Recently, someone asked me what are the biggest barriers memoir writers face to being successful. Three came to mind right away…
Tag Archives | how to write memoirs
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!”
Sometimes, years after I’ve heard from someone that he is writing a memoir, I will connect with the writer again. Perhaps it’s three or four or five years later, but the writer is working on the same memoir. I don’t get it. So I ask politely, “What has snagged the memoir?” In short…
I has taken that writer too long to write his memoir!
How long does it take to write a memoir?
Well, I don’t actually know the answer to “how long does it take to write a memoir?” What I know is a memoir needn’t take so long to compose. A memoir—and interesting and meaningful one—can be written in 12 to 24 months.
If that’s so, then why do some memoirs drag on?
Here are some reasons your memoir may be taking you too long.
Mechanics of Writing a Memoir: It’s not all Inspiration
Note: This is the 2nd article in a series of 4 on the writing process of A Sugary Frosting published in 2016.
The mechanics of writing a memoir involve the work of writing a story and how life can insert delays & provide contemplative times, yet leave time left to write.
I started to write the memoir seriously in May of 2015. Since I continued to be active in the daily running of my business, The Memoir Network, I could commit myself only to writing 30 minutes a day—but, and this is important, to show up every day for the writing. 30 minutes a day may not seem like much, but it adds up to 3 1/2 hours a week.
It is not just 3 1/2 hours. It adds up to more than that because, as I went about my days—writing emails, taking notes for a coaching session, walking along the lovely river trail in our town—knowing that I would be writing the next day, my imagination would create text. When it came time to sit at my computer the subsequent day, I often had much of what I wanted to write already composed in my mind. In that way, I was able to create text more quickly in the allotted half hour then I might have otherwise had I sat down and written for 3 1/2 hours straight—not knowing what I would be composing that day.
Life Happened Even As I Wrote
The memoir writing process can be simple.
Note: This is the 1starticle in a series of 4 on the writing process of A Sugary Frosting published in 2016.
It’s 2016, and I am in the very last days of the memoir process and polishing A Sugary Frosting / A Memoir of a Girlhood Spent in a Parsonage, the early lifestory of my deceased spouse, Martha Blowen. It’s a time to make sure I have written what I want to write and to check grammar and spelling before it goes out to a copy editor.
I had promised Martha that I would write her stories so that our grandchildren would know something about her. In May 2015, I began gathering the stories she had written of her life. My intent was to create a booklet of these stories. But, to be honest, it has never appealed to me to write booklets. I like to write books. That’s what I do and that’s what I do well.
As I read through Martha’s stories, in a few instances, I understood that some were fragmentary and needed filling out. I knew the story she was trying to convey but then I had lived with her for 31 years. Would someone who did not know her—our grandchildren, for instance—appreciate the tale? So, I tweaked the stories to make them more complete, more meaningful. Good work, I thought. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
Ever wish you had the secret of generating a fast way to fast start writing your memoir—or most any other book?
A proven way to start writing is to follow a set of steps that will help you get into the writing habit. When I wrote and published A Sugary Frosting / A Memoir Of A Girlhood Spent in a Parsonage, I appreciated the efficiency and effectiveness of my writing process all the more. A Sugary Frosting is the story of the first 20 years of my deceased wife’s life. She had written a number of her stories but died before completing a memoir. When I took up the task, I followed what I consider to be “best practices” of memoir writing.
Below I offer them to you to help you get a fast start and to write more prolifically—and even bring it to a finish in the form of a published memoir.
Here are my nine “best practices” for memoir writing. They are tried and true and bear implementing today.
1. Set up a regular writing time. This will get you a fast start writing your memoir.
How long you write is perhaps not as important as how frequently you do so. Once you have set up a writing time, honor it as you would a medical appointment. Don’t allow others to usurp your time!
2. Give yourself permission to write a rough first draft.
We all wear many hats as we go through our days. In my case, I am a writer, a memoirist, a teacher, a memoir coach, a memoir editor, a co-author, a book publisher, and finally, a small business person. I wear those hats with pride and, I hope, some accomplishment.
Beyond these, I wear other hats as all of you do also. One is that of an athlete of sorts: there has been swimming, jogging, and weight lifting.
Writers ask me what they can do the most easily to write a better memoir. While I can understand the wish to write more quickly and easily, I’m going to share with you that writing a better memoir needs to be done slowly and thoughtfully. A rushed job is probably going to be a botched job.
The following are my recommendations to boost the quality of your memoir writing. They are obvious tasks which form the substance of this post. Each tip below comes loaded with links. In some instances, the identical words are highlighted, but they lead to separate articles that develop a different angle of the topic. Do not omit to click a repeated word.
I know some impatient readers are going to see following links as a problem, but I hope that you will not and will understand that you are being offered an in-depth e-course on how to improve your memoir writing. This is university-level work I am making available to you.
Be patient and dig in. In fact, it may take you a few days to fully absorb this post—but it will be amply worth the effort in the improved quality of your memoir.
1. Make a Memory List.
If there is one thing I would qualify as a magic bullet in memoir writing it would be the Memory List. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
As people are writing a memoir they will sometimes say, “I want to write my stories but I have forgotten so many details. Is there any way I can get them back? Should I use writing prompts?”
There is one tool above all others that makes the experience of life writing successful. That tool is not a writing prompt: it is the Memory List. No other exercise opens up the process of life writing as quickly and as surely as the thoughtful and thorough compilation of such a list. It’s simple, and as a first step, it’s crucial.
Let me tell you about the Memory List (a general term for your list of memories).
Your Memory List is always a work in process because the more you remember and jot down, the more you’ll recall. You will return to and rework your list again and again as you write your life stories. In short, it will serve as an excellent writing prompt without being a writing prompt.
1. The Memory List consists of short memory notes (three to five words is sufficient) of people, events, relationships, thoughts, feelings, things—anything—from your past.
How Useful Is A Memoir Timeline?
Have you ever wondered, “How long should it take to write a memoir?”
One answer, of course, is that it takes as long as it takes. While so true, this answer is not useful to those writers who are trying to get their duckies in line—looking at where the time is in their schedules to write, knowing what support to ask from their life partners, etc.
I’ve come up with a calculation for those people who want some sense of how long writing a memoir might take. The following time frame is realistic for any writer who needs a timeline to complete a 200-page memoir. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]