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Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0312382926
ISBN-10: 0312382928
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Memoirist and writing teacher Norton’s slim but substantive how-to guide begins with an anti-definition of memoir: it’s not autobiography, not journalism, and not essay, although it should use, she suggests, the techniques of all three. Norton ends with some plain and incisive advice: the payoff of writing memoir comes not in publication but in uncovering personal truths and in facing the chaos and transformation of creation. The heart of the book deals with the concept of shimmering images, those that continually rise up in the storyteller’s memory like photographs. The image of your mother standing on the beach in her polka-dot swimsuit, for example, or of your brother blowing bubbles on the lawn. Norton believes that such moments remain in one’s memory for a reason; they are the keys to unlocking meaning and story and are, therefore, memoir’s building blocks. Accessible, funny, and honest, Norton acknowledges the hard work involved in shaping life stories, offers practical and inspirational advice, and celebrates memoir writing as nothing short of essential to the care of the writer’s soul. --Heather Dewar


“In Shimmering Images Lisa Dale Norton traces a clear stimulating path to writing a memoir. Norton starts with the ideas behind the process, how story transforms experience on the page. She then gives the step-by-step process that she has been teaching for decades―finding Shimmering Images (memory pictures) and weaving them into a whole. In the third part Norton looks at some of the tools to craft the process. In writing bighearted, compassionate stories, we contribute to changing the world. Norton’s book is bighearted and compassionate. It is a gift to the reader.” ―Susan Tiberghien, author of One Year to a Writing Life

“This book shimmers with thought-provoking insights and truth, and Lisa Dale Norton's elegantly spare formula is a valuable addition to the literature on the topic. Even though she specifically addresses only the memoir form, her system of memory retrieval and organization will be useful to any life writer.” ―Sharon Lippincott, author of The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing

“You can read this book in an hour -- but the impact could well last a lifetime. It’s simple, smart and inspiring.” ―Jennie Nash, author of The Last Beach Bungalow

“Lisa Dale Norton's practical and lively guide to writing memoir is like having your very own writing coach holding your hand and guiding you through your story with patience and humor. Her clear, good advice covers everything you'll need to start writing: the difference between memoir and autobiography, claiming your own voice, finding the heart of your story, and finally crafting it into a piece of work to send out into the world.” ―Barbara Abercrombie, author of Courage and Craft and Writing out the Storm

“Shimmering Images is an encouraging, smart, and surprisingly funny guide, full of well-tested exercises and approaches. Lisa Dale Norton teaches memoir writers how to get beyond blame and self-pity, how to find the compassion that leads to new insights, how to be “bone honest” with themselves. She is a very wise coach who understands that the writing process is the way to truth, that truth is complex and deep. This “handy little guide” will transform the lives of those who need to understand their pasts in order to change their futures―that is to say, all of us. Trust me, she says: and we do, we do.” ―Meg Files, author of Meridian 144, Home Is the Hunter, and Write from Life, Director, Pima Writers' Workshop

“Shimmering Images" is how Lisa Norton describes those flashes of memory that haunt us on the brightest of days or in the darkest of tunnels when least expected. Indeed they are, fleeting moments in time we can not forget because we responded emotionally and our lives were forever changed. Moved to great heights of joy, we want to share our feelings with the world. Scarred by fear, anger or loss we want to dig deeper and recapture and share the hope and love that healed. Memoirists feel compelled to take this journey, and in her book Lisa Norton provides a map to show us where to begin, which way to turn, and most important, how to dig up and unlock the truths that were always there, waiting to be told. Anyone who has ever wanted to write memoir needs this precious little handbook to find out where and how to start, and better still, how to keep going in the right direction.” ―Penny Porter, author of Heartstrings and Tail-Tuggers, and Adobe Secrets, Past-President and Membership Chair, Society of Southwestern Authors

“Never has there been a more compassionate gift to those who write. Shimmering Images is a clear-eyed, authentic vision of the art of storytelling. Norton gathers the inspirational winds in her sails, and gently propels the writer toward a place of knowing--that place where one can, at last, trust in the creative self. Awesome. Simply awesome.” ―Doris Booth, Editor-in-Chief, Authorlink.com

