Be a Witness

About a year ago, my friends and I created a writing group.  We meet weekly on Zoom and we encourage each other to write, record and preserve our stories and our personal histories.

To coach my friends more effectively, I’ve been re-reading the text used in a memoir class I took at BYU many years ago called Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola.  It was in that class (Fall Semester 2012), taught by Ann Dee Ellis, that I grudgingly started keeping this blog to fulfill a semester-long class assignment.  She required us to create a blog, then write on it for 8 minutes every day.  I didn’t want to do it.  I am an avid journal keeper and I felt I was already writing plenty every day.  I felt this assignment was just adding one more thing to my very busy schedule.  But I did it.   Thank goodness.

In our writing group, we have been talking and writing about difficult issues in the family.  It was good to review these ideas from from Tell It Slant (p. 22) on Writing the Family:

If we are going to write successfully about family, our motives must be more than simple exposure of family history and secrets. We must have some perspective on our experience that spurs the essay beyond our own personal “dirty laundry” and into the realm of literature.

Our role as writers can be that of the witness. We continually bear witness to those around us, and sometimes our job is to speak for those who have never spoken for themselves. When we write about our families or take on the mantle of the biographer, we are really writing (and forgiving) community. . . .

Think about yourself as a witness and your writing will take on greater weight and urgency. As you write about the other people who populate your memories and life, you will do so with a clearer sense of purpose that will elevate your writing beyond the purely personal.

The assignment I gave my writing friends this week was to make a list of people who have had some kind of profound influence in their lives, then each week, write a paragraph or a page about one of those people.  They might be family members, friends, or mentors.  We can be witnesses of the goodness of others and the influence they had on us.  If it’s not recorded, it may never be known.

Another good reason for writing our fingers to the bone.

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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1 Response to Be a Witness

  1. Dmw says:

    Excellent view of writing personal/family history. Said much better that I’ve read before. Why slant? As in opinion or viewpoint?

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