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Everyone should work on improving your writing. Find tips and theories about improving your craft.

writing a first draft

5 Better Ways to Describe The People in Your Memoir 

Without other people, our lives and our memoirs risk becoming dull. Although ideas are pivotal for many individuals, relationships are even more commanding. We are intrigued with who other people are and how they function. “Who’s that? What are they doing? Where did they come from?” These are question we want answered. To write a strong story, capitalize on this interest. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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Show, don't tell about your characters

Show Don’t Tell, or Don’t Describe Your Characters–Show Them!

The old adage “Show, don’t tell!” is as true as ever. It is one technique that will always improve your writing. I admit that there is some great writing that makes a precedent for “tell,” but as a rule, “show” is more effective.

1. Your pen is your movie camera.

In a film, a director ( that’s you!) doesn’t have an actor go on screen to tell the audience that someone is angry. Instead, he shows the character in a scene where anger is in action. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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how to be a better storyteller

How to be a Better Storyteller

In this YouTube video on how to be a better storyteller, I share with you how you can learn to make effective use of a variety of technical skills to shape successful lifestories.

memoir theme

Three Ways an Inauthentic Memoir Theme Will Trip You Up

As you articulate your memoir theme, ask yourself if this memoir theme is really yours—does it reflect your present understanding of your story and of life itself? Or is it a residue of the accepted “wisdom” of someone else: a parent, another adult figure, society at large?

1) A theme that is authentically yours makes for better writing.

It comes from your center of experience. Writers who recognize, acknowledge, and explore their authentic memoir themes in their writing are more apt to present us with clear, to-the-point stories than those who repeat inherited memoir themes or who think they can ignore the issue of theme.

Early in our lives, you and I were naturally and rightfully the recipients of someone else’s—a parent’s or grandparent’s—understanding and interpretation of life. As long as these interpretations correspond to our own adult views, we can write easily within their context. What often happens, however, is that we continue to espouse a point of view inherited from another without realizing that it has ceased to correspond to our own. When challenged, we will say “Well, I guess I really don’t believe that anymore. Isn’t it something how I wrote (or said) that!”

[Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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writing about non-events

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

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.

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Using Precise Language

More on Using Precise Language

Many memoir writers are under the impression that you need to have an extensive vocabulary to write. An extensive vocabulary can only help you–if by “extensive” you mean many precise words—not just “big” ones. More important is using precise language.

Precise words are specific

Precise words are specific and not vague and ineffective like nice, awful, big, OK. “She was nice” is vague. “She understands different points of view” is specific.

“He was awfully big” is vague. You might write instead: “My father measured six foot five and weighed 275 pounds.” Now that is using precise words! [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

Many memoir writers are under the impression that you need to have an extensive vocabulary to write. An extensive vocabulary can only help you–if by “extensive” you mean many precise words—not just “big” ones. More important is using precise language.

Precise words are specific

Precise words are specific and not vague and ineffective like nice, awful, big, OK. “She was nice” is vague. “She understands different points of view” is specific.

“He was awfully big” is vague. You might write instead: “My father measured six foot five and weighed 275 pounds.” Now that is using precise words! [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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writing process steps

Writing Process Steps–Linger With Your Story

One of the writing process steps is to linger with your story. Many, and perhaps most, people write too fast. I don’t mean that they end up with a text characterized by sloppy grammar, spelling problems and chronology issues—although that may be the case, of course.

No, what I mean is that they push through the process of writing their stories much too quickly. They end up with only a part of the story they could have written had they lingered.

So many times in my workshops, I have found it easy to tell those manuscripts that have been lingered over from those that have not. As somebody’s face reveals Irish ancestry or Italian heritage, a piece of writing reveals its past.

There is a quality to a piece that has been rushed that is easily discernible to anyone who has learned to write more slowly. So…learn to linger with your story.

One of the most essential writing process steps

1. When you don’t take the time to linger with your story, you generally are unable to feel the full import of your memoir.

[Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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write memoir

How Is Learning to Write Memoir Like Learning to Swim?

When learning to write memoir, it can feel awkward and uncomfortable as you learn the process, just like learning to swim. We often see people who are not comfortable swimming flail about in the water, their heads reaching up high, desperately, to catch a breath of air. This awkward gesture soon tires them. Try as they might there is not enough air for them as they constrict their ribs, twist their heads, contort their jaws. Soon enough, considering that they had set out to enjoy the water, these people quit and return to the shore. Swimming is over for the day. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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time sequencing and flashbacks

Before Sending a Manuscript To An Editor Part 3–Time Sequencing and Flashbacks

Note from the Editor: This third installment of Before Sending a Manuscript to an Editor series offers basic editing tips around time sequencing and flashbacks. For Part 1: Self-Editing Techniques Click here. For Part 2: Use of Time  Click here.

A writer can effect these tips to bring a manuscript to a higher level of finish before sending the piece off to a professional editor. In this section, I write about use of time: specifically, cause and effect time sequencing and flashbacks.

Cause and Effect

In the previous post on the use of time, I wrote about the cause-and-effect sequence as a sub-aspect of proper chronology.

Before I get to the cause-and-effect sequence which is an absolutely necessary styling element to understand, I need to review an essential element of memoir writing (as of fiction): the suspension of disbelief.

A writer can effect these tips to bring a manuscript to a higher level of finish before sending the piece off to a professional editor. In this section, I write about time sequencing: specifically, cause and effect sequencing and the flashback. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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self-editing techniques

Before Sending a Manuscript To An Editor / Part 1–Self-Editing Techniques

Note from the Editor: This first installment of Before Sending a Manuscript to an Editor series offers basic editing tips around self-editing techniques. For Part 2 Use of Time Click here.  For Part 3 Time Sequencing and Flashbacks Click here

Self-Editing Techniques and Tips

I have been a memoir and fiction editor since 1990. In that time, I have worked with hundreds of manuscripts.

Some have come to me requiring only slight tweaking. The texts are nearly ready for publication. The authors have created an interesting and well-crafted piece of writing.

Too many other manuscripts, however, have come at a stage that reflects the I’m-ready-to-have-this-writing-over-with-finally stance of tired writers. Writing can be a long and tedious task after the initial rush of creativity and enthusiasm. Once the glow fades, Pegasus drops the enchanted writer from the skies and—horrors—the writer has to mount a pack mule to trudge the slopes of rewriting. (“But, I want to do inspired writing,” the writer bemoans, “not pick-and-shovel work!”)

Check this before sending a manuscript to an editor.

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