Top Menu

Are you a writer who has felt cramped because you do not have a dedicated space for writing your memoir?

You have read about writing spaces and have longed for one, but do you really need one?

An outside writing space

An dedicated writing space sounds great to me—and a luxury I am not willing to let my writing wait for. In fact, I have never used outside writing rooms (also known as “office”—except for once when I borrowed a summer home for week and finished The Photo Scribe / How to Write the Stories Behind Your Photos there as I wrote ALL day. Being at that oceanside house was very productive as I had nothing else to do. It was either write or be bored. The book had been stalled and it raced to the finish line in that week.

But, the impetus to write so much much was not the space; it was the schedule. This “nothing else to do” is something I can replicate—albeit only partially—at home. A dedicated outside space—such as a room in a writing center, an office in another building or conference room in a library—would certainly provide focus, but since none of these would not have eating and sleeping facilities, they would require returning home.

Many of us have heard of Virginia Woolf, of course, who wrote her long essay A Room of One’s Own in which she expounded that a woman must have a room of her own to write in. Her writing has sometimes been hailed as a manifesto for how women especially need to have a “room of one’s own.”

Perhaps, dear reader, you imagine poor, plaintive Virginia Woolf pushing the butter dish to the center of the breakfast table and, having scooped the toast crumbs to the side, starting to write Mrs Dalloway or To the Lighthouse on the edge of her chair as her husband Leonard and the kids  ran around. Perhaps you imagine her imploring them to give her some peace and quiet.

If only she had a room of her own!

But, a close look will not find screaming kids in Virginia Woolf’s life (she did not have any), and nor, I suspect, will we learn that Leonard was a boisterous man. We will find to the contrary that Virginia Woolf did not write on the edge of the breakfast table after being careful to wipe away butter smears off the surface. As we wander through her house, we will discover an empty dining room that might have lent itself  to copious writing, a library with tables and chairs and solitude, and a number of spare bedrooms one of which that could easily have been converted into a writing room for this writer who did not have a “room of one’s own.”.

What we will discover as we come across a cook and a maid to free her from the burdens of everyday life was that this woman was well-to-do. It was an easy thing for her to say to her help, “Madam is writing. She is not to be disturbed.”

So, why did this woman (who lived a life life readers of this blog have ever lived) need “a room of one’s own?”

Ultimately, Virginia Woolf was not referring to not having an actual room to write in (there were many choices in her home). She was referring to class privilege that was not available to her. She wanted a room such as in a gentlemen’s club in London. She had, of course, every right to such a room and it is to that class privilege she is referring. Leonard had such a room but there was no club room available to her.

A very English class consciousness

A Room of One’s Own is very English in its class focus. It is about accessing privilege from which she was excluded (not fair!) and is not about having to struggle to write in rooms populated by others as one learns Tillie Olsen had to do. (In her journal, Woolf once wrote about seeing an accident and  being relieved that it had not been a lady who was hit but only a char woman. I have never forgotten that prizing one life—”lady”—over another—”a char woman.”)

Woolf’s collection of essays that make up the book are based on lectures delivered at Cambridge University—hardly a milieu that would have stimulated Woolf to look sympathetically at the lives of less-well-heeled women (or men for that matter).

As a less well-heeled person than upper-middle-class Woolf, I would have been very satisfied, I am sure, with the any of the extra spaces she had in her spacious home—and I presume many of you reading this would, too. We would consider her options to be numerous.

Back to your need for a dedicated space

Space can contribute to writing but not having a room of one’s own need not exclude the possibility of producing well and producing voluminously.

Action Steps

  1. Accept that lamenting you can’t write because you don’t have a space is an excuse not to write.
  2. Make use of times and spaces that are available to you to write. Perhaps you and your husband are retired.When does he go out to play golf or have coffee with the boys? Use that time to write. The library is around the corner? Go there to write.
  3. Writing can certainly benefit from props, but you can write without props. Forget about Virginia Woof’s “A Room of One’s Own.” Make your own time and space. (Apparently having to write in her home’s library instead of in a club office did not impair her production. If you want to read about how a writer can be impaired by lack of resources, read Tillie Olsen’s Silences.)

