Becoming Whole: Writing Your Healing Story by Linda Joy Myers belongs in your library of books about memoir. Like Tristine Rainer’s Your Life as Story, Maureen Murdock’s Unreliable Truth: Memory and Memoir, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and Patty Miller’s The Memoir Book, all of which have been mentioned or reviewed here, this book carves out a specific niche within the multi-variant world of memoir.
The subtitles of memoir books usually offer clues to the particular niche the author aims for. This time we have memoir as “healing story.” Myers is a practicing psychotherapist in the San Francisco Bay Area who teaches memoir writing classes and has written her own memoir, Don’t Call Me Mother. The author uses occasional snippets from her own memoir as examples of the writing principles she describes, and throughout the book she draws upon her own experience with memoir writing as a way to frame issues for the reader.
Becoming Whole offers very practical guidance combining some of the free writing exercises Natalie Goldberg made famous with a whole field of memoir-as-therapy. Have you ever heard of a writing therapist? Music therapy and art therapy probably sound more familiar, but writing therapy is making its way, too.
Early in the book Myers refers to research conducted by James Pennebaker, professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and published in his 1990 book Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions. In this book Pennebaker described a study comparing a control group of people who were asked to write lists and plans for the day with another group who used the same 15 minutes to write about “your very deepest thoughts and feelings” about the “most traumatic moments in your life.” The positive health impact on the second group was remarkably different from the first.
Based on this research, previous pioneers (Willhelm Reich), and subsequent studies, a field of writing and psychology has emerged. Stephen Lepore and Joshua Smythe have pioneered something they call The Writing Cure. Myers builds on this psychological base to create her own book for writers that could also serve as a guide for therapists and writing teachers who are drawn to the idea of writing as healing. Writing about positive emotions and a positive future leads to improvement in both physical and mental health.
The book contains very practical guidelines and suggestions for how to organize fragments of memory into an integrated whole. I recommend that you add it to your library and don’t just borrow it from the library. This is a book that begs for notes in the margins and underlining (all my books are such beggars!). I will leave you with a quote from Myers that describes the benefits of writing as therapy: “When you write a healing memoir, one that probes the depth and breadth of your identity and sense of self, you will find yourself at a place different from where you began–and you will know the place for the very first time.”
T. S. Eliot said the same thing, of course, earlier and more poetically. But Myers does something poets seldom, if ever, do. She charts a path for how such transformation might take place.