Writing is how we learn about ourselves. It is how we come to understand ourselves. To understand the intricacies and complexities, the nooks and crannies of our minds, our hearts, our spleens. As Joan Didion famously wrote, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Memoir is a deep, highly creative form of self-reflection. Maybe even the ultimate form.

“Memoir is a journey of the soul as much as a window into it,” writes Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D, and Brooke Warner in their wonderful, stirring book The Magic of Memoir: Inspiration for the Writing Journey“The writing of our personal stories is both an opportunity and a gift.” It is an opportunity “to uncover tender truths that we perhaps didn’t fully own or understand before…”

Which is certainly the magic of writing.

According to Myers and Warner, the magic of memoir is in how everything around us becomes potential inspiration for the journey. They asked other writers about the magic of memoir. Those interviews, along with a range of beautiful essays, appear in their book.

Below, are some of my favorite quotes. Whether you decide to pen a memoir or not, I hope these words inspire you to write. To explore your personal stories, even and especially the painful ones, the experiences that don’t, right now, make sense. To put yourself fully onto the page. After all, writing our hearts out is a magical way to connect to ourselves.

“When I dig mercilessly and with great, determined effort into the deepest parts of my own humanness and find the courage to articulate what wasn’t accessible to me before—and when that process slowly transforms the mute, the unsaid, into a resonant story; when fear, shame, longing, regret, grief, joy, desire and fierce love all become tangible; when I spin my life into something larger than myself; when I’m alone in my writing room on a day when I’m managing, in the words of Virginia Woolf, to put the severed pieces together, that’s the magic for me.” ~ Dani Shapiro, author of several memoirs, most recently Hourglass.

“It’s the moment when a personal story touches a deep and resonant universal chord—when a sentence in a memoir slays me deeply that I have to put the book down and think about how my entire internal world just shifted a millimeter to the left because of what I now know to be true that I didn’t know four seconds ago… I tell [my students] to focus on telling a story that will touch one reader so deeply that it will alleviate a moment of suffering. To write a book that inspires a random moment of kindness. To tell a true story that gives someone a brief, fierce explosion of hope.” ~ Hope Edelman, author of the memoirs Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothers. 

“The magic of writing memoir is that I discover myself. The magic of reading memoir is that I also discover myself.” ~ Sue William Silverman, author of three memoirs, including The Pat Boone Fan Club.

“Memoir writing, for me, is about discovery. I now understand my life in a way that I never did before. Sure, I knew the facts of my life, or at least the ones I could remember. But even though I’d had lots of therapy and thought of myself as an introspective, self-aware person, I had only a cursory understanding of my story. I knew the skeleton but relatively little about the blood, the tissue, and, most of all, the heart. Writing my memoir breathed life into my skeleton. It put skin on the bones and hair on the head. I discovered the meaning of my journey—in short, my story.” ~ Peter Gibb, author of King of Doubt, from the essay, “The Shower and the Fish.” 

Writing a memoir is magical in many, many ways. You don’t need to publish your words to have them be meaningful or transformative. It is in the process of writing about ourselves, about our moments and memories, about difficult experiences, about the dark and the light that our eyes are opened and wisdom is gained.

Photo by Simson Petrol.