How does memoir coaching improve your manuscript?

“What does ‘My family was poor’ mean, ” I asked a memoir writer in a recent coaching session.

Poor?” he asked at the other end of the phone line. “What do you mean what does poor mean? Poor means poor!”

“Does poor mean you didn’t have enough to eat or does it mean you never ate out at restaurants? Does poor mean you were forced to run out on your rent or does it mean you did not have an in-ground pool?”

Clearly, descriptive always adjectives don’t mean what we think they mean!

Empty literary “calories”

On the spot, I shared with him how adjectives are empty literary “calories.” They do nothing for the story but fill up space. They pretend to be effective but are not. Every writer needs to depend on scenes, dialog, settings, characters to tell the real story.

Memory List what an adjective means.

I asked him to tell me five things about his family that meant poor.

This is what he came up with and added to his memory list:

  • “We always had enough food, but sometimes it was lacking in variety and often was purchased past its prime.”
  • “We had beaten asphalt roofing but could not pay to have it done over and the roof eventually developed a leak that ruined a wall.”
  • “We never bought new clothes. Everything we wore was either hand-me-down or from Goodwill.”
  • “Money was a tense topic, and I would not ask my parents from money even if it meant passing up on a class trip and sitting the time out in the library. I did that once.”
  • “We were always scrounging gas money. We’d often walk or go with neighbors when they were going into town because there was not enough gas in our car for the round trip into town by ourselves.”

Using these memories, I asked him to write scenes portraying the above. This was his assignment—to change weak telling into vivid showing. Such scenes will deepen a memoir.

This client clearly knew the stories to show being poor, but he did not know that he was not doing it. It was while I coached him that he understood his dependence on vague adjectives was not serving him well. He needed to write details into the the stories he knew and let the details do the work of saying poor.

Memoir Coaching can lift your memoir to a new articulation

You may wonder about what the process would be like if you were to work with a memoir writing coach.

Memoir Coaching works when there are two factors present:

  • The client is willing to grow, and
  • There is a gap between where you are now and where you want to be.

If this is you, every session will find us working together in two fundamental areas:

  •  your writing itself—organization, style, content—and
  • your writing self—that is, do you “own” the story, do you feel you have the authority to tell it?

Working with a memoir coach, you can:

  • Reach for Much More and not be consumed in the process. When writers have a partner they trust, they always reach for more.
  • Make Better Decisions for Yourself as a writer because your focus is clear. You will become more focused as you share ideas with your coach — someone who is subjective enough to want a lot for you, yet objective enough not to be biased or self serving.
  • Have a More Sustainable Energy: No more starting and stopping. When you’re happy, productive and free from tolerations and problems, you’re going to feel more energy.

If you would like to know more about how does memoir coaching improve your manuscript or would like to sign up for our free consultation, click here.

Action Step

Here is something you can do right now about your flabby adjectives.

  1. Highlight all the adjectives in a recent story.
  2. Choose all that can be replaced by a scene. (Obviously, an adjective like American or Canadian cannot be replaced by a scene!)
  3. Write your scenes and insert into the story.

Please leave a comment below about your experience of having done this.

When writing about non-events, it can seem like they don’t belong in a memoir. But, often, non-events can have been more difficult than the “events” that do challenge us.

What are Non-Events?

While having coffee in a restaurant recently, I saw a man and a 14- or 15-year-old boy whom I took to be his son walk in together and order. Then, carrying their trays, they sat at a table near me. At first, they were both silent and then the boy began to speak. He spoke quite a bit. I couldn’t hear the words, but he seemed to be talking about something that had happened to him. The man occasionally nodded his head in response, but I heard him talk only once. The boy kept speaking. His head and arms were involved. He evidently expected responses which, other than via a nod, were not forthcoming.

Perhaps I fantasized elements of my own life, but I imagined the boy wanting his father to answer, to engage in an exchange with him but nothing of the sort happened. At one point, as the boy was speaking, his father got up and went to the trash basket and dumped the contents of his tray in and waited for the boy to come do the same. Seeming to understand that the meal was over from the father’s point of view, the boy got up and dumped his things into the trash also and the two walked out together.

