Whether you are beginning your memoir or have almost finished with that first draft, I hope the links listed below provide you with useful memoir writing tips. These links appeared on the Internet in recent days.
With autumn in full swing, it feels like a time for starting or restarting our writing projects. After working on a draft of my memoir for the last decade, I found the information tucked behind these links helpful.
I follow Jess Lourey on Twitter and via her newsletter. Her latest newsletter contained an article on the question, “Memoir or Fiction?” Lourey’s opinions in the short article are based on the completion of her latest novel and what she felt when she typed “The End.”
Memoir writing is often a long and arduous journey. Sometimes it takes a toll on the writer in a variety of ways.
There is the debate over what family members will think or do. The writer questions the truth of what he/she is writing. This questioning brings into consideration just how much the truth may be altered. Use your own name or a pseudonym is another question. And after all this questioning, doubt takes up its place in the writer’s mind.
Self-doubt is an author’s worst enemy.
Self-doubt has a personality all its own. Its abilities can bring down a writer in an instant. Is my memoir good enough to be published? Should I self-publish or get an agent? Have I covered all the bases with regard to truth? What have I left undone? Perhaps I’ll just give up!
A year or so ago I gave in to self-doubt.
I’ll admit it was a combination of things, both physical and mental, that caused my self-doubt. But it became so overpowering, as it can, I thought I had no choice but to stop working on my memoir.
I tidied up my manuscript into a beautiful bundle of pages and tied it with a blue ribbon. Then I set it aside where I couldn’t see it. I’ve not touched it since.
In recent months I’ve read some books, including memoirs, which have encouraged me. Some blog posts have also heightened my desire to move ahead. Included in these posts are:
Kathy Pooler’s post Our Stories Endure: A Memoir Moment reminded me if I don’t share my story, who will. And if someone tries to share my story, it will no longer be just my story.
I advise this when writing about family: Pay attention to details … journals, diaries, photographs, conversations. Don’t paint people in black and white, but offer portraits with insight, based on knowledge, real and authentic. Ask yourself: Would I want someone to tell my story any other way?
We’ve all watched old buildings come down. Sometimes the building is not so old but is demolished in the name of progress. Other times the destruction is caused by forces of nature–tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, fire.
I remember the first implosion I watched on TV. It was an amazing sight to behold! A building falling into itself. Even better here are two buildings at the University of Nebraska imploding almost side-by-side:
Cather-Pound Residence Hall Implosion
University of Nebraska at Lincoln (2012)
This image is a bit drastic in comparison to what I intend to do with my memoir manuscript. Yet, deconstruction of a piece of work that has taken years to write is somewhat nerve shattering.
Will I be able to bring it back together into a cohesive story? Or will I find myself on yet another wrong path? Pondering these kinds of thoughts make me nervous.
I am almost ready to start. A work table has been purchased and placed in the Studio. This is where I intend to sit and begin reading and cutting. Yes, cutting. With scissors in hand, I’ll snip what I want to move elsewhere and let it flutter to the tabletop where I’ll label it with its new location.
Here is Where Reconstruction Begins.
Once those snippets are labeled I’ll begin taping and moving them to their new location within the remaining manuscript. During my last reading, I recognized a missing link. Nothing like the Missing Link believed to be part of the Theory of Evolution.
My missing link may lead my readers to assume the worst about one of my characters, and this is not my intention. So, I need to bring that character into a whole person and not one divided by my storytelling. These words may not make much sense to you right now, but trust me they mean a great deal to me and my story.
What I’ve learned from this phase of my writing is that allowing the manuscript to marinate is one of the most useful tools in a writer’s toolbox.
Another handy tool is allowing yourself time to read your manuscript from the perspective of your unknown reader. Here you’ll find yourself capable of finding construction issues, plot, and storyline errors, issues with character development, and other things that may confuse your readers.
Take your time before you rush to publish your book. It never hurts to give it another close going over with a large magnifying glass. Heed Anne Lamott’s words:
With my recent interest in writing fiction as well as nonfiction, I may from time to time post reviews of fiction works and guest posts from fiction writers. Today represents the first of these posts. I hope you enjoy it.
Today I’m pleased to spotlight The Dan Diaries, the fourth book in The Beyond Series by author, D.D. Marx. D.D. will be joining us with a guest post plus there is a giveaway.
