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memoir success

Memoir Success: Approaching Neverland

Memoir Success

Over the years, I have worked with many writers to help them create and shape their memoirs. It’s my pleasure to bring to your attention once again the success of one such writer: Peggy Kennedy from San Ramon, California, for whom I had the pleasure of providing coaching and editing help that led to her memoir success

Many readers of this blog have been writing for a while and some are despairing of finishing. There is hope. After a number of years of preparation, Peggy Kennedy’s memoir of growing up in a family with a mentally-ill mother, Approaching Neverland, saw print. (Ordering information at bottom.)

While the information below is from over a decade ago, I believe this memoir success story is dateless. Approaching Neverland did well—and so can you. A review in the magazine the Midwest Book Review gave it five stars. Originally fearful of speaking before an audience, she was a guest on a number of radio and television programs. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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Point of View in a Memoir

The Wrong Point of View in a Memoir Can Throw the Story

In 1996 and 1997, I composed about 200 pages of a memoir of my high school years and then it wasn’t going anywhere more than where it had been—mired in facts and details with no spirit. What I didn’t know was it had a wrong point of view problem

I merely stored it in various computers for years.

In the fall of 2013, I completed my mother’s memoir (We Were Not Spoiled). Because I was looking for a writing project I might devote myself to next, I picked up the high-school memoir again.

(Lest you think that I went to a high school like yours, let me assure you that I did not. I attended a Catholic high-school seminary. No, I’m not writing about sexual shenanigans—there was none of that whatsoever. I am writing about my life there between 1960 and 1964 and how it shaped me. This theme of identity is usual stuff for a memoir, but the setting is exotic in many ways and not at all usual. Almost none of you who are reading this have “been there”—trust me.)

Suddenly, after more than a decade and a half, the memoir spoke to me again!

“Write me! Write me!” it shouted. The text seemed “alive” again. [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. Show Don’t Tell.

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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launching memoir teaching

Launching Your Memoir Teaching – 6 Steps To More Success

Many memoir writers secretly, or not so secretly, want to help other people to write their memoirs. Sometimes they do this informally with a friend or two, and at other times, they get a bit more organized and offer a class at a library or other institution. One thing is certain, launching your memoir teaching will take some attention.

I have taught workshops for decades and can attest to the deep satisfaction I have derived from working with writers. I have formed friendships that have lasted these many years.

If you would like to offer a memoir class here are a few tips to do so more successfully. They are garnered from sound business practices, but don’t worry as they are easy for anyone to implement.

(I have written about the curriculum elsewhere.)

1. Reconnect with people who told you they want to be in a workshop within a few days of having first spoken to them.

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

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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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memoir coaching

Memoir Coaching Laser-focuses on Getting Your Memoir Written Faster and Better

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.

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

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right memoir coach

How to Know if You Have the Right Memoir Coach

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.

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

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personal memoir

Seven Reasons for Writing a More Personal Memoir

You want to write your memoir, but you resist getting too personal, going in too deep. In short, writing a more personal memoir.

Your guarded secret that you wanted to have your own business one day or your hope that your father would apologize eventually for his denigration of you—this has happened and it has had a great impact on you. Your even deeper secrets—the sexual orientation that you dared not reveal or your negative self-concept—surely this can’t be the subject of a memoir. How would you live this down? Isn’t it better to stick with the facts and dates? And aren’t these inner realities too personal to impose on others?

1) The more personal your memoir the more universal it is.

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

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truth telling

Telling the Hard Truth in Your Memoir–Are You Holding Back?

Are You Holding Back the Hard Truth in Your Memoir?

Your memoir needs the hard truth about life—your life—and sometimes that requires exposing yourself, getting “naked.”

I believe one has to stop holding back for fear of alienating some imaginary reader or real relative or friend and come out with personal truth. If we are to understand the human condition and if we are to accept ourselves in all the complexity, self-doubt…. we have to know all we can about each other and we have to be willing to go naked.

—May Sarton

Wow, going around naked! Gulp! (Better hit the gym!)

But, I guess you get the idea—psychologically and emotionally naked. Your memoir needs truth telling about life—yours—and sometimes that requires exposing yourself, getting “naked.”

I would like to change the metaphor a bit, to use a metaphor that is less startling but very graphic nonetheless. It is the metaphor of the kernels at the bottom of the popcorn bowl.

I love popcorn and enjoy eating it but there always comes a moment when I get to the bottom of the bowl and the plethora of corn kernels that have been popped into delightful puffy bites gives way to the hard half-popped or not-popped-at-all kernels. These are not fun to eat. Disappointed, I walk to the trash and throw the kernels away. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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larger audience

Don’t Pass On Reaching A Larger Audience – 4 Tips   

Perhaps you’ve been writing a memoir for your family and friends. The composition started off easily enough. You jotted a few memories and passed the stories out. People started saying you ought to write a book, but you were doubtful no one else but family and friends would be interested. For a long while you were satisfied creating your book for a small audience and then it occurred to you you that you were writing with a theme that might interest a larger audience. Perhaps, you wondered, if there was something in your lifestory that could address a larger audience of strangers. Or…

Perhaps from the get-go, you had a sense that, while this story of yours is personal, there was something in it that certainly could interest a larger audience.

While family and friends are always a worthy readership for your memoir, it is possible to reach an even larger audience.

“But, how to do that?” you ask. “What’s the magic bullet?”

Well, I don’t have a magic bullet but I do have a few suggestions to help you reach beyond a small circle. Below are four suggestions to empower your story to appeal to a broader public. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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