This was a non-event.

A non-event is something that should have happened or one anticipated to happen but didn’t. An engagement that was expected to lead to marriage, not having children as you thought you would, missing the promotion that would have utilized your talents to their best advantage, having your husband/wife die young so you never get to grandparent together—all of these are non-events as is the conversation with the man the boy did not have.

Non-events can often be left out of memoir writing, and yet they are an opening to write memoir in a deeper way.

The Truth About Non-Events

Being a witness to this non-communication, this non-event, made me sad. My connection to all those times in my life when I was the non-receiving part of a non-communication was asserting itself. But, of course, non-communication does not have to be with a person. It can be with all sorts of factors—even events: not getting into graduate school, etc.

I realized that non-events are a fit subject to explore in  memoir writing. You could say the boy was having a non-event with his father. You could say that each of us have lives loaded with non-events that weigh us down, that cause us sadness.

Action Steps:

When writing about non-events, which ones do you include in your memoir? Use the following exercise to write through some and share your insights in the comments.

1. What are those times in your life when you were engaged in a non-event in which there was no fulfillment, nobody or nothing at the other end.
•    Perhaps this non-event was with a person such as your spouse, your father or mother,
•    perhaps it was with a life event–a gathering that you so much wanted to provide you with more than it did or even could or a gathering that was cancelled or never materialized, or
•    perhaps it was in a job that you wanted to succeed at and somehow the promotions or the affirmations never came your way. There was no avenue for fulfilling your dreams.
2. Write about the non-event using all the real details you can remember and all the details of your imaginative projection. Be sure to include your feelings and how the non-event affected your life, perhaps even altered your destiny. What decisions did you have to make afterwards as a result of this non-event?
3. Then, re-write the non-event so that the results you longed for happen—if only in your mind. (You will find this third action step therapeutic. You may find that it will give you insight on what happened.)                                  4.Check out our Write Your First Memoir Draft Program.

Two requests

1. If you have had non-events in your life, please tell us about them below. I believe non-events can be very crucial in a life. Were they in yours? How have non-events affected your memoir writing?

2. Click on at least one the social-media icons below to share this post with your lists. Help spread the word about memoir writing—we can do it one click at a time.

Are you making this memoir writing mistake that may be undermining your lifestory?

The following is based largely on a response I wrote to a comment on a post called But is it a Memoir? Rereading my comment, I realized it is of value to all the new readers to this blog since then—and to readers who may have forgotten or never read it.

A Memoir Serves as a Guide to the Reader

Liberties with facts ultimately, I believe, undermine the authority of a memoirist to present his/her life experience as a lived (vs. fictionalized) version of the mythic journey. The lived hero’s tale must figure at the center of every memoir if the story is to rise above a chronology, a dirge or an encomium. In the nameless book I quoted in But is it a Memoir?, too many paragraphs erode confidence in the memoirist’s fidelity to what happened (the lived experience) and create a sense of fictionalization–of choices to nurture the drama of the story (by making things up) over decisions to explore only what happened in view of arriving at an understanding/appreciation of the lived experience.

If one accepts that fiction begins with feeling/insight (what we might call “theme”–example: “life is hard”) and ends up with plot line, characters and setting which will hold the writer’s insight for the reader, then one can grasp that fiction is based a priori on the author’s “take.” In a very real and different way, memoir begins with plot, characters and setting and proceeds to theme (“wow, that life as it was lived was hard”).

Details can through the reader off.

The erosion of confidence in the writer’s assertion that she is writing memoir is generated by dozens and dozens of images such as saying of a character who is about to hear of her father’s death, that she “adjusts her hem before stepping into the waxy corridor.” The detail of adjusting a hem at the  moment of stepping out is too particular be included as a credible memory of what was still an ordinary day. (It ceased to be ordinary only later.)

Had the author written, “She remembers being in love with another teacher and she so would always adjust her hem before leaving the privacy of her classroom,” then the memory is plausible because the tiny “hem” detail (essentially not any more memorable in itself than what you did at 8:15 PM the day before yesterday!) is now connected to a big, memorable “love” emotion. Of course, she would remember that.