Book Title: The Dan Diaries by D.D. Marx (The Beyond Series Book #4)
Category: Adult Fiction; 200 pages
Publisher: Beyond Dreams Publishing
Release date: April 6, 2018
Dan Sullivan was the best friend of Olivia Henry when his life was taken in a tragic car accident. Shocked to be on the other side, Dan navigates his way by learning his new role in eternal life. His first assignment is as Olivia’s guardian angel. He has the crucial role of guiding her to her pre-defined destiny. Dan’s death throws Olivia into a tail-spin which causes her to veer way off course. He understands the enormity of the challenge when he hears the mechanism by which he can communicate. He’s only allowed to use signs and symbols to get her attention and cannot interfere with her free-will.
Every time he thinks he’s close, something throws her off track. He’s forced to start over by convincing her to trust in their enduring, unbreakable bond. Olivia can feel Dan’s presence but is still reluctant to believe the messages he’s sending. She is fearful of falling in love again at the risk of losing another soulmate. Can Dan persuade her to trust in his love from afar so she can finally receive the happiness she truly deserves?
This is such a loaded question. I mean, who thinks they can sit down and write a novel that anyone would want to read let alone purchase – with actual money? It’s overwhelming if you think about it. What’s the first line? How do you pull the reader in? Does this even make any sense? I think the biggest thing for me has been to just – write it down. No matter how pretty or perfect it is, just get it out. You can edit until your hearts content, but it needs to start somewhere.
Remarkably, I was able to write and publish four books in three years. It’s surreal to comprehend. What got me to the end were two key things:
I forced a deadline.
What I mean by that is I announced release dates. Then there was no turning back. I know how I operate and what makes me tick. I’m a procrastinator by nature. It’s how I’m wired. I’ve been like this my whole life – in school, at work and in life. It’s just how I am built. I do my best work under pressure. I knew if I didn’t have a looming timeline, I would choose everything else but writing my book. This single rule got me from hopes and dreams to published author.
I pretended I was writing it just for kicks.
Writing is an intimidating prospect. It’s subjective. The same story can be told a million different ways. How it is perceived is all in the reader’s interpretation. How do you pretend to know what is good? What will resonate? What’s interesting or captivating? I just sat down and told my story like I was talking to a friend. I didn’t do any reading during the writing process because I didn’t want to get anyone else’s voice in my head. Writers can have endless cycles of churn if they think too much. “I should say it like this”, “Wait, no, this is much better”, “Oh, but I want to use this word” or “I want to elicit this emotion.” Every single word becomes an obsession if you overthink it. That’s when all the doubt sets in. Most of writing process entails trust and a gut feel followed by strong editing. Success is the ultimate reward but never guaranteed.
My advice to any new author is to dive in, with both feet, into the deep end. Pretend your words will never see the light of day. Don’t create expectations and it will all flow more naturally.
Meet the Author:
D.D. Marx is a contemporary romantic fiction writer and blogger. Marx is a graduate of the University of Dayton, as well as the Second City program in Chicago, where she currently resides. A proud aunt and self-described hopeless romantic, Marx has always had a knack for humorous and engaging storytelling. Her pen name is a dedication to her beloved friend Dan, who continues to guide and inspire her in her daily life.
Maybe you’ve come across some of the posts asking the question: Have you considered giving up your writing?
In recent days and weeks, I’ve come across several posts, both blog and on Facebook and Twitter, asking similar questions. My blog plans have included this topic for some time, but the increased interest moved this post up on my editorial calendar.
LET’S GET SERIOUS–Have YOU HAD THOUGHTS OF QUITTING?
Perhaps like this rusty relic, an Underwood typewriter from the past, you sometimes feel battered, worn out, at a loss as to how to move on, and you just want to throw up your hands and quit. I think lots of us have.
Last week K.M. Weiland posted a similar question on Facebook. I was stunned when I began typing a comment with the word “yes” front and center! To be honest, I have considered giving up my writing. In fact, as recently as the last few days of 2016. And many times throughout that long and arduous year.
I happen to have a live-in cheerleader, however, my husband, Bob. He won’t let me give up. He too is a creative and in some respects understands the “enemy” when it comes near. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am.
What can cause a writer to give up?
In my case, I felt a heavy cloud of depression and unending conflicts from health issues. I’m certain these were talking over any desire I had to write and finish my memoir. How do I know this? Because as soon as I finished my comment on K.M.’s Facebook post, I turned to thinking about the remaining revisions and edits to my manuscript and discussions I’d had with a publisher.
