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8 Lessons Learned on My Memoir Writer’s Journey

“Rather than simply telling a story, the memoirist both tells the story and muses upon it, trying to unravel what it means in the light of her (his) current knowledge.”  — Judith Barrington, Writing the Memoir

Writing a memoir is hard work.

I know because I have been writing mine for the past five years. Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse is now in its final editing stage. My goal is to publish it through a small publisher by December,2014.

I started writing vignettes about twelve years ago and have journaled since my teens. But I didn’t get serious about my memoir writer’s journey until 2009 when I started taking memoir writing workshops and attending writing conferences.

It’s very humbling to learn what you don’t know and when I started out, I didn’t know anything about writing a memoir. I only knew that I had a story inside me and that I wanted to write about it.

It is a well-known fact in memoir writing circles that writing a memoir is a daunting task fraught with many challenges, not the least being: excavating painful memories, standing in your truth, and dealing with family members or close friends who may not agree with your perception of the truth.

All that on top of a market that says you have to be a celebrity to sell your story. The odds against writing a memoir that will sell can feel pretty overwhelming. But readers love stories they can connect with, and we all have a story within to share.

With this background in mind that I’d like to share the lessons I have learned on my journey to my first memoir.

Lesson #1: Connect with your purpose for writing.

Be clear about why you want to write your story. Do you want to leave a legacy for your grandchildren or are you determined to seek mainstream publication? Either way is fine. You just need to be clear on your purpose.

Connecting with your purpose for writing the story only you can tell allows you to have a story to tell.

Lesson  #2: Put your inner critic in his/her place.

We all have that nagging voice inside that tells us we can’t write; no one will be interested in our story and who cares anyway? Find a way to silence that voice so you can get on with the work of writing. I wrote out this dialogue with my inner critic which helped me.

Lesson #3: Find your authentic voice.

Keep writing until you find the story that is begging to be told and once you find it, believe in it. I found this to be the most challenging part. Once I started writing vignettes, the story unfolded and took on a life of its own.

 I found my voice through writing and rewriting.

Lesson  #4: Commit to excellence in every step of the process.

Study your craft and seek professional guidance along the way—writing mentors, editors, publishing experts (traditional and self-publishing), marketing experts. You can always do it yourself if you know what is expected in each phase of the process and are sure you can meet these expectations with excellence.

A memoir should read like a novel. Study fiction writing and storytelling techniques—plot, dialogue, scenic details, pacing, narrative arc.

Lesson #5: Develop a tough skin:

Be open to having your work critiqued honestly and constructively by readers and writers you respect. Rejection is part of the process. Figure out a way to get over it and get on with the work at hand. Here are two links about not giving up:

“Don’t Give Up” Seth Godin’s blog

“7 Steps for Handling Rejection” on Charlotte Dixon Rain’s blog

Lesson #6: Share your stories openly and often.

Ask others—besides your family—to be beta readers for your work-in-progress. Joining Joe Bunting’s Story Cartel has been one of the wisest investments I’ve made. I recruited ten people to review and critique my work-in-progress memoir as a result of the encouragement received from Joe and other writers in The Story Cartel Course. I also have developed a whole new network of fellow writers and prospective readers. We help promote one another. Here’s the link to a post on using beta readers: {link}

Lesson #7: Keep reading in and outside your genre.

Reading helps you hone in on techniques and story structures that work. Of course, a well-written story makes you feel like you are part of an experience, not just reading about it.

Lesson #8: Keep writing on a regular basis

Develop a routine and a commitment to writing on a regular basis—however you define regular. The story that needs to be told will reveal itself as long as you keep writing.

Do what it takes to take care of yourself so you can take care of your writing.

Honor the story within. Not only does it deserve to be told, it deserves to shine.

Visit Kathy Pooler’s blog at:

DL: At The Memoir Network, we talk about staying in the memoir conversation. Here is another post to help you do just that.

A Coach Can Take You Through the Writing Process—More Quickly

A writing coach can help you at every step of the process. Having “been there and done that”—and being able to talk clearly about it, a memoir-writing coach can point you in the right direction and gently correct your course.

A coach is a teacher, a cheerleader, a critic, a motivator, a writing buddy, a person who holds you accountable for meeting your goals, a good listener, and sometimes an editor—and a coach can be more if you need more.

For a free consult, call 207-353-5454 today to make an appointment.

Click here to read more about coaching.

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