Had the author written “After hearing our father had died, Anne desperately adjusted the hem of her skirt. She remembers wanting the day to return to an ordinary day” the memory is again plausible because the tiny “hem” detail is now connected to a big “death” emotion. Without these big connections, the “hem” detail, for me, erodes the authority of the memorist.

I believe this is an appropriate paragraph to cite as the erosion of authority is not due to one writing faux pas but to a number of fiction-based images, dialogues, settings, etc. that one has a nagging feeling could have been chosen for drama rather than authenticity. Eventually, little by little, one senses that one is reading an autobiographical fiction.

Two posts to help you stop undermining your memoir you undermining your memoir?

Here are two posts that can save as a mini-course which discusses fiction and drama and the need to remain within the lived experience:

1. Which to Write: Memoir or Autobiographical Fiction?

2. But Is It a Memoir?

Action Step

A writers group early on can help you to write better. When you share your story with other writers you can get valuable feedback from their reactions. Have they entered into the world of your story? Does it come across as real to them? It makes no difference what you intended to do. What you did is what counts—and a group can help you with being clear.

Two requests

1. Tell us in the comments below how you will incorporate the ideas above into your writing. Are there other ways you could be undermining your memoir?

2. Click on at least one of the social-media icons below to share this post with your lists. Help spread the word about memoir writing—we can do it together one click at a time.

What does writing a memoir have to do with a writing community?

Show me your friends and I will show you your future.

There’s a bit of folk wisdom—or there should be if there isn’t—that goes somewhat like the above.

Isn’t our belief in the truth of “show me your friends and I will show you your future” why we are reassured when we see our children hanging out with “nice” kids, children who are respectful and serious about school, who benefit from healthy pastimes—drama club, sports, an interesting job—and who find ways to enjoy themselves that is not injurious  to themselves or to others? Why? Of course, when we see our children with such friends, we know they are learning, or having reinforced, habits that will serve them well as adults.

How does this apply to writing a memoir? Well …

Show me your writing friends, and I will show you the future of your memoir.

Of course, you can write a memoir in isolation. Many writers have produced memoirs, novels, and  poems writing alone in their offices (or kitchens!) Hemingway, for instance, expostulated (ok…I’m using the word “write” too many times so I’m fishing for a synonym) how a writer worked alone, in isolation. But…

Hemingway was actually surrounded by writing friends: Scott Fitzgerald, John DosPassos, Gertrude Stein. He might have put his words on paper while in isolation but he had the opportunity to try his stories out with his writer friends. He could be inspired by the example of their dedication to their craft; he could be stimulated by their writing successes. He and his friends often wrote in Paris cafés, in what can be called a writing community.

Historical note: in Paris in the 1920s, you inserted a coin in a wall heater to turn the gas on to warm your apartment or room. To save money, impoverished writers (Hemingway only marginally among them as his first  wife, Hadley Richardson, had inherited a tidy sum) went into cafés where, for the price of a glass of wine—un vin ordinaire— they could write the afternoon away in comparative warmth. Doesn’t sound like isolation to me. In fact, it sounds like Hemingway was probably looking for a writing community to create in rather than do so in isolation. So…

Join one of our writing communities.

The famous American expatriates wrote in what we could easily call a writing community. Doesn’t that make you want a writing community, too? Take advantage of My Memoir Education—it’s free—to participate in The Memoir Network writing community.

To become a free member of The Memoir Network, click here.

In addition, why not look at the Write Your First Memoir Draft Program? Speaking about learning to write better: this program is My Memoir Education on steroids! You couldn’t do  better.

You don’t have to write alone. You have choices to make your writing life easier.

While family and friends are a worthy readership for your memoir, it is possible to write for a larger audience.

Many memoir writers I have worked with will admit, if pushed, that they would enjoy a larger audience. I believe it is a pleasure for most writers to discover that the words they have written appeal to strangers and may even move them to action.

Here are four suggestions to enable your story to appeal to a broader public.

1) Write a story that is truly well-written and whose reading—the prose itself—will bring joy to your reader.

To do this, you will need to make effective use of a number of fiction writing techniques including images, metaphors, similes, suspense, foreshadowing, dialog, etc.

