Unfortunately I was late to Natalie Goldberg’s talk about memoir writing, but I did come home with notes and a signed copy of her famed classic Writing Down the Bones. Ms. Goldberg read from her new writing memoir Old Friend From Far Away, inspiring the audience as well as herself as she hadn’t looked at her new release since it was first published in hardcover early last year. Her new book is filled with writing prompts such as “What do you know that you don’t want to know – go, ten minutes.” She read a beautiful descriptive example of a moment in Paris to illustrate how you should write “so others can feel what we felt and be enlarged.” She disclosed that the book was written in the throes of heartbreak, after a long-term relationship ended. She hiked in the woods, stopping to write chapters as they came to her.
I raised my hand to say that unless there is a defining event in one’s life, many memoir writers have a difficult time connecting their smaller stories, and asked if she had any comments on how to connect those dots. She referred me to one of her earlier books, Thunder and Lightning, and said we must find that link that brings it all together – “what throbs, what beats” through the stories. She also commented that in order to tell the past, you must be in the present and you will be informing the future…something to think about.
Ms. Goldberg was quite inspiring as she urged us all to write our memoirs not as a selfish endeavor, but to give pleasure to others – to “surrender ourselves as an act of generosity to others… Because it all goes down the drain when you die!”