“Honest, taut, funny, useful, stimulating, graceful, and all those other lovely words, but best of all this book will make you sit your skinny butt in the chair and actually start typing, which is the point. A terrific book of operating instructions for giving birth to stories.” ―Brian Doyle, editor, Portland Magazine

“Shimmering Images has what it takes to be an outstanding how-to book for aspiring writers. It is sound, fertile, imaginative; it guides the aspiring writer around the pitfalls and into the delights of turning memories into memoir. It inspires and grounds the writer with a combination of practical, easy-to-follow steps, a rationale for engaging in this challenging process in the first place and ways to sustain the effort for the long haul. I would recommend this book to teachers as well as to adults who are working on this genre individually.” ―Muriel Dance, Ph.D., Director, Center for Continuing Education; Antioch University Seattle

“SHIMMERING IMAGES is a practical, simple, and wonderfully concise guide for memoirists seeking to improve their craft as well as those who are just getting started.” ―Debra Ginsberg, author of Waiting, Raising Blaze, About My Sisters, and Blind Submission

“In Shimmering Images, Lisa Dale Norton gently takes you by the hand and leads you through the process of getting down the story of your life. You learn how to access your “shimmering images” -- the people, places, and events that are the source of your most powerful stories. You discover how to connect these images to the key turning points in your personal journey, and weave them into the rich tapestry that is your life. Practical and inspiring, Shimmering Images is a must have for anyone contemplating writing a memoir.” ―Carol Franco, co-author of The Legacy Guide: Capturing the Facts, Memories, and Meaning of Your Life

“Like a smart friend in whom you can confide, Lisa Dale Norton leads you not only through the issues of craft you'll need in order to form your life stories into art, but--perhaps more importantly--through the emotional landscape such work requires. A thoughtful, helpful tool for anyone facing the challenge of memoir.” ―Samantha Dunn, author of Faith in Carlos Gomez

“Shimmering Images is the quintessential book on memoir writing and should be required reading for anyone who is thinking about crafting a memoir.” ―Jennifer McCord, past president of Pacific Northwest Writers Association

“Shimmering Images is every memoir writer's ideal guide. With eloquent Simplicity borne of decades of teaching writing, Lisa Dale Norton has given us a map and a method that soars above all others.” ―Elizabeth Lyon, author of Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write and A Writer’s Guide to Nonfiction

“Lisa Dale Norton’s little book is a big-hearted treasure. She gives writers specific guidance, her voice one of passionate encouragement. Norton’s message is that when getting going on a memoir, process means more than product―only through a disciplined and creative process can a writer experience the hard-won satisfaction that leads to a book. This spirited guide will be a deskside companion to memoirists old and new for years to come.” ―Thomas Larson, author of The Memoir and the Memoirist


Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312382928
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312382926
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #336,798 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author


Lisa is a specialist in memoir writing and narrative nonfiction.

Ever since she was a kid, Lisa has looked at a piece of writing and thought about its structure--what a particular author is doing at any given point in the writing to make a point or draw the reader forward, or make him laugh, or cry.

When she was in college she would tear apart articles in "Esquire" and "The New Yorker" writing in the margins of the magazines about what was happening NOW, and then NOW!, as the writer careened through the twists and turns of the story. (You can imagine how that pleased other readers in the household.)

Ever since then Lisa has been writing different forms of narrative nonfiction (nonfiction that has a storyline), and teaching other people how to do it, too.

She works privately with writers around the globe who want to pen stories that include parts of their life journey, teaches classes on-line at her website (http://www.lisadalenorton.com), and speaks at conferences, colleges, and universities about the power of the written personal narrative to transform lives.

Lisa is sure that writing down a narrative about your life has the power to take your understanding of your life into a new realm.

"The power of story," she says, "is transformative. This power is built right into the bones of story, the very structure of what a story is, what it must do."

And what is that?

Lisa: "A story needs to present the reader with a question, or a problem, trouble let's say, and then take the reader on a journey of exploration that addresses that question. In the end the reader needs to feel he has learned something new, right along with the narrator, the person telling the story.

"When you apply that basic structure to the personal narrative (a story about your life) there is, by default, some change in perception about the material explored that has to happen. In memoir, that means a change in perception about your life.