You will need to achieve clarity, coherence, conciseness, completeness, and much more. If you enjoy playing with language and have an ear for it, you can succeed at creating a well-written memoir that will bring pleasure to its readers.

This is not to say that you ought to fictionalize your memoir. At the Memoir Network we are very much against making things up in your memoir.

Action Steps:

1. Print your story out as for most people that changes your experience of the text. A printed story is somehow more public. Go ahead and give printing a try.

2. Read your story out loud to yourself but preferably to someone else. Note how your story sounds. Experience the flow of your language. Reading aloud will make you more objective about your writing.

3. Keep a pencil or pen handy and make notes of proposed alterations to the wording and style. Keep your ego out of the way and let yourself experience hearing your story as a sympathetic listener. Would you enjoy telling the writer how you appreciate the memoir excerpt or would you have to “make nice” when asked what you think?

2) Find what is truly unique about your story and explore that thread.

Perhaps you were experimented on with drugs by the CIA or perhaps you were a prisoner of war or perhaps you have given birth to sextuplets. People love to read about a personal experience that is different and unique. And… it is highly probable that you have done something in your life that is unique–even if it is only during a small portion of your life. Perhaps there was a time when you tried to reconcile a liberal political view with a conservative religious group or perhaps you were afflicted with a malady that vanished when you took a special cure.

It may take you time to identify what you have experienced that was unique, but be patient with yourself. Linger with your story a while and your uniqueness will come to you. Remember that the uniqueness does not have to appeal to the masses—a niche will do even if you want to write for strangers.

3) Set your story in a historical context if you want to write for a larger audience.

Perhaps you were the first person to do something in your group or community—the first man to graduate from a hitherto all-women’s college. Perhaps you were in the Vietnam War and you wish to write a memoir from the point of view of an ordinary soldier or perhaps you were a pacifist who opposed the war. Perhaps you were among the first women to become a financial advisor in your state and want to write about the dissolution of gender barriers in banking. Perhaps you were housemaid to the Kennedys and have stories to tell about national figures who frequented the house where you worked. Perhaps you have a story to tell about what it was like to be a newly arrived Muslim living in North America.

To succeed at setting your story in a larger historical context, you will obviously have to learn about the historical context and be able to write about it with ease. Not only as it affected you but about the “bigger picture” that gives context to your individual experience. Begin by reading about the historical context and from that may come how your story can be placed.

Action steps:

1. Make a Memory List of all the differentiating elements of your life—or the particular experience you are writing about—and explore the relationship with the more common experience.

2. Explain your life in function of the differentiating experience but make references to the common experience.

4) Find the psychological/spiritual/cultural drama in your story.

It often happens that writers can write about the psychological or spiritual unfolding of their personality and, in doing so, write about the “universal,” the typical or normative unfolding and development of a personality or of the soul. This treatment of your memoir sets your life experience as a possible model. An example would be how you became an artist or how you have had an experience of enlightenment or how you rose from rags to riches.

The value of a memoir is measured by the inherent value to the writer and to its selected audience pursuing the same sort of life. If you want to write for a larger audience, it is important to position your story.

Action Steps:

1. What segment of the population will be interested in your memoir? Why will they be interested? That is, what will they learn or what will they identify with?

2. How can your story serve as a model for how your readers might think about their lives or how they might live their lives?

These four memoir tips will make it possible to go about making an otherwise ordinary life into a story that can appeal to a larger audience. To do so, you will need to think about how to write for a larger audience.

It is in the rewriting stage, as you struggle with the story that is trying both to remain hidden and to come out, that you will most likely achieve the insights that will appeal to a broader readership. So… keep writing. It is possible for you to produce a story that is not only worth your time to write but also worth someone else’s time to read.

You can become a better writer, but it will take some work.

How do you become a better writer? Well, how do you achieve mastery in any skill? The answer, however it is presented, comes down to both acquiring knowledge pertaining to the skill and to putting in the time to practice the skill with critiques available to correct your technique and approach.

This is what I look for in the membership sites I am a member of. I benefit from significant new material sent to me regularly, from the live interactions via conference calls, individual contact or webinar and I also appreciate returning to the membership pages to review material. In this way I have contact with a master and I am revising my skills in a community of practitioners.