However, there are many reasons causing us to consider setting our writing aside. Perhaps you have contemplated this decision in the midst of everyday burdens, health issues, and more. Note that K.M.’s Facebook post received 101 comments. You can scroll through and read about some of the reasons given.
reasons writers stop writing
The variety of reasons a writer might be tempted to stop writing is broad and usually personal to the writer. Here are a few:
Day job and its stresses;
Health issues–injuries, surgeries, PTSD and more;
Having and/or adopting children into the family;
Writer’s block, stuck and can’t get started, hiding muse;
Critique and/or writing groups;
Will the truth I am writing hurt friends or family; should I write my story.
Publishing aspect of sending your book into the world;
Marketing aspect tiring and overwhelming;
Lack of encouragement from people in the writer’s life.
Any or all of these things can interfere with your creative life. The one thing to remember is none of these is your fault. However, you are the one who can take charge and make a difference.
Recently, I’ve begun to think of scoliosis as a metaphor for my life. I’ve struggled to please teachers, employers, parents, boyfriends, husbands, twisting myself into someone I can’t be. I hurt when I do this, because it’s not natural. And it never works. But when I stretch my Self, instead, the results are different. When I’m reaching for my personal goals—to be a good mother, wife, friend and writer—I feel my balance return. And the sense of relief, as I become more the woman I truly am, is simply grand. [emphasis added]
― Linda C. Wisniewski, Off Kilter: A Woman’s Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, and Her Polish Heritage
What to do when the urge to quiT hits?
Take a deep breath, take a walk, meditate, listen to some music you love, read a good book. And think about nothing related to writing for a few moments.
Then, give yourself as much time as you feel necessary to rid yourself of any negative feelings you’re experiencing. It is important to overcome the negativity before attempting to write.
When you feel like you’ve hit that point when writing is something you want to do, try it. Find a quiet place, clear your mind. Try free writing or journalling. Write anything: your thoughts, your feelings, or ideas for a project. It doesn’t have to be structured. Just write.
Perhaps afterwards, in time, you’ll sense a desire to return to that project or outline or revisions you’ve been avoiding. I use the word “avoid” carefully, because we aren’t necessarily avoiding our work. Our lives are avoiding the work, and we are held somewhat victim by our lives.
Remember that rusty Remington typewriter above? Like that typewriter, a little refurbishing and refreshing is all we need to get our writing underway again. From rusty, shabby, unhappy, wandering writers, we can become the writers with initiative, motivation, a desire to write. Like the Remington here, we’ll feel shiny and newly energized!
I’d love to hear from you
Please leave your comments below. It doesn’t matter if you agree, disagree, or feel I’ve missed the mark. Let’s come together for discussion because though many say they would never give up their writing, many of us do feel that emotion. “Talking” about it may help.
Writing a good, perhaps great, memoir requires a map or recipe. Any good recipe has a combination of ingredients which in the end equal what the cook hopes to present to her dinner guests, or in terms of memoirists, what we want to present to the reading public.
While I’ve been resting and healing these past few months, I’ve had time to ponder the reworking of my memoir. What is it lacking? What have I left out? Could I have mixed those ingredients a little differently to get a better result?
Differences between memoir and other genre
The best way to review what ingredients are needed foremost is to look at how writing a memoir differs from other genre:
Memoir is, to the best of the writer’s ability, true. Drawn from a particular part of one’s life or an issue from which something is learned and can be shared with others, the facts are important in detailing scenes, characters, and places. Some facts may not be clearly remembered and in this instance, a disclaimer can be made to that effect.
Memoir is somewhat more difficult in creating the story arc than other genre, such as fiction, science fiction, historical fiction, etc., because memoirists are dealing with reality and not the imagination. In imagining a story and putting it down in words, one has a bit more leverage than the facts of a memoir often allow. However, a clever writer has the ability to make memoir as interesting and readable as first-rate fiction.
The memoir writer has a story to tell, and he or she is the only one who can tell that story. It is the writer’s story to tell despite what might be believed or felt by others. In other genre, this is not the case.
Writing memoir requires having a sifter on hand or the delete button handy. Once you have chosen your theme, you must be careful not to allow stories to randomly enter the narrative of your work. Although a story or snippet has importance in your life, you must be willing to leave some stories out, especially those irrelevant to your theme.
Lee Gutkind in his book, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, provides the following explanation of creative nonfiction which sets all nonfiction apart from other genre. A good memoirist will keep this definition in my mind.
The banner of the magazine I’m proud to have founded and I continue to edit, Creative Nonfiction, defines the genre simply, succinctly, and accurately as ‘true stories well told.’ And that, in essence, is what creative nonfiction is all about. (p. 6)
The five ingredients or components listed above will produce a good end result. This isn’t to imply there are not other components necessary in writing memoir. But I believe these are basic to the nature and quality of good memoir.
