On Writing Memoir – Capture the Shimmering Moments

girl writing in notebook outdoors

I could never write a memoir—my life isn’t that interesting. Have you ever said that? That’s exactly how I felt before I attended my first memoir workshop with Claire Robson, author of Love in Good Time (2003 memoir) and Writing for Change: Research as Public Pedagogy and Arts-based Activism (2012).

I signed up for Claire’s weekend memoir intensive in 2008, just weeks after hearing some news that had turned my life upside down and left me grasping for meaning. I was already interested in writing fiction so I thought I might pick up some writing tips. It also seemed like a good time to examine my past for insight into why I was in the mess that I was in. But there was no way I would have enough material for a memoir—my life wasn’t that interesting.

During the weekend, Claire had us look back in our lives and pick out what she called the shimmering moments. Those moments that shone and glimmered when we considered a specific place, time, or person from our past. Thinking back, sifting through the murk of our lives, and noticing when a moment shimmered its way to the surface of our conscience. And then capturing it.

shimmering moments light through trees reflection on water
         Capture the shimmering moments.

We wrote the scene, the place, the characters, the dialogue, the feelings. All the associated parts of a moment in time that called to us. I produced two pieces of writing that made me proud that weekend. Just two. But it was a start. A start that told me there would be more to capture and explore.

Scattered among the moments that weekend were glimpses of fights, booze, lies, addiction, sex, secrets, and shame. While simultaneously too heavy to share, they also felt necessary to share. My life was not unimportant. My experience could offer insight to others. But I knew I wasn’t ready. I had been suppressing my dark side for several years, trying to be the perfect citizen, wife and mother. I wasn’t ready for my kids to see anything dark. I wanted them to stay in the light for as long as possible.

By the end of the weekend, I told myself (and others) that I would write a memoir but that I wouldn’t publish it until my daughter was fifteen. She turned fifteen this year. I’m aiming to have my first draft complete in three weeks.

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4 comments

  1. Oh my girl, I am so freaking proud of you for digging deep and bringing your memoir to us. We will chat privately. I love you.

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    1. Thank you, Auntie Margie! Your beautiful daughters are an inspiration, helping others to have the courage to share. They are leaders in the no-shame movement! xo

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  2. I am always stunned at how quickly you work. I feel like my story has *just* found a natural ending and it is time to write it now. You inspire me Sheila. I can’t wait to read your story.

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    1. Paula, it hasn’t been quick at all! I wrote 95% of the shimmering moments in 2011. Then I spent 2013-17 in Toastmasters looking for my voice. Most of 2018 I worked on clearing my plate to prepare myself for where I am at right now. In July I pieced the old stories together with some new writing. So August is very focused on re-writing with a clear, intentional voice that will flow well and hopefully resonate with other truth-tellers like yourself. I’m still not sure I have an ending. Leaving this story behind feels more like a beginning. xo

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