WRITING YOUR SELF, Transforming Personal Material with John Killick & Myra Schneider

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“We wrote the book because we believe that personal writing is very potent both for the writer and the reader, because some of the greatest literature is rooted in personal material.” Myra Schneider in an interview with Jamie Dedes

It always seems to me that writing  about life – “personal material” –  is a healing activity, a way to live hugely, and a way to empower ourselves and others. Whether we do it for ourselves alone or whether our purpose is to leave history behind for family, to set the record straight, or simply to share and entertain, the experience is rewarding.

Writing Your Self is a comprehensive book organized into two parts:

  • Part I: Here the focus is on life experiences, the exploration of those human experiences that are universal. These include childhood, self-concepts, relationships, displacement, physical and mental illness and disability, and abuse.
  • Part II: Here the focus is on writing techniques, recognizing material that is unfinished, working on refinements, and developing work projects.

Writing Your Self is rich with examples from unknown (students) and known writers including the authors. By example as well as explanation the authors reinforce what we intuitively understand to be true: that telling stories preserves identity and clarifies the human condition. It helps us understand what it means to be human. The experience of working through the book is rather like a rite of passage.

I can see the use of this book by individuals training themselves and by teachers of adult learners who wish to write memoir, poetry, fiction, or creative non-fiction. It would be useful in hospital therapeutic writing programs or in writing programs for active seniors.

Memories, both recent and distant, tell us who we are and so play a crucial role in our experience of life…

You may have memories which you want to plunge into or you may have material like a diary or letters which summon them up. There are other ways though of triggering memories. We offer a series of suggestions. Chapter 13, Accessing memories, secret letters, monologues and dialogues, visualizations.

Chapter 13 alone is worth the price of admission. I work a lot off of childhood memories and even the event that happened two minutes ago comes back to me with a dreamlike quality when I sit to write. I have not thought of the things I do naturally as triggers, but indeed they are. It was quite interesting to see these natural aids laid-out in the book: objects and place as starting points, physical sensation as triggers, people in memory and predominant feelings. The section on secret letters – that is, letters that you write someone and never send – was interesting. I’m sure it would make a fine jumping-off point for some. The authors go on to monologues and dialogues and visualization. We all do those things in our heads anyway. If you can see it or hear it in your mind, you can write it.

If you are inexperienced or stuck midway in a transition from one form of writing to another, you’ll benefit from the exercises, ideas, and instruction in Writing Your Self: Transforming Personal Experience. If you are a more experienced writer, you might find this book will stimulate the muse. This text is a definite thumbs-up.

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Myra Schneider  is a British poet, a poetry and writing tutor, and author of the acclaimed book: Writing My Way Through Cancer.

John Killick was a teacher for 30 years, in further, adult and prison education. He has written all his life. John Killick’s work includes both prose works and poetry. 

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