Memoir or Not with Elizabeth Kirschner


Memoirs are hot! But sometimes, they’re not.

How do you know when you should publish that sizzling memoir, or lock your possible best-seller in a vault and throw away the key? Elizabeth Kirschner, author of My Life as a Doll, is here today to share her thoughts on this very subject. Let’s see how she settled this sticky situation…

RIP: Why I Buried My Memoir

It is here, at Sea Cabin Retreat, in Kittery Point, ME where I wrote and revised my memoir, Walking With Winter, and it is here where it will remain. I have written R.I.P. on its cover and have given it, as I have other manuscripts, what I call a pet funeral.

Why, one might wonder, am I so willing to put aside work I labored over, quite literally, around the clock for months on end? Why not give the universe Walking With Water, which is about childhood abuse, mental illness, and very much as well with recovery, when I know it would help heal other trauma survivors?

The answer is simple-my memoir would devastate my large, extended family, all of whom, except for my siblings, have no clue about the abuse. Even what my siblings know is sketchy and that is the way I want it to be because with knowledge comes pain.

So why did I go undergo the marathon it took to churn out the memoir? Because, because, because when I embarked upon the project I had every intention of publishing it. I wanted that larger audience, believed fully that telling my story would help others, especially the victims of trauma, their families and caretakers.

In the end, my greatest accomplishment is not about this manuscript, but the triumph of my survival. Writing the memoir, when all is said and done, was my finishing school. It put me on a high learning curve as I meditated upon, often during long walks by the sea with my dog, the varying ways in which my experiences have impacted my life.

In short, Walking With Winter was my boot camp, and during the rigorous work of writing it I finally freed myself from the ghosts of Mother and Father who had ungodly power from the grave. It was a gift I gave myself and the experience, for me, was made complete by letting one person bear witness to it.

Together we spent two days reading the entire manuscript aloud, which was one of the most empowering things I’ve done in my life. When the last word hit space, we simultaneously hit the floor and screamed a scream which was both full of unholy horror and a halleluiah. That moment was my grande finale. It needed no applause and may the memoir and my memories rest in peace, alas, at last, but I wonder how many others have written R.I.P. on their memoir for better or worse.

-Elizabeth Kirschner

I’m always impressed with the courage of those who tackle harrowing life experiences in a memoir. But here, Elizabeth gives us an option to consider. Sometimes, the writing of a memoir is enough. Thank goodness, she doesn’t feel that way about her poetry!

She’s published three collections of poetry, including Twenty Colors, Postal Routes, and Slow Risen Among the Smoke Trees with Carnegie Mellon University Press. Most recently, she’s added a fourth book of poetry, My Life as a Doll, with Autumn House Press.

Elizabeth has also collaborated with many composers and has two CDs, both from Albany Records, that feature her work. In The Dichterliebe in Four Seasons, she set her own poetry to Robert Schumann’s gorgeous love song cycle. And in New Dawn, Carson Cooman has set to music eight of her poems. (How totally cool is that?) Elizabeth studies ballet and lives on the water at Sea Cabins Retreat in Kittery Point, ME.

I’ll bet that’s a fine place to write. And Elizabeth pens some mighty fine writing, doesn’t she? I’m sure she’ll be dropping in today if you’d like to ask a question about memoirs, poetry, or even Kittery Point. Thanks, Elizabeth for stopping by!

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8 thoughts on “Memoir or Not with Elizabeth Kirschner

  1. I read a piece a while back about estates publishing a writer's work after their death, even if they made it clear they didn't want it published. Have you destroyed this memoir or do you still have it and trust your family not to publish it? Do you think estates have the right to publish a writer's work after their death?

  2. I found this very powerful. It's hard to even find words. I know I have issues from my past I haven't let go of; I've considered doing unsent letters, or submissions to Post Secret. In the end, though, I do nothing, and it festers. Maybe I'm not ready to bury those memories as you have.Thank you for sharing your experience, Elizabeth, and thank you to Cathy for hosting! I think this will be on my mind all day.

  3. Thanks for writing. No, Jodi, I have not destroyed my memoir and it's troubling to know that estates can, but I doubt my family would want to publish it. You raise for me some matters I should be concerned about. I do take old manuscripts to the dump because I'd need a warehouse to hold all my old drafts. Still I should make it clear to one family member about my wishes. Thanks for the prompt. And, yes, Beth you do need to be ready. Writing is a powerful act and it does help silence our demons. And thank you, Cathy, for hosting me!

  4. I think this advice is so wise and I agree 100%. Elizabeth, you confronted your demons head-on the best way a writer can and have been absolved of the depression and bad effects they may have had on you. I think that's the benefit of journaling – expressing our feelings without worry about what a reader would think. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  5. Hi Elizabeth,I'm certain writing about your tragedy must've difficult, while at the same time a liberating. Thanks for sharing your experience, and thanks to Cathy for being such a gracious host in having you visit her blog.I look forward to your visit to Donna's Book Pub next week.Donna V.

  6. I'm so glad y'all were able to drop in for Elizabeth's wise words.So many great comments, giving me something to think about. Mostly, I think I'll bury my journals before I forget!

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