Women’s Memoir Writing: Your Body, Your Voice
The voice is the creature of the body that produces it.
In order to recover your voice, you have to return to your body. Indeed, writing is an embodied activity. After all, our voices are housed in our bodies. As Nancy Mairs puts it, “No body, no voice; no voice, no body. That’s what I know in my bones.”
In other words, our very bones carry our knowing.
Writing your body brings you into deeper connection with this knowing, which puts you directly in touch with your voice.
For this reason, I devote an entire class in my course Excavate Your Truth/Free Your Voice to what I call “embodied writing.”
One of the exercises from this class that always results in a chorus of “ahas” is called “Body Timeline: Discovering Your Body’s Narrative Arc.”
First, a little background on memoir writing.
Memoir stories are made up of turning point moments from our life experiences.
A turning point moment is an event or a moment of awareness that irrevocably changes you. You are not the same after this moment as you were before.
Turning point moments create a timeline of events that give shape to a narrative arc.
One way to generate material for writing memoir is to brainstorm the turning point moments in your life and then to explore these moments in writing to see what they yield—to discover the deeper themes these moments contain.
In the following writing exercise, rather than generate a list of turning point moments from the sweep of your entire life, I want you to focus on the turning point moments of your physical body.
In other words, think of your body as having its own story, its own narrative, its own timeline. What are the turning point moments in the life of your body that changed you? Moments that left you different afterwards than you were before?
For example, developing breast buds, first bra, first period, first kiss, first sexual experience, pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, miscarriage, illness, disability, rape, last period, weight gain, weight loss, breast feeding, choosing not to have children, a time you were treated as a sex object and not as a person and you realized it for the first time, the first time you realized you were a girl.
Don’t worry about the order of your body’s turning point moments. Your Body Timeline does not have to be chronological.
Body Timeline: Discovering Your Body’s Narrative Arc
Step 1. Set your timer for 10 minutes. Generate your body timeline in whatever order your body’s turning point moments appear to you.
Step 2. Read your list out loud to yourself.
Step 3. Circle an event on your Body Timeline that calls to you.
Step 4. Set your timer for 10 minutes and write this event.
Step 5. Repeat Steps 2-4 as often as you wish to continue generating “embodied writing”: the stories you know in your bones.
Bonus Step. Once you’ve written a handful of pieces from your body timeline, reread them together. What patterns do you see emerging from piece to piece? What images reappear? These patterns contain your deeper truth, your universal themes being voiced through a body that knows in its bones the story that wants to be told.
In the comments below, share with us one turning point moment from your Body Timeline. It’s always fascinating to see the overlap—how much we have in common as women writers.