New Beginnings


January First is typically thought of as a day of new beginnings. This year and this post also mark the completion of 300! posts in this blog. In the spirit of New Beginnings, I’m expanding the blog's scope. For nearly three years and three hundred posts, I’ve concentrated almost exclusively on writing lifestories. Today, you’ll notice that the title has changed ever so slightly. Now, rather than being The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, one word is missing. It’s simply The Heart and Craft of Life Writing, a small but subtle distinction.

Over the course of time, especially the past year, I have become increasingly aware of the various facets of life writing and how they fit together. Some people can stick with a single focus for their entire lives and feel satisfied and happy. I’m not one of those people. I’m an adventurer, a wanderer, an explorer of new perspectives and insight, and eager to try things new ways. I need to follow this impulse to expand for my own reasons, and trust that you will find additional value also.

The facets of life writing as I currently see them include both processes and products, and they overlap all over the place, so the boundaries I describe below are arbitrary and loosely defined. The first three, autobiography, lifestory and memoir have been the focus to date, with the most attention given to lifestory writing. I’ve mentioned journaling, personal essay and documenting, but mostly in passing. The change in blog title reflects my growing interest in these latter three.
  • Lifestory — informal vignettes of specific memories and events written from a personal perspective. There is no right way to go about it. They can be as informal as a journal, as impersonal as a document, or as insightful as memoir. They can be rough drafts or highly polished. They can stand alone or be incorporated as elements in a longer work. They are the perfect place for a beginner to get started.
  • Memoir — a highly personal account of a specific period of aspect of life. Memoir emphasizes personal reaction and interpretation as much or more than events. It generally implies more literary focus and polish and may evolve from a collection of lifestories.
  • Autobiography (chronicling) — an overview of your life, generally written in chronological order. The focus tends to emphasize events and circumstances more than personal observation and interpretation.
  • Journaling — a repository of raw thoughts, memories, and insights. A tool for discovering insights and documenting and recording events. Journaling is highly personal and there is no right way to do it.
  • Documenting — memorabilia that genealogists treasure like a birth and marriage certificates together with constructed documents like a time line of your life, an account of a specific event including details. Many autobiographies serve to document the details of a life. These documents often serve as supplementary material for other writing.
  • Personal Essay — the other end of the line from documenting ... or maybe not. Essays document insights, beliefs, opinions, and interpretations rather than facts. An ethical will is a type of personal essay.
  • Poetry and music — valued and time-honored forms of expression, but these forms of life writing will remain outside the bounds of this blog.
Though the focus and title are broadening, much of the content will remain consistent, addressing topics like Truth, secrets, disclosure, and other key concerns. You may not even notice the expanded focus, but I’m a stickler for clearly defining the purpose of any piece or collection of writing, so the title had to change to reflect the expanded focus.

I wish you every blessing and success in this new calendar year and hope that it will be filled with written words as well as joy, growth, and expanded insight.

Write now: doodle some thoughts about the focus of your writing projects. What do you want to write about in the coming weeks and months? Do you have unfinished stories you want to polish? Do you seek publication, by others or your own devices? Expand your timeline. Add to your store idea list. Pull out an old story and polish it. Whatever you do, write!


Carole said...

Wow, this is good stuff! I'm encouraged everytime I come to your writings! So very interesting........
the timing - it's become a very personal journey for me, and all so helpful. I thank you Sharon. Carole

Ritergal said...

Thanks Carole. comments like yours keep my fingers moving on blog material. :-) In fact, I welcome direct questions that can form the basis for future posts, and will answer them personally also. My e-mail address,, is always on my profile page.

Jerry Waxler said...

Hi Sharon,

It's so brave of us to live through a year and face a brand new one. So here we go. I feel like one of those adventure movies, jumping into a waterfall down a fast waterway, and paddling as fast as I can. Thanks for maintaining community and guidance as we go together merrily down the stream.

Memory Writers Network

Ritergal said...

Jerry, I agree that it's brave, but then we don't usually have a choice. The bravery comes in what we do with it. and I appreciate you encouragement and support to keep me on my path. And all the thought-provoking insights on your blog.

Claire said...

thanks for this, sharon, some very helpful distinctions!
over this holiday period, i've been compiling a list of favourite words - words i love the meaning of, words i love the sound of, words i just like the look of on the page - i'm thinking of using them to kickstart some stories...
wishing you inspiration and joy for 2009 xx

Seizing Destiny said...

interesting post...I have often struggled with whether I am writing (as a poet & fiction author) too autobiographically, & yet when I contemplate telling my own stories, I think, "Hey wait you;re not famous, what are you doing telling your own life story?"!

I have only just resumed writing as an active pursuit, having focused almost exclusively on my visual arts for the past few years.
My writing blog is at:

My visual art blog is:

I look forward to reading more of your entries. btw I found you via alltop

Ritergal said...

I'm so glad the distinctions are useful. Most people are confused about this, and so was I when I began. Only recently have I seen the "package" as an organic whole and realized that if you want to display all facets of your personality and life, you need all these pieces. I don't think they'll fit together neatly in a single package.

But maybe that doesn't matter. In response to Seizing Destiny, I'd suggest that you just start writing for yourself and not worry just yet about publication. The longer I write, the more I realize that at least where my personal experiences are concerned, I may never find a traditional book-length memoir that will capture the imagination of the general public, but I'll keep churning out words because I'm discovering so much more about what I think, believe and am becoming. It's such an adventure!

Best wishes to all.

Bonnie said...

Hi Sharon. It's been awhile since I last visited. But every time that I do, is is quite gratifying.

I have honored you at my site with an award for your cultural, literary, ethical, and personal values! Come pick it up!


Tara said...

Happy New Year Ritergal and congrats on post #300!!!!

Ritergal said...

Thanks Tara. I think you've been around, at least off and on, pretty much since the beginning. Thanks for being hanging in! And Happy New Year to you too. May it bring everything you hope for.