Your Memoir: an Arrest of Disorder

“Each poem clarifies something. But then you’ve got to do it again. You can’t get ‘clarified’ to stay so: let you not think that. In a way, it’s like nothing more than blowing smoke rings. Making little poems encourages a man to see that there is shapeliness in the world. A poem is an arrest of disorder.”
 Robert Frost, poet 

When I read the quote above, I did not have to make much of a leap to sense that the words apply to the task you and I undertake to write memoir. More than anything perhaps, we want to arrest the disorder that seems to be life. And so, we take our raw material–the events of our lives and of the lives of the people who surround us–and endeavor to make meaning of it all. In short, we take up our mishmash of events, our disorder of memories, and attempt to make order–or, at the least, minimize the disorder.

This rendering of order proves to be soothing. It is what we deeply wish to achieve in our lives–to have all the disparate and seemingly meaningless (or at least random) occurrences, wishes, pains somehow come together coherently, meaningfully. It all happened, we realize in an “A-ha!” moment, for some reason rather than by chance. This “arrest of disorder” is also what our reader wishes. (Readers read memoirs, I am convinced, not only to be entertained–as in “a good read”–but to find help in arriving at some sense of how life can–or even ought–to be lived. In the order you impose to life via the choices you articulate in your memoir, the reader hopes to learn how to achieve the same order in hers.

Having done the work of writing a short lifestory or even a lengthy memoir, you are perhaps, at first, satisfied.

“There, I’ve done it,” I hear you exclaim, but then I see you turn away. A moment of doubt has unsettled you.

“Have I really done what I set out to do?” you ask as you acknowledge your misgivings to yourself. Perhaps you have not really arrived at the end of this task. Perhaps you should continue writing–or more clearly, feeling your way through your material.

To quote Frost again: “But then you’ve got to do it again. You can’t get ‘clarified’ to stay so: let you not think that.” So…you rewrite your story. You pay special attention to the metaphors and the extended images. You cross out everything that seems distracting–a disorder of thought–and you make sure you have chosen the most judicious of words possible to express yourself.

And so you continue to apply yourself. There are discouraging moments when you are sure you are “blowing smoke rings.” But perhaps, too, there are exhilarating moments when you feel that you have arrested the disorder. Like Frost, you realize that “making (memoir) encourages a (person) to see that there is shapeliness in the world.”

Yes, this memoir passion of yours is a good one, a healthy one for you as it releases endorphins that keep you wanting more of the pleasure of writing. And, it’s good for humankind because it encourages us all to believe that possibly “there is shapeliness in the world.”

Keep writing because you and your family and your wider audience need the experience of “an arrest of disorder.”

And if your writing produces a stimulating release of endorphins…



About Denis Ledoux

Denis Ledoux began helping people to turn their memories into memoirs in 1988. Denis was named Lifewriting Professional of the Year by the Association of Personal Historians in 1996. Today, Denis is a writer, educator, teacher, autobiography co-author, memoir-writing coach, editor and publisher. He directs The Memoir Network, an international group of memoir professionals who use his method and materials to help people write lifestories. Denis also offers writing tele-classes and leads memoir writing tele-groups.
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2 Responses to Your Memoir: an Arrest of Disorder

  1. Wayne Groner says:

    Frost’s quote reminds me of my favorite writing quote, attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson: “It’s not enough we write to be understood; we must write so we cannot possibly be misunderstood.” When we arrest disorder we are doing away with being misunderstood.

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