At the Memoir Network, I have created a master writer group that meets many of the same needs I have had met in the membership groups I subscribe to. This master writer group is called Write Your First Memoir Draft Course. A membership in the Write Your First Memoir Draft Course can get you in the frame of mind to undertake and finish your memoir.

This course has all the components to guide you to become a better writer.

1. You get to stay in the memoir-writing conversation.

The Write Your First Memoir Draft Course offers you access to a master writer as well as to a group of intelligent dedicated writers in its bi-weekly tele-class. This tele-class is what I consider the core of the course. In each 90-minute session, you receive both specific instruction as well as an in-depth critique, week after week, of at least two manuscripts. This seminar setting  will not only offer you the chance to have your own manuscript critiqued by the group but will teach, as you edit the manuscript of others, much about the elements that go into writing an interesting and effective story—ultimately, of course, this is all about how to improve your manuscript and become a better writer.

The Write Your First Memoir Draft Course tele-class requires you to interact with a memoir professional and a group of writers regularly and actively. Each tele-class will be recorded and made available to you to listen to many times for you to get even more from each session. If you do not have the equivalent group in your life at this time, you need to look into the course. By itself, the cumulative value of the tele-class far exceeds the cost of the course.

2. You want to be in touch with a memoir-writing expert when you want, as often as you want.

In its Master Class, our Write Your First Memoir Draft Course program offers you an interview monthly with a memoir-writing guru to help you create the best memoir you are capable of.  Just listen to the MP3 as you drive for errands or to work, as you putter around the house (preparing meals and cleaning up afterwards are these times for me), or as you sit with a favorite cup of java. Read the reports as you have the time. Enjoy the benefits of being part of a master writer group. A new Master Class is posted every month.

3. You would like to ask your questions—on style, motivation, research, anything—and share in a group what memoir writing is for you and learn from others as they speak.

The Write Your First Memoir Draft Course has a monthly “town meeting”—the Mastermind Group tele-conference. It is a group-coaching session as well as an opportunity for you to share what you are currently writing. This, too, is a prime feature of the course that will motivate you to stay in the memoir conversation and become a better writer.

4. You want an involvement with memoir-writing that allows much work at your pace.

This membership writing group allows you to use the curriculum material as you need it or want to use it. You can download anything you want—the ebooks from the Memoir Writing Series, the instructional MP3s from the Memoir Network archives, the mini-ecourses, etc.—to your desktop files or you can leave titles up on the password protected area to return to regularly. Since we add bonus material regularly to the course area,  you may find yourself surprised to return to the master writer group area one day for a particular month’s goods and find new gift offerings there. Our way of making the memoir conversation fun for you.

Commit to become a better writer today.  Enroll in the Write Your First Memoir Draft Course. In the near future, I have also planned to add a Revise and Polish Your Memoir Course. These two in combination  can be your ticket to completing your memoir in 14 months!

Think about it: in 14 months, you can have your memoir in hand. You can be a published writer instead of a writer who is trying to write memoir!

When you follow a memoir writing schedule to write your lifestories at a certain time, then you will not feel anguished if you are not writing all the time. Because the unconscious seems to thrive on ritual—and memory depends heavily on the cooperation of the unconscious as well as the effort to remember you will inevitably find yourself remembering more when you write regularly.

Write at the same time—say every evening from 7 to 8:30 PM or every other morning from 6:30 to 7:30 AM. You will find your imagination automatically gearing up at those times when you yourself open up to writing at set times. It’s like your appetite being whetted by knowing a mealtime is approaching. One moment you’re not hungry and the next—after you’ve realize it’s quarter to twelve—you feel famished!

You must live like a bourgeois so that you can write like a bohemian. —Honoré Balzac

There are many options for creating a schedule.

1. You can assign your writing a number of hours per week.

How much time do you want to devote to (or can you realistically spare for) lifewriting? Be specific: “Two hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 11 AM.” or “every weekday evening that I’m not out from 7 to 8 PM.”

