I invited freelance writer Cheryl Butler Stahle to guest post on my blog today about how she found her passion for memoir. I discovered Cheryl on memoir-writer Sonia Marsh’s Gutsy Indie Publishers Facebook group, an informative and supportive group for authors on the self-publishing journey. Cheryl is the founder of Your Best Writing Group, where she specializes in “finding the tiny gems of life and polishing them into vibrant stories.” She creates writing workshops for school kids and for adults, and insists, “YOU have a story to tell.”
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You should write a book. How many times have I heard that over the past 20 years? Granted my life has certainly had twists and turns, but interesting? Not really. My day-to-day existence is quite simple: teacher of at-risk high schoolers; adoptive parent; writer; midlife divorcee; recipient of not one but two economy-based layoffs; work-aholic. And, least I forget, that whole ugly incident in February when I shattered my foot rappelling in Costa Rica. OK, so maybe there is a story or two in there, but none quite ready to fall onto paper.
I have fulfilled my desire to write by publishing magazine articles, hosting a blog, and writing the hometown hero column in a monthly online magazine. Pieces of my life have appeared in articles and blogs. Apparently my adventures are pretty comical based upon what readers share.
Many of my published stories focus on my adopted son, Joshua, and our adventures as a mother/son pair. Finally becoming a mother was when I embraced my love of memoir writing. I traveled to Russia in 1996, landing right in the middle of the Soviet military machine to bring a sickly baby to the U.S. Our trip involved AK-47s, screaming Russian border agents (I still can’t understand Russian even when you yell at me), a Rottweiler, and “pimping out” a hunky U.S. police officer traveling with us to a female-staffed KGB office in exchange for expedited visas. We maneuvered through a rule-less system relying on sheer wit in order to adopt.
Most importantly, through this experience I learned to smile when scared to death and survive when completely out of my element. I also found resilience tucked away inside of me. These life lessons have appeared in my memoir vignettes time and time again. The resilience of people fascinates me, especially when they turn very simple moments into something life altering.
Over fifteen years ago I began working as an English teacher at an urban high school with at-risk teenagers. You know these kids, the ones you cross the street to avoid when paths pass at night. I certainly had an eye-opening experience those first few years in the classroom, but once my street cred grew, the kids started talking. I became the student as they taught this sheltered, middle-class, white yuppie a thing or two about real life and survival.
While I could get the kids to talk, transferring their stories into writing became a challenge, but once a tale landed on paper, it lasted forever. These stories were too precious to lose so capturing them became my mission. First, I created a series of activities to entice students’ words onto paper. I layered the prompts with different challenges and levels of difficulty. The activities touched upon all aspects of life from family, self-identity, childhood and dreams. I learned which activities worked and which ones didn’t, so after a decade or so of teaching, crafting student memoirs became a district-wide project for all students from the youngest to the oldest.
Seeing the excitement from my kiddos year after year nudged me back into the adult world where I started running memoir-writing groups and workshops. Adults have stories to tell too! So when asked again to write a book, the one that landed on paper is my newest release Slices of Life: The Art and Craft of Memoir Writing, published by 10 Keys Publishers. This how-to guide leads readers down a path to tell their life stories.
With this book now off the launching pad, I am focusing on my next writing adventure: one of my many slices of life.
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Thanks, Cheryl, for this inspiring piece of life writing. Cheryl and I have something in common: our love of memoir-writing came from encouraging others to write their “everyday” amazing stories.
Slices of Life: the Art and Craft of Memoir Writing is available at Cheryl Stahle’s website as well as on Amazon. Find Cheryl’s adventures on FaceBook at Your Best Writing Group or by following her on Twitter. She still teaches English, and she runs writing groups helping authors of all ages and abilities capture life stories.