A memoir writer is an artist. If you are writing your lifestories, you have begun to do the work of the artist, to create as an artist creates. Although you may not think of yourself as a maker of art, you are engaging in the artist’s process of creating order out of chaotic reality.
To make art is to embark on a journey of discovery that leads inevitably, even if in a meandering way, to a greater understanding of yourself and your life. When you practice an art regularly and learn to do it well, your emotions and ideas are disciplined through working within the form of that art and they are transformed. This process of creation has the power to teach you how to live your life— and it will continue to provide insights as long as you pursue your art honestly and deeply. This, too, is the work of memoir writing.
Like all journeys, memoir writing has its rewards and costs, its successes and failures. And as with most journeys, the beginning when you embark on writing your memoir is filled with excitement and promise, but the middle part can get tedious and seem to be going nowhere. Like all artists, you will need to depend on the power of art making to see you through the process. Remember: a memoir writer is an artist.
There are different kinds of artists and many approaches to the making of art.
- For the time being, let’s call one kind the ARTIST. The ARTIST creates work in view of making statements that are not just personal but with a conscious view of speaking for and to a wider group. Sometimes this wider group is called audience or community. ARTISTS invest considerable energy into making work available to audiences. Some ARTISTS are very good at their work and probably leave you feeling you might never be as good. It’s a fact: most lifewriters will never be as technically proficient as these professional ARTISTS— even though most writers can attain many of the same personal benefits and achieve their personal goals for their art making.
- Another sort of “artist” is the person who has been chosen by corporations for super stardom. Among them are many exceptionally-talented people who truly are ARTISTS. However, in this category are also many media-generated minimally-talented personalities, whose purpose is to create wealth for themselves and for corporate publishers. These superstars of writing have been promoted as artistic “properties”. They have little to do with art—and all to do with generating significant income.
- Yet another kind of artist creates work not in order to reach a wide audience or to make personal work well-known but only in order to be involved in the process of creation. Essentially such artists are interested in knowing more about life: their innate qualities and shortcomings, how they work in relations to the world “out there”, how their development as a person has progressed and where it may lead. Most memoir writers probably fall into this category.
Anyone who has practiced an art form in order to understand, or merely participate in, the process of making art or of self-discovery is an artist. Everyone of us can be this sort of artist because there is, in the world of artistic creation, an open membership for all who wish to join. The power in art making is accessible to each one of us, and you can make it work for you as you write your lifestories.
As a lifewriter (and a memoir writer is an artist!), you are beginning a journey that will bring you many rewards along the way— not the least of which will be your sense of yourself as an artist. All too frequently in this country, the value of an activity is linked to the economic rewards derived from it. The worth of art-making, however, depends on the emotional and spiritual rewards the artist derives from the engagement.
- In your writing journal, record your experiences of being an artist. When you were a child, what did people in your family think of artists? When did you first sense that you might be or want to be an artist? How has your mate responded to your sense of yourself as an artist? Did that make you feel good about being an artist? What art forms have you practiced in your life? Which have been most satisfying to you? Can you tell why one form is more enjoyable to you than another? How does it feel when you tell someone that, in certain parts of your life, you are a writer or an artist?
- Do you think of yourself as an artist? Do you think you would like to be a professional ARTIST? What does that mean to you? Could you continue to work as an artist even if you received no income from your efforts? If you received no recognition? If so, you embody the truth that a memoir writer is an artist.
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