Lisa's book SHIMMERING IMAGES: A HANDY LITTLE GUIDE TO WRITING MEMOIR is about helping people go on that journey of exploration, and about having fun while doing it.

Lisa welcomes invitations to talk about all this in your classroom or to your writing group, or to help you write your life story: lisa@lisadalenorton.com.

Lisa lives in Santa Fe.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I've read numerous books on various genres of writing: some I've finished, some I've left off, for a variety of reasons, after a partial reading. There are many books out there that address all genres, all topics and many of the questions and insecurities of both the new and the seasoned writer. I'd have to say though, that I've not found as satisfying and useful a book on life writing as this one by Lisa Dale Norton, who details in this new book, her technique for writing and developing memoir.

The book is divided into several well-defined sections. The first is a discussion on writing memoir in general: what it is--"narrative nonfiction"...telling or narrating a story about something that actually happened. Norton moves on to the idea that as a memoirist, you must be sure to "claim your own truth, to accept responsibility for your actions, and to make sense of the actions of others in the context of a story." She explains the importance of looking at our stories in a larger context, with some balance and with new insights that have revealed themselves since the events occurred. The reader/writer recognizes the need for a broader view of her subject matter: to see a particular recollection through the eyes of others involved and perhaps from the vantage point of greater wisdom and a better sense of the time in which the event took place.

Following sections relate to Norton's actual process of writing memoir. This includes focussing on the stories themselves and how to bring them out in a deeper way. She begins with the "shimmering image, one of those memory pictures you've had for years.....a memory that rises in your consciousness like a photograph." Norton urges the reader to take note of these as they are the source of stories waiting to be told.
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Format: Paperback
I have always been a writer, but I've kept my writing safe, careful, and from a distance. I've written business articles, newsletters, letters and emails to friends, journals, and to-do lists...loving the simple act of putting words on paper, but not thinking of myself as someone with a story to tell.

Yet I have always yearned to write books, with an ache I could feel. I covered up my desire with business writing; I even wrote a business book and had started several more. But over the years, many of my mentors have suggested that I write my story, about my life. "Why on earth would anyone want to read my story?" I'd always ask. However, a couple of weeks ago, when someone again suggested I write my story during a group call, something clicked inside of me.

I hung up the phone, got in the car, and drove straight to the bookstore. I pulled half a dozen books off the shelf on writing life stories, autobiographies, and memoir and sat myself down in a chair in the corner to look at all of them. Each one seemed complicated, or not practical, or just didn't connect with me...until the last one in my stack. It was a tiny little book called "Shimmering Images" by Lisa Dale Norton, and as I glanced through it, one phrase stood out as if it had been written in red ink. "I believe memoir writing is the most effective way to change the world," Norton writes. "Sounds lofty, I know, but honestly, the way I see it, when you write your story, you codify a truth about past experience. That act changes you, opens up new, stunning possibilities for your future, and when witnessed by a reader - if you've done your job well and written with authenticity - the sheer act of sharing your truth allows that reader to claim her own truth."

I had found my book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've captured life stories of many senior adults over the years -- though on audio or video, rather than in print. The results have always been emotionally powerful and interesting even to those who do not know the storyteller.

I've looked for books that document the methods I've used, but have found none until now.

Most books on writing memoirs focus on lists of questions or topics. My method is to focus on storytelling and to let what's important bubble up from the person's own memory. That approach reveals what is important to THEM, not to me or some list-maker.

In most instances, even the people with many public accomplishments never mentioned them during our recordings. However, their stories do reveal the people and experiences (including failures) that shaped their character and poised them for such outward success -- and, more important, that were the foundation for their personal growth as well.

Shimmering Images is a step-by-step guide to capturing the essence of our life. Lisa Dale Norton delivers this in a concise and readable 112-pages. We do not have to become "writers" and spend years researching and learning the craft. People are natural storytellers. Our life is our preparation. Shimmering Images shows us how to release what we already know in our own voice.

When I finished the book, I actually kissed it and said aloud,"Thank You!"

Yes, thank you, Lisa Norton, for making it possible for anyone -- famous or not, professional writer or not -- to probe and record the past in an engaging way that enlightens the future for us and for others.
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