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Help to Write My Memoir: Here’s What a Top Editor Does for You

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What a top editor does for you. People often ask, “What sort of input does an editing client receive from her/his Memoir Network editor?” The answer, of course, varies according to the client. No two receive the same response. We always individualize. You persist in asking, “Yes, yes, but what sort of manuscript input can […]

What a Top Editor Does For You

People often ask, “What sort of book editing input does a client receive from her/his Memoir Network editor?”

The answer, of course, varies according to the client. No two receive the same response. We always individualize.

You persist in asking, “Yes, yes, but what sort of manuscript input can I expect from a memoir editor that I begin to work with?”

“Ok, I get it—you want a sample communication.”

Here is one that went out to a new client who had sent us a manuscript and wanted us to read it through and make overall recommendations. This is an actual letter so, to protect the client, we have taken out all references that might point to the client and identify him or her or his or her story. We’ll show you the same respect.

What a top editor does for you is push you

Dear Editing Client,

I have read through about half the text you sent. So many good things to say about the memoir manuscript:

  • The style is great, so polished. You have a reassuring sense of language. It will appeal to a literate audience
  • So many scenes are vivid and stick to the imagination. Great use of details.
  • One has a sense of life back then. How hard it must have been.
  • There are many “right on” observations.

The following are a few observations that are of a general nature of some challenges the manuscript faces.

1. Structurally, the memoir would benefit from being broken down into short (3-5 pages?) sections. The story wants more dramatic development. Not that you have to introduce action or heavy plotting, but where is the inner or psychological conflict that the telling of the story will resolve, alleviate/address?

If you broke the story down into short sections you may develop a clearer sense of what each section/story/vignette needs to do in/for the whole. In short, it would improve the story if you were to ask “Why is each section in the book?”

Even the impressionistic development you want to maintain has to have a thrust towards a resolution which is also called a thrust towards wholeness—or holiness. As you develop a sense of purpose for each section, a larger sense of purpose (for the entire manuscript) may emerge. With the larger sense may come a realization of what needs to be added and—alas—what may need to be deleted.

2. There are several voices to the narrator in the manuscript and they seem to have the same value. This does not help the reader’s sense of which narrative voice exactly is telling this story and why. Here we are confronting purpose again. Why must this story be told by which particular narrative voice?

The narrator seems to be a persona who is ruminating. S/he [again, we are protecting the identity] comes in and out of the story and sometimes the reader is left realizing that s/he is no longer listening to the narrator but has switched to the various characters in the memoir.

3. Because of the above observations, I would qualify this draft, for all its lovely stylistic successes, to be still in the first draft mode because of its structural issues. I hope this is not distressing to you because you have much that is good to work with.

4. Again let me come back to my sense that the reader doesn’t quite get why s/he is reading this story—or should. Is it:

  • to listen to the philosophical ruminations of the narrator?
  • to enjoy the living main character portray his ethnic culture/way of life (he is certainly not sentimental)?

A “both of the above” choice, of course, is a possibility but that possibility would not resolve the difficulties I expressed earlier.

A memoir editor helps you write the best story you can

So, the question I have for you, (and what a top memoir editor does for you is ask questions to help you dig deeper), a question which has the potential of impacting how you tell this story is:  what do you want to say in this book? What is your governing impulse? When a book is written over a long period of time, the “governing impulse” is constantly being reinvented and so the book loses focus. Its focus is one thing here and another thing there.

There are several ways to know better what you might want to say (otherwise known as theme):

  • Write more so that the text reveals something to you. This is especially effective if the writing is in a continuous flow and not picked up and put down. (I know. I know you are busy.)
  • Break the stories into short pieces so that each piece acquires a raison d’être that carries the narrative. Writing must have an ineluctable thrust. This must be true not only of the parts but of the whole.
  • Choose the narrator (the angry person, the conciliatory person, etc., telling the story) and tell the whole story through that narrator.
  • Visualize the climax/crisis point of what you have to say. Where did the tension in the story reach a pitch and things had to change for the main character—or else? This will help organize the story. I’m not getting cues here that, when I get to a resolution, I will respond, “Of course, it has to be this way.” That piecing of cues together is a pleasure that keeps a reader reading. It comes down to: how are you going to keep the reader reading if the reader is not snookered into reading more to know the resolution of something important to the character?

If you want to talk about this, let’s have a phone chat. Next week sometime?

I hope these observations help and are encouraging you to tackle the challenge of rewriting this memoir. They are offered in that optic. This could be a really good book. I look forward to working as your memoir book editor if we are a fit.



Action Steps

1. Visit the Memoir Editing 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 [email protected].

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

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