience, whether or not an audience will ever read them, we discover the many gifts of revision. We discover how the self is revised along with our writing.
“Most good stories are mysteries,” Bliss Broyard writes. “The author is like a detective trying to get to the bottom of some truth.” As odd as it may seem, moving away from the assumption that you know your material can make the sacred part of it more accessible to your readers. Think of memoir writing as mystery writing. Your first draft is a write-up of the crime scene, suspects and clues. You are a detective chasing your subject. What unknown entity lurks at the center of your story? Why is this quest important to you? Why might it be important to others?
from “Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, Skinner House