Memoirs of the Soul: Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography

Memoirs of the Soul: A Writing Guide gently leads writers from accessible subjects into the heart of meaningful experiences. This easy-to-follow process produces profound, polished memoirs. For both classrooms and individuals. Clear instructions, examples, writing tips. Memoirs of the Soul: A Writing Guide identifies subjects for chapters, prompts spontaneous writing, shows how to breathe life into your writing, and transforms your most significant experiences into compelling memoirs. Furthermore, you ll gain insights and appreciation of your inner life as you tell your story, a story that will be irrevocably lost unless written during your lifetime. This revised and updated second edition of Memoirs of the Soul: A Writing Guide contains new chapter material, an entire new chapter, and a forward by popular writing teacher Hal Zina Bennett. This edition has been completely redesigned in a larger format with layflat binding for ease of use while writing. Originally published by an imprint of Writer’s Digest, this book was highly recommended by the Library Journal. Memoirs of the Soul: A Writing Guide recently won first place in the 2012 Reader Views Literary Awards Writing/Publication category.


Highlighting the differences between autobiographical writing and memoir writing, Phifer urges amateur writers to write of the inner life, or times of joy or crisis or profound contentment. She offers a structured, well-organized process for writers to follow, which includes specific exercises, inspiring quotations, and examples of student work from her memoir-writing workshops. . . this how-to is highly recommended for all public libraries. –Library Journal, January 2002

Whether or not you are writing a memoir or fiction, the exercises in Memoirs of the Soul will challenge you to write with more depth, more sense of place, more feeling and will give your writing an emotional impact that it lacked before. –Sue Bronson, Writers NW, Winter Vol. 16, No. 4

Her carefully phrased prompts, instructions, and examples ask writers to begin at the surface of their existence and to burrow deeper and deeper into their hearts and minds. With each chapter, she challenges would-be memoirists to take another step inward, to inch closer to their own souls. In many ways, Phifer s book is like a deep-sea diving expedition or an archeological dig where the depth of the self is revealed layer by layer, league by league, chapter by chapter. –Professor W. KeithDuffy, The Journal of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning, An Affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of English, Winter 2004-2005, Volume 10

“Many emerging memoirists have trouble getting to the core of their stories. Memoirs of the Soul will be forever on my recommended lists for them and for more advanced writers who simply need to be inspired.”—Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Author and instructor, UCLA Extension Writers’ Program

“ . . . So what makes this book different from all those other books out there? This author focuses on the writer getting to know themselves- as she says the “inner” you. . . . Each chapter builds on the previous one and as you write you will find you have more than enough material to include. There are sections on proof-reading, rough drafts and having others read what you have written. Not only is this guide, “Memoirs of the Soul,” a tool for writing, it also is very therapeutic.”–Carol Hoyer, PhD, Reader Views

About the Author

Nan Phifer serves as an associate director of the Oregon Writing Project at the University of Oregon. In addition, she leads workshops for writers groups, religious organizations, academic conferences, libraries, and interfaith assemblies. Nan Phifer leads workshops in memoir writing that range from monthly sessions in Indianapolis to retreats in the Rocky Mountains to nationwide online teaching. She has helped everyone from high school dropouts to devoted pastors explore and share their spiritual labyrinths. She brings her impressive experiences and tested wisdom to this book, and offers even more descriptive exercises and rich examples in this second edition.
Topics: Spiritual Exploration & Practice. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books and Interfaith.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Memoirs of the Soul: Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography

  1. Review

    Nan Phifer is associate director of the Oregon Writing Project at the University of Oregon. In 1998 she created a workshop, Writing The Spiritual Memoir, which is sponsored jointly by the Lane Literary Guild, the Pastoral Care Department of Peace Health Medical Group, and the Oregon University Writing Project. In this book, a treasury of her experience and the experiences of others, she offers to guide the reader on a "Voyage of the Soul" to discover the spiritual dimension of your life. She uses the word spiritual to "refer to the essential and activating principle at the center of your being, your intangible essence. It encompasses but is not limited to experiences traditionally thought of as religious. It refers to your inner life, the part of yourself at your vital core and the animating force within you."

    The voyage of discovery can be undertaken by writing your memoirs, "about the experiences, people and places most important in your life." The project of writing will not only result in a lasting record of the significant experiences of your life, but the process of writing will help you identify "previously unrecognized" spiritual dimensions of your life. Reflecting the experience of herself and others with whom she has worked, the author suggests that the project and the process of writing your memoirs will "stimulate personal, spiritual growth."

    The author distinguishes between the writing of memoirs and an autobiography. An autobiography is a broad, narrative overview of a life from birth to the time of writing. Using the image of the labyrinth map of paths which lead one from the other edge toward the center, writing a memoir is a process of moving from the outer dimensions of your life to the inner core where "you may gain insights, make discoveries and arrive at a sense of balance and wholeness."

    The heart of the book consists of twenty four short chapters, which provide step-by-step strategies to help you begin, persist, and complete the process of moving to the center of your "spiritual labyrinth" by undertaking the project of writing the memoir of your journey. The author provides two kinds of guideposts in each chapter. One series relates to where you are in the project of writing. She provides pointers on steps of the writing process including such areas as gathering and storing lists of ideas, writing a quick rough draft, reading the draft to yourself, getting feedback by reading your work to another person or group willing to listen, revising the first draft, and completing a final draft. The other series relates to leading you in the process of moving through the labyrinth. The early chapters begin with your "outer life" identifying the people, places and events which shaped you and the course of your life. The author poses a series of questions, which help you to reflect upon the spiritual dimensions of these significant realms.

    Later chapters concentrate on helping you write directly of the "inner life" which embraces such dimensions as aspirations, longings, love, joy, confronting crisis, hopes, dreams and visions. The chapters are illuminated by quotations from well-known people and excerpts from memoirs written by people known to the author.

    The book has been designed to be used by individuals working alone, by people working as writing partners, and by participants in workshops and college classes. It is a guide that has been "tried and tested" by the author and those she has guided on the quest. It is her hope that for those who undertake the project and the process, the result will be "both to discover and to record your very essence, your soul." Although I usually find "how to" books tedious at best, I found this book so animated and evocative, I am seriously thinking about embarking on the voyage!

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