7 Secrets for a Quick and Easy Way to Start Your Memoir
7 Secrets for a Quick and Easy Way to Start Your Memoir
Certainly, there are many ways to write a memoir. In fact, I have tried several, but the posts in this blog will focus on only one. I’ve found it’s the one that works well for anyone and seems to make writing easier, especially the “non-writer.” There is nothing magical about this process, and it is flexible enough that you can adapt it to your lifestyle any way you like. Let’s start with #1.
Secret #1: Know that you can do this; believing in yourself is vital
In fact, you are the ONLY one who can do this, because who knows more about your life than you do? Until you finish this document, what and who you are will remain a secret to the world. Writing your memoir will change that and who, better than you, can write it?
What you write is more important than how it is written, that is, just write the way you talk and don’t worry about the “King’s English” for now.
Yes, you could hire professional writers to clean up things like grammar and punctuation. You could even dictate the facts to a ghostwriter – but no one will enjoy reading your story more than when you have written it in your own conversational style.
Once you can believe in what you are doing, the floodgates will open, and the facts will begin to flow. You will begin to look forward to each time you sit down to add more to your work and that, too, will keep you motivated.
Activity: As you prepare to begin your project, start developing a picture in your mind of what the finished work will look like: A simple manuscript? A published work? A photo on the book’s cover? A table of contents with 20 chapters? A list of Illustrations?
Keep that image in mind as you progress, all the way to the finish line.
Secret #2: Find your “creative space;” it should be a spot where you can work comfortably, feel secure and be uninterrupted
This will become more important in the second phase of your project – where you begin to organize your notes into an outline but, if you can do it from the beginning, all the better. Don’t limit yourself to working only when you can get to your creative space but try to have one ready for those moments when more thoughtful reflection is needed. The more time you can spend in this spot, the more you will enjoy planning and writing, and that is the most important goal of all.
Not everyone has the luxury of working in a dedicated place but choose the best spot where you can be comfortable, at least. Once you have had some productive experiences there a few times, your unconscious mind will recognize it as the place where it is supposed to turn on your “creative juices“ so you can get to work doing what you enjoy.
Activity: If no space comes to mind at first, think of where you have found a favorite space to read or do other relaxing things lately. It may be your bedroom, or the library downtown; it may be in your backyard, or at the beach. In fact, try to think of two or three locations, and see what works best for you at each of them.
Secret #3: You are a writer if you can put words on paper
“I’m not a Writer” is the objection I hear most often, but that is not at all important.
Most of us will never be authors, but that does not mean you can’t put words on paper, and that is all it takes to get you started on your adventure. Just start recording:
- Words on paper; thoughts in any order
- Memories expressed the way you remember them
- Events recollected as they affected you
- Lessons you learned from your experiences
- Moments of victory over the obstacles you encountered
- Days of hardship or sadness, and how you handled them
Any, or all of the above are what you need to get started. There’s nothing that says you have to include all those topics – some you may wish to exclude and that’s O.K. That’s the beauty of a memoir; you can record as much as you want, and avoid all the rest of it, if that’s your choice.
And, you can put it down on paper in any order you like, as well. YOU decide everything that’s in your manuscript, and the order in which it appears, too.
An autobiography starts at the beginning of the author’s life and progresses chronologically to the day his/her manuscript goes off to the publisher. Your memoir will be a much more comfortable experience because that’s the way you will plan it to be.
Activity: The next time a pleasant moment from your past comes to mind, grab a notebook, or a pad of paper, and jot down a few words to describe it (but no more than a short paragraph) on a page with nothing else on it. When you have finished, write the year that moment occurred, at the top of the page then don’t write anything else on the same page again.
After you have a dozen or so pages like that (one page, one memory) you will be ready to continue to the “fleshing-out” phase, later on.
Secret #4: Your Memoirs can be just random memories, if that’s what you choose
Beginning your memoir project might be easier for you if you don’t think of it as “Writing a book,” at first. Think of it, instead, as only the collection of memories you have been jotting down as they occur to you.
Once you have collected, say, a dozen of those notes (each one separate from the others) spread them all out on some flat surface (a bed, a kitchen table, a countertop, or even a floor – in any order. Imagine each is a chapter of your manuscript, which needs only to be expanded with more details of its subject. Each of those chapters may stand alone to focus on just that memory (e.g. “Learning to read, in the first grade”), or be connected with others to complete a larger memory (e.g. “My Elementary school years”). Because these are your memoirs (and not an autobiography), it is your choice whether to present these “chapters chronologically, or as randomly as you please.
