Memoirist shares how writing was life changing

Memoirist shares how writing was life changing
Memoir author and writing instructor Beth McNellen encourages those in attendance at the Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center to write their own stories. Photo by Christina Macone-Greene

RANCHO SANTA FE — In eighth grade, back in Twinsburg, Ohio, Beth McNellen admits she wasn’t a sterling student. But that all changed when her teacher, Mrs. Frankenhauser, gave the class an assignment to write a story.

McNellen, a resident of Lakeside, shared this special tale with the Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center.

McNellen immersed herself in the homework task, which took her to a “special place” where writers go and turned in the assignment the very next day.

Within days, Frankenhauser read a couple stories aloud in class. McNellen went through the student roster in her mind and distinctively pulled out which authors they would be.

McNellen said that her teacher told the class, “But there was one story that was so good that I called my husband who works at night, and I read it over the phone to him. And now I’m going to read that one.”

Three lines in to it, McNellen realized it was her story.

It took McNellen a few seconds to grasp it because she said no matter how much punctuation one uses, when somebody reads it to themselves, there’s a different cadence. There’s a different speed to it.

And that moment was a life changer.

“That experience and everything about it, from doing it, enjoy doing it, to having her read it out loud set me on a course to what to write for the rest of my life — I wanted to feel those feelings again and so I pursued it.”

An avid reader and writer, McNellen established her own writing service, The Sound of Your Voice Memoir, and has helped numerous individuals tell their story.

She was also the recipient of the 2006 San Diego Book Award for her own memoir, “Maybe Goodnight.”

And she encourages everyone to write their own story.

During the lecture, McNellen passed out American scholar Joseph Campbell’s, “Hero’s Journey” graph. It’s the stages a person experiences in their lives that brings their character to life in the written word or on the silver screen.

It consists of three acts of an “ordinary world,” a “special world,” and then back to a “resurrection” type of ordinary world.

And it mirrors what people experience in their daily lives.

“Forty years ago I walked into Mrs. Frankenhauser’s and I had been in my ordinary world of being a poor student,” she said. “And then I went into the new and special world of being a writer.”

McNellen listens to people tell their life stories. And each person goes through these “world phases” whether they know it or not.

According to McNellen, it’s a matter of when one recognizes it.

“If you do and you know about it, you can live your life with such vitality because you’re having a story. You’re in the story,” she said. “You’re writing the story of your life.”

A blend of patterns, places, and people occur in a lifetime.

“And it’s a very powerful experience,” McNellen said.

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