As an added bonus for November Is Lifewriting Month, we are pleased to be able to include a guest post by Nina Amir, “Write Your Memoir as Sacred Text.” Nina is a prolific writer whose site you will do well to visit. Be sure to purchase her How to Blog a Book. Enjoy her post and please leave your comments below.
Write Your Memoir as Sacred Text
November Is Memoir Writing Month offered so many opportunities for writers to tell their stories. And we each have a story that will, indeed, inspire someone.
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Here’s a process to help you put multiple-layers of meaning into any memoir, vignette or essay you write that’s based on your lifestory. It comes from the tradition of reading sacred texts on a variety of levels. I suggest you use this exercise to read your life like a sacred text. Then you can write about it in the same manner. That’s sure to inspire many people who read your work.
This process is also one you can do quickly and easily post November is Lifewriting Month or National Nonfiction Writing Month, also known as the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge. Put it to use and you’ll quickly have the makings of an inspiring memoir, essay or lifestory of any type.
Understanding Our Lives as Sacred Text
The first step in the process involves acquainting yourself with the four levels on which you could understand any life event or experience. When you find you study your life, it’s really like reading your life like a book—like a sacred text. Once you understand the meaning of any event on a deeper level, you can then write about it like a sacred text as well.
The four levels of meaning are:
- the intended or simple
- the allegorical or hinted
- the metaphorical or interpreted
- the secret or mystical
1. The Intended or Simple Meaning
Choose a life event to write about. First, try writing about this life event from the perspective of its simple meaning. This is a literal representation of what happened. Be a journalist. Simply report the facts as you know them. You can describe the places and the people as well as the dialogue and the events, but don’t embellish with anything that creates an “angle” that would sway a reader one way or the other (positive or negative.)
Like a journalist, include the who, what, where, when, and why. For example: In 1967, my father had a massive heart attack and died before he hit the bathroom floor of the apartment he rented in Manhattan.
2. The Allegorical or Hinted Meaning
Using the same life event for this second exercise of memoir as sacred text, now write about it again but this time hint at the possible meaning the event had in your life or in the lives of others. We say hindsight is 20-20. If you have some idea of why this event occurred, the lesson it imparted, how it changed you or others, find a way to show this using allegory.
An allegorical treatment of a life event might use symbols or symbolic characters, which means you must weave symbolism into your real-life events; this makes your work creative nonfiction to some extent. You’ll want your work to portray truths or generalizations about human existence, some sort of universal message, but don’t do this blatantly. Just hint at it. For example: In 1967, my father died. Like a charioteer disappearing into the heavens, he took with him so much more than just his physical presence. I would spend much of my life not only trying to reconnect with but also emulating what I lost that October day.
3. The Metaphorical or Interpreted Meaning
In this third exploration into the same life story of memoir as sacred text, try being more outspoken about your own interpretation of the experience you are describing by using metaphors. This means you must retell the story, this time finding words and phrases that take one thing and refer it to another to show or suggest that they are similar. In this way you infer meaning, you give your piece an “angle.” You interpret your story in a descriptive manner. You show, don’t tell. Yet, you clearly let the reader know what you think your story means. This gives it, once again, a universal meaningful and inspiring message. For example: In 1967, my father’s heart ruptured. When his body hit the floor of the bathroom in the Manhattan apartment, his dead 6-foot, burly frame shook more than the building. I’m not sure how long it took his spirit to flow out of his body, but the reverberation of that moment and the constant stream of ways that his death affected my life continued and continues as I both sought out and emulated the masculinity, entrepreneurship, and zest for life he demonstrated in the seven short years I was his daughter on this plane.
4. The Secret or Mystical Meaning
In the fourth, and last exercise of memoir as sacred text, telling of your story, creatively recount your life event by searching through your memory for the secret meaning you’ve never before found. The mystics throughout the ages have found elements in sacred texts, such as words with similar numerical values that they claim have similar meanings, and they have used these to find deeper meaning and inspiration from the stories. Using that special sight, we have only when we view the past from the present, study your life event to find a message you might have missed previously. Is it one you can share with others to inspire them? Can you now infuse your story with a deeper, mystical or spiritual element you’ve uncovered?
Writing Memoir as Sacred Text Takes More Than a Sentence or Two.
If I were to retell my story again from a mystical perspective, I might write about how:
- I followed in my father’s footsteps as an entrepreneur
- I display many masculine traits that make me stronger as a person
- I was told my father is one of my spirit guides and I call on him for guidance
- I’ve carried on my father’s chosen name
- I found my spiritual path quite differently without him here.
All of this shows how my father’s death molded me to become who I am today. That, in and of itself, is an inspirational message and one that requires looking deeply into your story for hidden meaning—for memoir as sacred text
Explore a Level a Week of Memoir as Sacred Text
Exploring your life events from many angles, or from many levels, can help you find one that works best for you or that has the most impact for your readers. And you may learn something new about yourself or the experience itself in the process that helps you create a story that’s more inspiring to tell.
This process is a great one to use. Write about your life experience from one level each week. You’ll end up with four unique pieces about one event by the end of a short while. If you prefer, try the exercise with four different life events (perhaps one each week). If you need some inspiration, check this workbook. Let me know what you discover. I’ll answer your comments below.
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