Hint: finish your writing for the day before you have said everything you have to say. Stop before your impulse to write is sated, but don’t quit before you make a note for yourself about how you will proceed with your material. The next time you sit down to do some lifewriting, reread your notes and pick up where you left off. This habit contributes to a quick start the next time you sit down to write.

2. Another way to structure your memoir writing schedule is to let a fixed number of pages determine the length of a session.

You decide how many pages you will complete by a specific time. This is a page quota and may require that you write longer than you had anticipated if the writing doesn’t go well. However, if the writing goes very well one day, you may find yourself writing for many fewer hours. (But, if this is the case, why not produce additional pages for when you come upon a busy time at some point?)

3. You can also schedule a deadline by which you will have finished your writing.

Tell people when they might expect a copy of all or part of your lifestories. Their expectation—and inquiries as to whether that expectation will be satisfied—will keep you on task!

Variety is the spice of life.

Conversely and paradoxically, it can be very rewarding for you to break your regularity every once in awhile. If you always write on the kitchen table, one day, take your writing to the backyard, or to the shore or to a café (but don’t dissipate your energy in conversation!). If you always write after breakfast, occasionally write before breakfast—or after supper.

The idea of breaking your memoir writing schedule is not to promote an erratic approach to writing but to give yourself a periodic release so that you can appreciate all the more the benefits of writing at regular times.

Some people find it creative to break their writing times into small units of 20 or 30 minutes. On a day when you schedule yourself to write for two hours, set a timer for 30 minutes. When it rings, you take five minutes off to take your mind off your writing. This is bathroom time, make tea or coffee time, get the mail time. It is not the time to engage in a serious new effort or to make an engaging phone call. This break is only to relax momentarily you so that you can return to your writing. You may find that, with regular, short breaks, you write with more energy and get more accomplished.

Action Steps:

Start a notebook or binder to keep track of your memoir writing schedule:

1. Assign a number of hours this week to write your lifestory. What are they? In your notebook, track of the hours you plan and the hours you spent actually writing.

2. Record how many pages you wrote each session.

3. What is your deadline? Be specific on setting your deadline and that it is a reasonable time for you.

4. Spice it up! Record where you write regularly and how it helps (or not) with the flow of writing. When you try a new location (café, park, lake, bookstore, etc.) record how your writing changed and how your mood and energy changed.

How do you know if you have the right memoir coach? The guidelines below will help you evaluate your writing coach prospect to ascertain if you are choosing the right memoir coach for you. This article contains evaluation guidelines centered on the availability of the right memoir coach.

1. Can your coach work with you so that you meet your deadline?

As you develop your memoir project, you may become aware of a natural deadline, such as a family reunion or a birthday. The right memoir coach for you will be able to meet your date. This deadline should be discussed before you and the coach commit to each other.

Your deadline may also simply focus on a time when you would like to be finished. This is a completely internal deadline.

A book project without a deadline may lose its momentum. Even if you do not have a firm deadline, you do not want the project to drag so that you loose your energy to turn out a quality product. Select a meaningful end date to work toward. If you don’t have a special occasion on the horizon, “Next year at this time” is a workable time frame!

If you have a deadline, let it be significant. Don’t introduce needless tension into the relationship with an otherwise compatible memoir coach by selecting an arbitrary date that does not give you and your coach sufficient time to develop the book you both want to see finished. Pick a completion date that works for you both and stick to it.

2. How many other clients and projects does the coach have and can she or he comfortably fulfill all responsibilities and still meet your need?

Most likely, your coach has a number of clients and is doing the best possible job to meet all of their needs.  Before you engage a coach, mention how important the end date is to you and ask if meeting it is possible. This is the time to state any variability. (“There will be another family gathering six months later.”) The right memoir coach will be able to work with you—if you work with him/her.

3. Will the coach be available when you are?

Inform the writer about times when you will be away and not available to work with him or her. If you plan to be absent for protracted periods of time (i.e., a month, six weeks, etc.), the coach must know about this as soon as you do.