In the next tip, we’ll talk about how to expand the “topic” memories you’ve compiled, one-to-a-page/card, into its own chapter by simply adding more details to each one. It will be time to start thinking more about how you will want the finished product to look.
Activity: Look at your notes on the flat surface before you and rearrange them several times: Randomly? Date order? Combinations of both? This will have the dual benefit of giving you a clearer picture of how your manuscript will be organized, and it will begin to generate new topics you want to add, either as more details or even new chapters from your past.
Secret #5: “Flesh out” your Content – the FUN part
You have a dozen or more “topics,” noted and dated, each on its own card or slip of paper. For the moment, let’s think of them as “Chapters.” Pick up one at random, or whichever of them appeals to you most. From now on, whenever you have time to spend comfortably, select one topic and begin to expand on its details, just noting anything else that comes to mind. Your topic card/page will soon become several more pages, and in later stages you will continue adding details, “fleshing out” each topic until it starts looking more like a complete chapter.
As before, adding the content is all that’s important at this point. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar and punctuation. It is more important you use your conversational style of writing. Also, don’t worry about writing too many pages on any topic; more content is better than too little, because you can edit out much of it later if you choose.
Activity: Begin fleshing out all your topics at your leisure and, as that process generates other memory topics, jot them down, too, for later fleshing out. This is an on-going process that will continue even after you start the later stages of editing and publishing if that’s where you’ve decided to go with this.
Secret #6: DIY “Developmental Editing”
Even as you continue adding content and fleshing out topics to make chapters, you can begin the editing process, whether you farm out the work to a professional, or do it yourself. Developmental editing begins when you assemble the content you have created so far, into a coherent series of connected or semi-connected topics.
They don’t have to be chronological, though that may be the simplest structure for many. I prefer what I call “quasi-chronological,” which is largely beginning-to-end, but with “flashbacks” where you might interrupt one chapter with a related memory from the past.
You can also “flash forward,” by noting a future result in a time you don’t plan to be covering by itself, later in your manuscript.
Remember, autobiographies cover all times, but your memoir will cover only those periods and events you decide you want to mention.
In your finished manuscript, a chapter may be only 3 – 5 pages long. Some may be much longer, but that is not your concern just yet.
Activity: Continue fleshing out topics into chapter-length content, but don’t try to form complete chapters yet. As this process continues, begin to sort them into some form of date-order. Once this developmental editing reaches the point that your manuscript starts looking like chapters in the book, you’re only two steps from the finish: Copy editing, and Proofreading.
Secret #7: To publish, or not to publish?
Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by this process; this summary of the steps is only an overview. The details of how to complete each of these steps are covered more thoroughly in the “Write the Story of You” blog.
This might be a good time to go back to the beginning and review the goals you started with. And, yes, it is perfectly O.K. to change those goals as you learn more about the process.
Even if you started with a goal of publishing your work for sale on Amazon, I would suggest that, until you have at least completed the developmental editing process, you write for your own pleasure first. There’s plenty of time to tailor your work for public distribution as you proceed to the Copy editing stage.
Copy editing is covered in more detail in the blog, but it is essentially the process of reviewing the printed pages, sentence-by-sentence, and checking for things like continuity, spelling, punctuation, and syntax. It is the copy editor’s job to be your “reader’s advocate,” and suggest changes to your manuscript that might make it more readable and appealing to your audience.
A good copy editor might go through your entire text 10-12 times, as you incorporate changes and additions. Considering a 100-page book is about 25,000 words, that’s a lot of attention, but it’s also a good reason to find a good copy editor to do it right.
Once the copy editor is finished, he hands it off to a Proofreader, who goes over it again, with a final, and even finer examination of things like: capitalization, spelling, and punctuation before it goes off to the printer.
Activity: Re-visit your goals often. Publish if you wish, but don’t feel obliged to publish just because of all the time you put into your memoirs. Having done all that work, many find great satisfaction from re-discovering happy memories long forgotten, or finding closure by finally putting unpleasant ones to rest.
At least one of my clients got unexpected relief from re-reading her finished work in the peaceful comfort of her back porch as it exposed traumas of her early childhood. She waived all royalties from the sale of the book, because she got all the satisfaction she needed, just from the writing of it.
You can do that, too. Give it a Try!
About the Author . . . Jim McCarthy is a freelance Content Writer, Copyeditor, Proofreader and Ghostwriter, specializing in Blog Content at JMcontent, LLC, in the Missouri Ozarks. He and his team can be hired for simple gigs or long-term projects at JMcontent.com.