Portraying Pain and Survival in Memoir by Amy Friedman

Amy Friedman

Amy Friedman photo credit: http://www.amyfriedman.net/


As someone who loves to read and write memoirs, I was inspired by Amy Friedman’s life story, and the lessons she offered memoir writers at the California Writers Club-Orange, on Saturday, November 8th, 2014.

Her presentation topic, “Portraying Pain and Survival in Memoir,” is one that she is intimately connected to herself, with her own memoir: Desperado’s Wife, a memoir about falling in love with a prisoner.

Amy Friedman holding book



Amy teaches creative writing and offered some helpful tools for us to consider when writing our memoirs.

“When you can write down something that troubles you, it can change you. Something changes in the brain.”

Amy made a comment that applies to memoir writers:

  • You have to let go of your agendas

What does this mean?

Well if you’re trying to prove something like, “I’m not crazy to have married a prisoner, ” Amy says, or

perhaps trying to prove that, “People in prison are people too.”

In other words, if your agenda is, I’m going to:

  • Show you
  • Prove to you
  • Teach you

Then you are probably going to lie on the page to prove your point.

This is a great point that I had not thought of, and it makes complete sense.

  • Don’t waste your time talking about your story; write about it instead.

Amy says that we waste energy when we talk about our story. Just write about it instead.

  • Write to discover what you don’t know about your story.
  • If you cannot remember stuff, start writing. Talking and thinking about it doesn’t make you remember it, but writing does.
  • Sometimes what you don’t remember is more interesting. Write about it.

Most memoir writers worry about what other family members might think, feel or fear.

  • You can’t worry about what others might think, feel or fear.

Amy reminded us that it’s important to write about what is gnawing at us.

Worry about it later when you think about publishing your story.

  • The more intimate and personal your writing, the more it’s about your truth, the more your story is relatable.
  • When you write and think that something is not important, pat attention to it, especially if you keep coming back to it.
  • When you write your memoir, tell your story first.
  • The reflection aspect of memoir, the “I think, I feel, I understand,” should come last.


When I wrote my memoir, Freeways to Flip-Flops: A Family’s Year of gutsy Living on a Tropical Islandit wasn’t until the very end that I figured out the message I wanted to convey to my readers.

When I write my next memoir, hopefully about my 27-months in the Peace Corps and the next “Gutsy” adventure in my life, I want to start with the message first as a way to outline my memoir. What do you think?

Amy stated that this is not a good idea. It’s like starting with an agenda. (See above.) Then you start your memoir and lie, in order to make everything fit the message. Amy confirmed that it’s normal to wait until the end to discover the message you want to convey to your audience.


Amy Friedman and me

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Amy Friedman and Sonia Marsh at CWC-OC Orange, CA.

 Amy Friedman: is an author and creative writing teacher whose books include Desperado’s Wife: A Memoir, Kick the Dog and Shoot the Cat, and Nothing Sacred: A Conversation with Feminism. She also works as a ghostwriter and editor, and her articles, essays and stories have appeared in magazines, newspapers and numerous anthologies. Since 1992 Amy has written the internationally syndicated newspaper featureTell Me A Story for Universal UClick, a column that has spawned two book collections and three audiobooks.

Amy lives in Los Angeles with her husband, the teacher and writer Dennis Danziger with whom she recently created POPS the club. Please visit POPS, Pain of the Prison System.

Her website: http://www.amyfriedman.net/

AMY FRIEDMAN will be on the NAMW “Breaking the Silence Teleconference ” on Friday, November 14th. Click here to find out more.



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