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A Faulty Process Is—Well—Useless

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One memoir writer who had spent two or three years writing her story submitted her formatted manuscript to me for a final edit. She told me she hadn’t gotten help writing a memoir because she hadn’t wanted to be influenced. As I read her story, I struggled to find its focus. There didn’t seem to […]

One memoir writer who had spent two or three years writing her story submitted her formatted manuscript to me for a final edit. She told me she hadn’t gotten help writing a memoir because she hadn’t wanted to be influenced.

As I read her story, I struggled to find its focus. There didn’t seem to be any.

Ouch!

The manuscript was full of vague (meaningless, really) sentences that really didn’t transmit much meaning. Lines such as: “The town I grew up in was in the middle of nowhere.”

Ouch!

The timeline jumped from something in one paragraph to something that occurred 10 years earlier than something in a second paragraph. The reader—me—was left confused about what happened when and what were the cause and effect relationships between these mentions.

Ouch!

The story was clearly meaningful to the writer—and as such was worth her time to write—but the story was meaningless to the reader and not particularly worth the time to read.

This woman who had sent me her manuscript had spent two years writing a memoir that was – frankly – unintelligible, uninteresting and basically unpublishable.

“But I have worked so hard,” she said. She was clearly upset. She felt that her effort ought to be rewarded with praise. But…

The reality is that books are praised on the results and not on the effort that went into creating them. (Rewarding effort is a grade-school sort of reward. It doesn’t work that way in the world of adults where output and not input rules.)

If “working so hard” were sufficient, all of us would be successful at all of our efforts. But, success does not always crown effort. Success only presents laurels to right effort.

The tragedy here is that I—or any of the Memoir Network coaches—could have taught this woman to write a good memoir over the space of a few months working together. In that time, she would have begun to master techniques that are necessary to writing a good memoir—a memoir that would appeal to a larger audience.

Other than her children, her husband and a few friends, I can’t imagine anybody either wanting to read such a book or wanting to pay for it.

Coaching is essentially teaching. A coach assesses where a writer is at and works on a regular basis to improve that writer’s skills and activity.

All of this is so unnecessary. The writer is obviously a first-time writer. She has presumed she knows how to write a memoir, that writing one is somehow easy, that she didn’t need help writing a memoir. She is, after all, intelligent and accomplished. However, if personal qualities were sufficient criteria for succeeding at a task we have never before undertaken, then most of us would be able to perform heart surgery.

Of course, most of us understand that there needs to be some guidance, some formation, before one can undertake heart surgery.

The same is true of writing a memoir. There needs to be some type of apprenticeship.

You can try to get prepared “until the cows come home” but without some guidance, you are not likely to be successful. Guidance can come from books, programs, courses, and coaching.

If you were practicing golf, would it make sense to keep practicing a stroke before you learned if your technique was well executed? No, you would find someone early on to evaluate what you were doing before investing too heavily into practice. It is important to maximize best practices over faulty practice.

The time to start to work on your manuscript with a coach is now. It is not time to keep practicing what might not be working for your memoir.

For more information on coaching or to request a free consultation about your best next step, click here.

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