Most coaches must keep their schedules full as memoir coaching is their source of income. Since their income depends on billable time, they do not welcome surprise gaps. Knowing when you will be out of town or otherwise unavailable, your coach can shift his or her schedule towards other projects that will meet her or his income needs as well as the needs of other clients while you are unavailable. Additionally, your coach can rearrange his or her schedule to be more at your disposal later when you are ready to resume collaboration.

4. Does availability extend to being able to contact the coach when you need to be in contact?

How will special communications be conducted—e-mail or telephone? Be sure that your preferred method will be possible. Some memoir clients prefer phone calls, and others want all communications to be by mail or e-mail. The choice ought to be yours, and the coach ought to conform to it. You are paying the bill.

Other than short telephone communications (“Is our coaching session on Monday or Wednesday?”), expect to pay for the coach’s time during special telephone sessions and for e-mail feedback. In my own case, anything under five minutes is just fine. After five minutes, it is my responsibility to ask: “Would you like to set up a session?”

A final note:

A memoir-writing coach wants to help you

  • articulate what it is you want to say
  • plan a strategy for writing your best memoir, and
  • reach your memoir writing goals in effective time

The right memoir coach offers a “just in time” solution for encouragement, guidance, teaching, prompting, counseling and planning. Your coach will be the catalyst to get your manuscript ready for publication by the deadline you set.

There is a right memoir coach for you out there waiting to help you.

Action Steps

1. Visit the Memoir Coaching pages at

2. Call 207-353-5454 today for a free consultation about how we can collaborate to write your memoir or email me at

3. Sign up for a 3-hour trial of Memoir Coaching.

Many of the biggest challenges facing memoir writers can be alleviated by joining a distance-learning writing program.

Your participation will convince you that you can succeed.

Memoir writers—as all writers—work in isolation. There are many times when a memoir writer would like to have a contact with a system that could help her/him to resolve a writing issue—whether it’s  a question of grammar, style, or structure.

If you were not a plumber, would you do the plumbing to your house without first learning as much as you could about plumbing?

Of course, you would want to inform yourself.

You might peruse YouTube, buy some how-to books on plumbing, give a call to a person who is a plumber to ask your questions.

Here’s how you as a new writer can follow the same process to write your first memoir draft. (more…)

a room of one's own

A Room of One’s Own to Write Memoir In

An outside writing space sounds great to me—and a luxury I am not willing to wait for. In fact, I have never used outside writing rooms—except for once when I borrowed a summer home for week and finished a book there as I wrote ALL day. Being there was very productive as I had nothing […]

writing about non-events

Writing about Non-Events: They Belong in Your Memoir Writing

Non-events belong in memoir writing. I witnessed one recently while having coffee in a restaurant. A man and a 14- or 15-year-old boy whom I took to be his son walked in together and ordered. At first they were both silent, and then the boy began to speak. He spoke quite a bit. I couldn’t […]

write for a larger audience

4 Ways to Become a Better Writer

You can become a better memoir writer, but it will take some work. How do you achieve mastery in a skill? The answer, however it is presented, comes down to both acquiring knowledge pertaining to the skill and to putting in the time to practice the skill with critiques available to correct your technique and […]

right memoir coach

How to Know if You Have the Right Memoir Coach

Can your coach work with you so that you meet your deadline? As you develop your memoir project, you may become aware of a natural deadline, such as a family reunion or a birthday. The right memoir coach for you will be able meet your date. This deadline should be discussed before the coach and […]

memoir writing program

Six Reasons to Join a Long Distance Memoir Writing Program in 2020

Many of the biggest challenges facing memoir writers can be alleviated by joining a distance-learning writing program.

Your participation will convince you that you can succeed.

Memoir writers—as all writers—work in isolation. There are many times when a memoir writer would like to have a contact with a system that could help her/him to resolve a writing issue—whether it’s  a question of grammar, style, or structure.

If you were not a plumber, would you do the plumbing to your house without first learning as much as you could about plumbing?

Of course, you would want to inform yourself.

You might peruse YouTube, buy some how-to books on plumbing, give a call to a person who is a plumber to ask your questions.

Here’s how you as a new writer can follow the same process to write your first memoir draft. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

We'd love to have you access this content. It's in our members-only area, but you're in luck: becoming a member is easy and it's free.

Already a Member?

Not a Member Yet?