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too much backstory

Too Much Backstory–Are you making memoir writing more difficult than necessary?

How much backstory is too much? Today we will discuss how to avoid too much backstory in your memoir. My goal is to help you write better the first time around. The earlier you write better the less you will have to edit and rewrite.

I hope this is not you…

You are writing a scene about a time when you—alas—got fired from your job. As you write about this vignette, you throw in a back story about your college studies, about how much you loved your major and how eager you were for the workplace. Then you go on to throw in the catty politics of the office from which you got fired. (Perhaps you lead into this backstory with “I couldn’t help but remember…”) You even throw in a vignette about your boss’s spouse who came onto you and another snippet about the wasteful (and tasteless) redecorating your boss commissioned. For good measure, you describe the company’s history and…

STOP!!!

All this backstory is not necessary—here, at this time. What you are doing is writing a magazine article not a memoir vignette. Spend your energy writing what your memoir needs to be written.

As you write about being fired, jot (or type) a note of the backstory details you will want the reader to know at some point—but not now. Later when you are finished with the firing story, you can take the time to write the backstory—or move on to another episode and save writing the backstory for later. Once a particular backstory is written, you can insert it into the manuscript where it belongs. Your love of your major will fit into your college chapters and the catty office politics will fit into another chapter—a chapter before the firing. The boss’s spouse coming onto you will also fit into another  earlier chapter.

When you overwrite a story by stuffing it with too much backstory—and many writers seem to want to tell their entire story in what ought to be a focused vignette—you disrespect chronology and drama and the reader’s patience. Furthermore…

When you go easy on backstory, you will find editing a much easier task. No more extensive cuts that leave you wondering if you have a logical sequencing with what is left. No more decision about where to paste the material you cut from a vignette. You will no longer have to ask: “Is this really the right sequence, the right place in the story? Do I have the transitions in place to make this vignette understandable here?”)

What ought the vignette about “being fired” contain?

The firing story ought to have the scene of you being fired. Your boss’s diction, attire, comportment are all appropriate here. Specific dialog and setting also fit in. Your internal chatter is good to include. Your emotional reaction—the anger, the embarrassment, the uncertainty—can be incorporated.

The firing vignette needs to be a story of something that happened at one time, in one place, to one person. Not a story about everything, a story that is full of backstory.

When you go easy on backstory, you will find editing a much easier task. Avoiding too much backstory is a writerly way to write. No more extensive cuts that leave you wondering if you have a logical sequencing with what is left. No more decision about where to paste the material you cut from a vignette. You will no longer have to ask: “Is this really the right sequence, the right place in the story? Do I have the transitions in place to make this vignette understandable here?”

To view the content of this post as a YouTube video, click here.

Whatever you do today, be sure to write a few pages of your memoir.

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fast start writing

9 Tips for a Fast Start Writing Your Memoir  

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!

A schedule may be the tool you need to make a success of your writing. Don’t become another person who tried to write, who is thinking of writing.

What you need to write a memoir successfully is discipline not motivation. Motivation will likely get you only so far while discipline will see you to a completed memoir. A schedule flows naturally as a part of discipline.

2. Give yourself permission to write a rough first draft.

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Memoir-Writing Support

How Long Does It Take to Write a Memoir?

Sometimes, years after I’ve heard from someone that he is writing a memoir, I will hear from the writer again. Perhaps it’s three or four or five years later, but the writer is working on the same memoir and is not close to finishing. I don’t get it. How long does it take to write a memoir? So I ask politely, “What has snagged your memoir?” In short…

It seems to have taken that writer too long to write his memoir!

So, 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 as many people take. People do get bogged down in writing. A memoir—an interesting and meaningful one under 200 pages—can be written in as short a time as 12 to 24 months.

If that’s so, then why do some memoirs drag on and on and risk never getting completed?

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

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set-goals-brainstorming-2398562_1920

22 Memoir-Writing Goals for the Second Half of 2022: Your Half Year Boost

DL: This post was originally published on December 29, 2021 and I have tweaked them to fit the second half of the year. How many of these goals have you accomplished in the first half of the year? These remain great goals. There’s still 6 months left in 2022 for you to succeed at these!

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Did you find yourself wandering along with your memoir writing in the first half of the 2022 year and not achieving your memoir-writing goals?  Do you have a sense that you might have accomplished a bit more writing than you have?

At the half year point, it is traditional to review how the past two quarters went for you and to create goals for yourself for the six months. (A goal is a wish with action steps and a timeline.) These goals need to be written and reviewed periodically.

Studies have shown that people who set goals in writing have a better outcome vis-à-vis accomplishing what they set out to do. Here’s a report on one such study. (The famous Harvard goal-setting study so many of us have heard of apparently never happened, but the concept of goal setting is clearly important and is explored in the linked article.)

22 Memoir-Writing Goals for 2022

Since this is a memoir writing blog, I thought it is appropriate for me to come up with goals that would further your writing success in 2022. And why not play with the year’s number—22?

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broader audience

How to Write a Memoir for a Broader Audience: 4 Tips

Would you like your memoir to attract a broader audience?  While family and friends are a worthy readership for your memoir, are you one of those many writers who aspires a larger public?

Writers will admit, if pushed, that they would enjoy a public response to their efforts. Your story can appeal to strangers—if you pay attention to these four tips—and may even move these strangers to new insights and motivations. And how knows—this broader audience may write you a fan letter.

My newest You Tube video offers you four easy-to-implement tips to help your story to appeal to a public beyond family and friends. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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Writing Feelings into Your Memoir

Writing Feelings into Your Memoir

Recently, David asked in an email about “writing feelings into your memoir,” about writing a memoir that, if I am understanding him right, is not all details and facts.

Below is my response which can serve as a stand-alone article to help you write your own memoir.

Leave a comment below expressing your experience of writing feelings into your memoir.

Here are some of my suggestions for writing feelings into your memoir:

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writing process steps

Slow Writing is the Literary Relative of Slow Cooking

With all the blog posts I have read about learning to write faster—I have even heard of “how to write a book in a weekend, I want to take a moment to re-emphasize the value of writing slowly and carefully. Perhaps, what I would like to stop a moment to ponder is the literary relative […]

Down to Basics: Vignettes, Scenes, and Dialogues

Down to Basics: Vignettes, Scenes, and Dialogs

Basic units of memoir writing

Vignettes, scenes, and dialogs are at the core of any memoir. Here are some ideas for writing them more quickly and elegantly.

1. Don’t worry about order.

Don’t stop to figure out how these snippets—vignettes, scenes, and dialogs—may eventually fit together into a story.

These bits and pieces will accumulate as you recall more and more and continue to write them down. Giving yourself permission to write in small, separate segments (vignettes, scenes, and dialogs, etc.) is a great way to start writing. Because there will always be your memory list of things to write about, you will never experience “writer’s block!” Fitting these pieces together to craft a polished story will come later, in the rewriting stage. Right now, it’s important to get text—any text—down on paper. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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theme-focused memoir

The Theme-focused Memoir

While many of the people whom I have helped to write a memoir have come ostensibly to write about their lives – to celebrate some achievement, I would say that many of these people are also writing a mission-driven memoir, a theme-focused memoir.

Behind the desire to tell about their lives, there is some intent to promote a point of view. This comes under many guises. Generally, of course, this point of view is called “theme.”

The theme-focused memoir is the most common model.

Writing a manuscript only of one’s experience—the dates, the facts, the activities—may often not enough to entice the reader—at least, it will not interest the reader who is not family and friends. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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