The Redemptive Power of Writing Memoir – Guest Post by Sue William Silverman


Growing up, I lived a double life.  On the face of it, we seemed like a normal, happy family:  My father had an important career.  We lived in nice houses and wore pretty clothes.  But all this seeming perfection was a veneer, a façade, for the other life.  It masked the reality that my father sexually molested me, a reality never spoken aloud either in our house or in public.

Before I began to write about my childhood, I didn’t understand this double life or the devastation it caused.  Instead, for years, the past appeared in my mind’s eye like faded black-and-white photographs, in which no one, especially me, seemed to be fully alive.

Then, I started putting words on the page.  Finally, I chose to examine my past.  Finally, it was more a relief to write my life than to ignore it, a relief to develop a clear focus and vision. 

I’ve been asked:  Isn’t it painful to write about the past, all those scary childhood memories? 

Yes, writing about pain was painful—but it was also a profound relief.  With every word the pain lessened.  It was as if I extracted it, one word at a time.            

Most memoirists I know are scared to write their stories.  But the point is to write anyway—on your own terms.  As you challenge yourself, you’ll feel more courageous every day. 

This may sound obvious, but the only way I know to work through difficult material is to do just that—to go through it one word at a time—to bring dark places to light.  To skirt a truth, to sidestep it, is to be emotionally vague.

Memoir writing, gathering words onto pieces of paper, helps me reduce a dark place to a manageable size.  By discovering plot, arc, theme, and metaphor, I give my life an understandable and clear organization.  Memoir creates a narrative, a life story. 

Writing my life is a gift I give to myself—and, I hope, to readers.  To write is to be constantly reborn.  Now, I no longer hide behind a veil of secrets. 

 After writing my secrets, my life feels lighter.  I step into the world more authentically, more honestly alive.



University of Georgia Press, paperback

Watch book video trailer on YouTube at


Everyone has a story to tell. “Fearless Confessions” is a guidebook for people who want to take possession of their lives by putting their experiences down on paper—or in a Web site or e-book.  Enhanced with illustrative examples from many different writers as well as writing exercises, this guide helps writers navigate a range of issues from craft to ethics to marketing and will be useful to both beginners and more accomplished writers.

Author Sue William Silverman says:  “It’s crucial to cultivate the courage to tell one’s truth in the face of forces—from family members to the media—who would prefer that people with inconvenient pasts remain silent.”




Sue William Silverman’s memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction (W. W. Norton), is also a Lifetime Television original movie.  Her first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, won the AWP award in creative nonfiction.  She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and her most recent book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir, published with the University of Georgia Press (video book trailer at  As a professional speaker, Sue has appeared on The View, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Headline News.  For more about Sue, please visit


4 thoughts on “The Redemptive Power of Writing Memoir – Guest Post by Sue William Silverman

  1. I can understand a writer’s need to write a memoir but not publish it for many reasons. But I read once that after you die your estate can do whatever they want with your work, including publish things you’ve specifically said you don’t want published. Of course, I’d be dead so how much would I care but…do you think estates should be allowed to do this?

  2. Hi, Jodi, yes, I agree: Just because you write something does NOT mean you have to publish it. And, of course, one can keep a private diary or journal, with no expectation to publish at all.

    I’m not sure about the legal questions surrounding one’s work after you die–but now that you mention it, I think I’ll look into it! Maybe I should destroy all my old stuff now, stuff that I’d never want anyone to read.

    From my perpsective, then, the answer is NO: I don’t think that work should be allowed to be published after you’ve died. If you wanted it published, you would have done it yourself. Scary, isn’t it?!

  3. In writing about ourselves, we inevitably write about those closest to us. In my personal essays, I often write about painful or difficult things in our family that my husband would prefer I keep private. I believe that my essays help others, but I don’t want to upset my husband. How do you deal with this kind of situation? Have you ever written something that you decided not to make public because it would hurt someone else?

  4. Hi, Gaijinmama,
    That is always a tough issue, for sure: How to balance between the public and the private. No one answer fits all, of course, since it’s such a personal decision.

    That said, for me, I usually choose to write what I need to write, doing so as gently as possible. In other words, as a writer, I believe that I own my stories, and that that’s what writers do: we tell our stories.

    I know my ex-husband was upset about the publication of “Love Sick.” However, I feel as if I protected his privacy as much as possible by staying focused on MY story. But even though he was upset, I still felt very clear that I had to write my story, anyway. I hope this helps a little?!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s