Of necessity is writing as much as often as you can. I recently met with a writing coach to discuss returning to my manuscript after almost a year of not touching it. We agreed that two hours each day, at my best time of day, five days per week would be adequate to accomplish the next phase of my memoir. Also helpful is an accountability partner or group. I am using the Facebook group, ROW 80: A Round of Words in 80 Days.
In addition to writing, you should read, read, and read some more–the memoirs of others, creative nonfiction essays, books on creative nonfiction writing. And don’t forget classes available to you on the topic.
What are you doing to keep your recipe for writing memoir balanced? Any suggestions to offer? Feel free to share in the discussion in the comment section below.
As I was working out a topic for this week’s post, I came across this one from May 6, 2014. Reading it, I am reminded that once more my memoir has thrown me a curve ball. I need to sort out what to do with this draft still waiting in the corner.
The two curve balls came from different directions and for different reasons. If you want to know more about the second curve ball, you can read a personal note to my followers and friends who subscribe to my newsletter.
Upon reflection, I believe my May 6, 2014 post may stand me in good stead when the time is right to begin inching my hands toward the binder holding my manuscript. I don’t think I’ll be rewriting so much as restructuring and moving things in my draft around to make my memoir more readable. The wheels are turning and never forgetting this draft, but the pull to go back and revisit this post left me with a need to share it with you once again.
Here’s the original post from May 6, 2014:
WHAT TO DO WHEN THE BOOK YOU’RE WRITING THROWS YOU A CURVE BALL
The drafting of my memoir began in earnest sometime the late spring of 2012. I had jotted down notes and memories plus digging through boxes of my mother’s personal papers for years. Folders filled with potential material for a book cover a work table.
Now, here we are approaching late spring of 2014, two years later. A few weeks ago as I was considering my progress and listening to my husband’s take on what I had written for one particular chapter, I felt like I had been hit by a tidal wave of emotion.
It was as if a tsunami had taken over the life of my memoir, and what came next threw me for a curve.
An epiphany in the form of a major change in direction left me wonder struck. Not so much because it was such a stunning transformation, but because it had stared me in the eye since the year 2000, when the seed germinated into thoughts of a memoir after moving my mother to Oregon from Tennessee.
Now, what am I going to do was the next thought passing not so silently through my mind. It was simple: Regroup, rethink, rewrite–the writer’s three R’s.
When I began writing my story of life with Mama, I sat down and started pounding out words on the computer screen without any thought for an outline or a plan. I knew the story I was writing and thought I needed no organizational scheme to get it done. So far, I believe I have a pretty good draft on that first turn. But this curve ball I’ve been thrown made me stop and take stock of the time I would have saved if I had gotten my writing act together first.
The first thing I decided I needed to do was spell out what I wanted to tell my readers and why. And I did.
I then moved on to think about outlining or story boarding. I vaguely remembered a post of Kathy Pooler’s on Memoir Writer’s Journey where Kathy talked about story boarding. Unable to find it, I emailed Kathy and she sent me the link, which is here.
As I sat and studied Kathy’s storyboard, it occurred to me that my favorite writing software, Scrivener, uses a bulletin board with index cards to act as an option to an outline. I rarely use it, but checked it out and below is an image of my current storyboard or imaged outline in Scrivener:
I think it’s going to work perfectly, and I’ve set about rewriting my first draft.
A good deal of rethinking went into picking up the draft and rewriting it. Was this worth making the book into a better story to share with readers? Would the rewrite get my point across any better? After all, I’d spent a goodly number of hours not only in writing but researching, retrieving and reading.
I decided the answer was a yes. I want to publish not just a good book, but a book people will refer to as a “really good book,” perhaps a “must read,” maybe even a “bestseller.” No matter the nomenclature used to describe it, I want it to be my best work product. So, yes, the extra time is worth the effort.
As I rethought the outline I’d come up with it, I could actually see the story unfolding in a much more cohesive fashion and with greater ease.
Rethinking taught me a great lesson: Rushing in headlong isn’t always the best route to take.
I am actually enjoying this “R” of the three “R’s” because I am sensing a better writing style, a tighter style. I feel the story coming together with less negativity about my mother, seasoned with a dash of her goodness here and there, because there was goodness in her. And at the end of her story and mine, I learn there was good reason for her parenting skills, or lack thereof. I think in the rewrite this will be more easily finessed.
Like schoolchildren sent off to learn their three “R’s”–reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, we writers can also learn from a different set of three “R’s”–regroup, rethink and rewrite.
We’re never too young or too far along in our writing to learn a little something or make a change in the direction we’re headed.