Life Writing Yields Weight Loss & Other Benefits

by Memoir Mentor on July 30, 2014

My friend Lori Parker sent me an article published in Psychological Science claiming that certain kinds of personal, reflective writing can actually help you lose weight! How about that?


Simply put, a study found that a group of female undergraduates assigned to write an essay about a value that was important to them lost a few pounds over the next few months. Those in a control group assigned to write about something else did not. Why? Analysts concluded that when people write about subjects that reinforce their self-integrity, they develop more ballast to sustain them during life’s normal crises and are less likely to engage in emotional eating to feel good about themselves. Interesting, huh?

I’ve long known that writing life stories can yield an array of personal benefits. I observe it in my students time and again. Recently I taught a memoir writing class to a new group of middle-aged adults. I gave them a homework assignment to write a story about their childhood home and asked them to bring their stories with them the following week. I love my second classes with new students. They stride into the classroom wearing a renewed sense of themselves like a new suit of clothes. They fairly glow with pride. They learned something about themselves during the week through their writing, and they can hardly wait to tell me about it.

Even students who write about unpleasant things from their past derive benefits from the experience, though it may be hard going for a while. Writing about difficult issues can sometimes be a gut-wrenching experience, but in the end, and nearly always, writing about difficult topics from the distance of time and with increased maturity turns out to be a deeply healing endeavor that leads to self-understanding and renewal, and even forgiveness and charity to nearly everyone involved.

We all have a deep human need to be known and understood, even the most shy and introverted among us. We need confirmation that our lives have mattered, that we will be remembered when we’re gone. A few years ago, a close friend faced a serious surgery that she feared she might not survive. The night before her surgery, she confided in me that she had been raped as a teenager. She had never told anyone before, she explained, and it occurred to me with a painful insight that she had born this burden all her life and couldn’t bear to take it with her to her grave without someone else knowing. Zora Neale Hurston once said, “”There is no agony like bearing an until story inside you.”


Sometimes people feel that writing one’s memoirs is a selfish, vain endeavor, a complete waste of time. I’m of a different opinion. It’s a gift as nurturing to our overall mental, physical, and spiritual health as exercise, healthy eating, and meditation. And, hey, if we lose a few pounds in the process, well, that’s a good thing, too.


Me and Robert the Bruce

by Memoir Mentor on July 7, 2014


I’m embarrassed to admit I never heard of Robert the Bruce until I saw the 1995 Mel Gibson movie, Braveheart, the Academy Award-winning biopic of thirteenth-century war hero William Wallace.

Raibeart Bruis, as he was known in Norman French, was more of a peripheral character in Gibson’s story, though Wikipedia says Robert the Bruce was one of the most famous warriors of his generation, eventually leading Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence against England. He’s a national hero. The First King of Scotland. Who knew? As I said, I didn’t. I guess my attention was diverted by Gibson’s magnificent calves in his Braveheart kilt.

Flash forward a few years to about 2010. I was hunting through “Ancestry” one day and began looking more seriously at my Willoughby line. (Aside: Mary Jane Willoughby married John Ornduff. Their daughter Mary married Joseph Parrett, the Civil War ancestor I profiled in The Parrett Migration.) Anyway, the Willoughbys had always intrigued me because they were more illustrious by a long shot than the crop of farmers and coal miners that mostly people my family tree. Andrew Willoughby I (there are three Andrews, father, son, and grandson, and my line runs through all three), is sometimes called one of the founding fathers of Abingdon, Virginia, an early, thriving community in southwest Virginia. The three Andrews owned scads of land in Washington County and in Eastern Tennessee, particularly the Knoxville area, and are mentioned in a slew of documents, land records, town minutes, etc. After my experience piecing together the Parrett story from the few records that mention them, the Willoughby record coffers look like the mother lode. [click to continue…]


My Online Self-Publishing Success Story

by Memoir Mentor on July 3, 2014

Readers:  At the end of this post, click on the link to an online magazine I’ve created for you with articles related to this topic.


Some years ago my husband and I published Breathe Life into Your Life Story with a regular publisher. It takes a lot of work and luck to find a publisher willing to risk their time, money, and reputation on your book, especially if you’ve never published before. We were delighted to have snagged a company that we both admired.

Breathe Life BookIt was a small publisher, however, with a small budget and limited personnel and resources to put toward promoting our book. It’s only the Hillary Clintons who publish with the likes of Simon & Schuster that get the book tours and ads in the Sunday newspaper. But you know that. After our book came out, the promotion part was largely left to us, which we did through our teaching and seminars. Still, I’ve always felt a little swell of pride when I referred to “my publisher,” because it seems to give the book an extra stamp of approval, indicating that someone else liked it enough to put resources into it. Our publisher designed the whole thing—and did it well—and continues to print and sell it at no cost to us.

A New Day in Publishing

It has been seven years since Breathe Life came out, and during that time the self-publishing industry has matured and gained far greater acceptance. My decision this spring to self-publish The Parrett Migration seemed like a no-brainer. It would have been impossible to find a publisher interested in taking on a family history about an obscure family of farmers, no matter how well written the book. (A little pride showing here, folks.) If that farming family was, say, J. K. Rowling’s family, it would have been another story, of course.

Self-publishing was the way to go–but with whom? After looking at options that included local small presses and online offerings, I decided to go with an online, print-on-demand (POD) platform. Why? I didn’t want to have to estimate in advance how many books to print or handle distribution myself. If more people ended up wanting the book than I estimated, it would have been expensive to have a small press run a second printing. The same would be true if I decided I needed to change a few details later or correct some typos. With print-on-demand, customers order your book from an online bookstore, usually Amazon. Amazon prints books as they’re ordered and handles distribution for you, eliminating you having to deal with money or make regular trips to the post office.

After scoping out the various POD companies, I decided to go with CreateSpace because they are an Amazon parrett coveraffiliate, and they offer the best royalties. (By the way, I’m earning far more royalties per book for The Parrett Migration than I did with Breathe Life into Your Life Story—another benefit of online publishing.) So, what’s the downside? You have to design your book yourself—which means a lot of work–or hire someone to do it for you—which means a lot of money.

I hired designers to create some custom maps and format my cover and interior. I will likely never recoup in book sales what I put into designing it. I figured, though, that I had already spent thousands of hours researching and writing my book. I didn’t want to put more time into the book’s layout. Besides, I wanted it to look good—better than I could ever do myself. My cover and layout designers sent me pdf files of their final product in mid-May. I uploaded it on the CreateSpace website the next day. Within a week to ten days, I held a copy of the book in my hand. It was that fast. The book appeared on Amazon’s website on May 23.

I have no complaints with CreateSpace. I had a couple of questions during the process. Once I entered my question into their help menu and asked them to call me, I received a call within 30 seconds. I plan to make a few changes to the book at the end of the summer. I can make those changes and upload a new pdf to CreateSpace. The new version will appear on Amazon within a week.

There are other options besides CreateSpace you should check out, like Blurb, Lulu, and Lightening Source. I find that these companies are evolving quickly, continually upgrading their author services. Since publishing The Parrett Migration, Blurb and Lulu have also developed ties with Amazon. And Blurb is now offering BookWright, which provides a variety of formatting templates that may make formatting the book yourself a lot easier. If you click on THIS LINK, you can access an online magazine I’ve created for you through Flipboard. The magazine includes more than 25 recent articles about self-publishing with online publishers.

Of course, promoting my book still falls to me. More about that in a later blog post. If you have any questions about my publishing experience, please contact me.

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