Thursday, March 18, 2021

Life-Writing: Merging Feelings, Fact, and Fiction

The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing describes it as extending far beyond basic biography ( Running the gamut from a full life to day-in-and-day-out living, it transcends the limits of facts, fiction, people, animals, organizations, objects, and promotes embracing them all. 

Such a broad application is, to say the least, mindboggling. Breaking it down into single components makes it more mentally digestible; however, it's still challenging to wrap one's head around. For writers, however, it opens doors to a wide variety of possibilities and genres. Beyond personal works such as journals and diaries, it also includes autobiographies, memoirs, and more. 

Let's take life-writing down a different path, a step away from basic personal facts and into the field of fiction. Many people keep diaries and/or journals. I intermittently kept a diary as a young teen but never journaled. The older I grew, however, the greater my need for expression of life's disappointments and pain. Except for an unpublished short story and a published article, I didn't pursue serious writing until my sixtieth year. 

The first novel, currently undergoing its final (I hope) revision, took five years to write—five years to allow long-buried emotions to surface enough to transfer them to different characters. The second novel, completed a few years later, provided more characters and avenues for expression. Does fiction writing work like journaling as a platform for life-writing? No doubt it could because facts in one form or another create the underpinnings of most novels. 

One final thought: poetry works, too. While preparing to write this article, I reviewed a folder of personal poems I'd saved over the years. The earliest one was obviously written in elementary school; most were written decades later. While a lot them simply shared thoughts or observations, one in particular struck me as different. It's a bit long, but I am going to include it here as a poetic example of life-writing. (Another example is Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie* by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a book-length narrative poem I read in high school and one to which I would never dare compare my amateur attempts at verse.)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


If I could live my life again, would I change what I did then?
Many small things come to mind if I returned to days behind;
But one regret takes precedence o'er all the other incidents,
One that stabs with agony my heart that has not since been free.

Our meeting was of innocence, yet I was filled with diffidence;
Our friendship grew in spite of me; a steadfast friend he proved to be;
But I could never let him know how in my heart I loved him so,
For he might laugh or leave me then, spurn my love, not be my friend.

There is no greater pain, I said, so I'll be safe and keep my head;
Stifling all the joy inside, in the friendship I did hide;
That lovely friendship wasn't wrong, but it was a simple song;
Yet there's another melody, a majestic symphony.

A rare and precious gift exists for those who brave the deep abyss
Of fear that pain too much to bear is waiting for them over there;
Instead an orchestra awaits those passing through love's magic gate
Where soul mates write their unique song, where to each other they belong.

By not embracing what was real, what was truth, what I did feel,
I told myself his loving me was something that could never be;
As I look back, I now despair. Did he want me? Did he care?
And I have found the greater pain, forsaking love that could have been.

Now I've passed the bloom of youth; now it's time to live with truth;
I, in my fear, myself denied; a joy beyond compare thus died;
I cannot not resurrect the past, nor can I find some peace at last
For my heart I have betrayed just because I was afraid.

But should we ever meet again, should I find this special friend,
I would not deny my heart; it would be diff'rent from the start;
My unbounded love I'd share; he would know how much I care.
I would dare to take a chance; I would embrace the sweet romance.

My open heart I'd not protect; my love for him I'd not reject;
Though I might be still in fear, I'd recall what is most dear,
And I would not push him aside; I would not my feelings hide…
If I could live my life again, yes, I would change what I did then.

*May have been based loosely on a true incident during the time when the British were deporting the Acadians from Nova Scotia (1755-1763). This beautiful epic poem fits the definition of life-writing, at least as I understand it.

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Literary in nature, her novels focus on character as well as plot; their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. You can contact her through her websites. and


  1. I read Evangeline in high school too. I love the poem, Linda. It's the road not taken.

  2. We had to memorize 2 lines, and I still remember them (maybe not perfectly):
    For when the heart goes before like a lamp and illumines the pathway, many things are made clear that else lie hidden in darkness.
    Man is unjust, but God is just. Finally justice triumphs.

  3. I also thought of the road not taken when I read your poem, Linda. I'm almost afraid to look back and examine some of those crossroads in my seems the regrets that might surface would weigh me down.

  4. It's definitely bittersweet, Pat. However, a kind of closure comes with addressing the regrets. The heart at the end of the article signifies that closure. I considered a broken heart, but it didn't fit where I am now. The sweet memories are still mine, and I treasure them. Kicking myself in the back side wouldn't change anything, so that's out. I knew him when I was a teenager. We met when our families vacationed at the same resort, but he and I lived in different states. Much to my surprise, I recently learned he lives in a town near where I live now. That was a shock, but it inspired this post. And it brought to mind some lovely recollections I had put away years ago. Will I look him up? Not likely. We were teenagers then. Today we are octogenarians. Our moment in time has passed; we're not the same people. But the memories will forever remain the same. :-)

    1. I suspect I would resist as well...memories are sweet.

  5. Wonderful poem, Linda, and definitely a good example of life writing. I think poets put so much of their lives into the verses they create. It goes a bit deeper than what we put into prose. At least I think so.

  6. I agree that poetry lends itself to emotional expression in ways not as readily available in prose. Having said that, I have found some of my characters address issues I have faced in the past.


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