Recently, someone asked me what are the biggest barriers memoir writers face to being successful. Three came to mind right away. Below, I write about them and offer suggestions for eliminating these barriers.
1. Writers often put off writing a good memoir in favor of struggling unsuccessfully to create a perfect one. This is insidious because no one says they are putting off writing a good memoir in favor of a perfect one. Instead they say, “I want my story to be meaningful” or “I want to be sure I have something to say” or “I don’t want to bore my readers.”
No one wants a boring memoir or a meaningless one. Most writers I’ve worked with do have it in them to turn out a memoir that can appeal to its audience. It may not be a perfect memoir but it can be a good one. Keep in mind that perfect is the enemy of good.
Remedy: Tell yourself every day, “I am writing the best book I can. It need not be perfect to be worth my time to write and my audience’s time to read.”
2. Writers shrink from the difficulty of writing a memoir. Producing a 200 page book is not easy. But neither is raising kids or going to work every day. No one said it was going to be easy or fun every time you sit down. Writing a memoir is hard work but the results–like keeping your commitment to raising a family through all the difficulties–are worth it.
One mindset that is a deal breaker when it comes to writing a memoir is dwelling with how long it will take you to write the whole book and how many things you will have to struggle with to get the book completed. Instead of this terrible doom and gloom, commit to writing one day’s worth of memoir at a time. Don’t let the big picture defeat you.
Remedy: Tell yourself every time you sit down to write that you are writing only a small part of the book. You can write 2 to 3 pages on any given day. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. Yard by yard, it’s hard.
3. Writers work without support to maintain their writing effort–month after discouraging month. Writing can be lonely work. The isolation can sap your energy. As you spend more and more time alone with yourself, you begin to doubt what you are doing, you begin to fall into perfectionism, you tell yourself it is too hard. You decide go quit.
Finding support can keep you going. This can be a sibling or friend who is helping you with research, a writing group at the local library that meets regularly (be sure they can provide critical help not just the sort that never gets beyond, “That’s nice!”), a writing class where you writing can received constructive criticism.
Remedy: Tell yourself that by the end of this month, you will have set up the support you need to persevere with writing this year.
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We have helped many people whose lives demanded to be recorded but who themselves were not writers to create interesting and well-written memoirs.
We listen to you speak your story. We ask you a multitude of questions. Then we get to work writing. We come back to you with text and you make lots of corrective comments and we ask you a whole lot of new questions. Then, we go back to writing again.
Over time, your story develops into a memoir—one that you have shaped at every stage of the writing process.
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