Every ordinary life story is extraordinary!

Every ordinary life story is extraordinary!

First Line of Your Memoir is the First Hook for the Reader

Woman reading with inset image of hook

We’ve talked a lot about where in your life you should start your memoir to really hook the reader. Successful memoirs start anywhere and everywhere, but today I’d say they most typically begin with a compelling, pivotal incident that took place in, say, the first third of the person’s life or the period of time the memoir addresses. I think that’s a great way to get readers invested from the beginning—they will want to see what comes next as well as what came before to lead up to that episode.

One Rule: Be Compelling

But some memoir authors start right at the beginning. Richard Nixon’s memoir launches his life with the sentence: “I was born in a house my father built.” Janis Ian’s 2009 memoir, Society’s Child: My Autobiography, begins, “I was born into the crack that split America.”

The idea is that even if you want to follow the simplest format—start with your first appearance in the world and proceed chronologically—you still should begin your book with something more interesting than the simple time and place of your birth. Add a fact, offer a surprise, be sarcastic—keep in mind that the reader can always put the book down and never pick it up again, so with each sentence, give readers a reason to keep reading.

Salvador Dali starts not with action but with thought. He opens his memoir by revealing how confident he was even as a child: “At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.” So you see there are no rules. I would have said this type of passive beginning would not work as well as a moment of high action, but it does work. It sets the mood for how the book will roll out.

Writing Order: Again, No Rules

Just because the reader will read your first line before anything else doesn’t mean you have to write the first line before anything else. You don’t even have to write the first chapter first.

Many authors find the way they can most easily start writing is to write about an episode they know very well but one that does not require a lot of emotion for them to tell. Then little by little, you’ll get accustomed to writing about yourself and it won’t be so difficult. When you’re ready, you can write a great first sentence, first paragraph and first chapter even if you’ve already finished much of the rest of the text.

 

Yes, It’s Still a Memoir When It Includes Extensive Info About Other People in Your Life

Sam Neill memoir

Part of the buzz around actor Sam Neill’s new memoir, Did I Ever Tell You This?, comes from the information Neill shares about his friend Robin Williams. While Sam Neill is a pretty well-known celebrity, he enjoys nowhere near the devotion and popularity that Williams continues to have nearly a decade after his death.

Drop Names to Sell Books

Name-dropping is a good way to get your memoir noticed. Celebrities hang out together and are expected to share details they glean from their personal relationships with people who may be even more famous than they are. In Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe divulges liberally about his co-stars, including Tom Cruise, from the movie “The Outsiders,” as well as everyone else he knows. It’s just a normal part of an actor’s memoir to dish about fellow celebrities.

You may not know any celebrities, but you may finding yourself focusing whole chapters of your memoir on other people. Perhaps you want to use your memoir to pay tribute to—or expose the misdeeds of—your parents. Or if you were abused by a spouse, you might write so much about the spouse that it’s practically a separate biography within your autobiography.

Still Your Memoir

Does this change the nature of what you’re writing? Are you still the author of a memoir, or is it some more general type of nonfiction book?

When you’re telling your story from your point of view, it’s a memoir. Even if you devote quite a bit of ink to someone else’s story, unless that person is truly the focus of the book, it’s still your memoir. One of the most famous books about two people is Just Kids by Patti Smith. You could argue that Just Kids is as much about the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe as it is about Patti Smith, but the book still is considered to be Smith’s memoir.

So go ahead and write all you want about other people who’ve had an impact on your life. That won’t change the way the book is perceived or marketed if you want to sell it. This will be your memoir, about you and the people who played a role in your life.

Memoir or Biography, Sometimes Extensive Research Is Necessary

Book "The Suitcase"

Often memoir authors look back at their lives only to find a lot of missing pieces. Memory takes us only so far, especially in a long life. Write My Memoirs advises everyone to keep a diary—you never know when you might decide to write your life story, and a diary makes the process not only much easier but also more accurate.

With no diary to rely upon, you may end up doing research. It’s common for memoir authors to visit cities where they once lived, request public records involving themselves and their family, and pore over newspaper clippings offering facts and figures pertinent to the story.

Biography Writing

When you author a biography, which Write My Memoirs is also happy to help you craft and publish, you don’t even have your own memories to source. Maybe the person about whom you’re writing is alive and, even if that’s not the case, you may find people who knew the person and are willing to speak with you. Or you could be writing about someone whose life span is too long ago for that. In either case, you’ll probably need to pursue independent research and original reporting in order to write a biography.

A friend of Write My Memoirs told us about her cousin, Debbie Taussig-Boehner, who found out firsthand how much research it takes to flesh out a story. In her case, it was more of a mystery, even though it was about her own father, Vladimir George Taussig. It started with a simple suitcase Taussig-Boehner and her sister took possession of when Taussig died. For decades that followed, neither of the sisters opened the suitcase. Finally, looking for something to do in her early retirement, Taussig-Boehner decided to crack open the suitcase and have a look inside. From that moment on, her retirement would not be boring.

Fleshing Out a Mystery

Emptying the deteriorating suitcase, Taussig-Boehner discovered letters, pictures and artifacts. There were matchbooks from restaurants and government reports. Soon a story emerged. Her father had grown up in what was then Czechoslovakia and spent time in England and China before settling in the United States. He led an exciting life filled with adventures and political intrigue, plus he was a bit of a playboy.

For Taussig-Boehner, it became an irresistible call to flesh out the entire saga. Following the breadcrumbs led her to New York, Montreal, Prague and Shanghai. She met people who could fill in some blanks and identify people in photos. After two years of research, Taussig-Boehner brought in a young writer, Lauren Housman, to help her put together the narrative. By then she had the information organized and knew she had a lively tale. The co-authors then published their book, The Suitcase: The Life and Times of Captain X.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by how much information you still have to gather, know that you’re not alone. Many authors spend months or years ferreting out the facts. Everyone says the writing is the hard part, but it’s only one of the components. Good research produces true-life, compelling stories. Every life may not be as fascinating as Taussig’s, but to family and friends it will be just as interesting when it’s accurate and rich in detail.

Writing a Memoir with a Co-author

Robin Roberts interviewing Maya Moore Irons and Jonathan Irons

On “Good Morning America” recently, Robin Roberts interviewed Maya Moore Irons and Jonathan Irons, co-authors of a new memoir, Love and Justice: A Story of Triumph on Two Courts. The book chronicles the love story of the married couple along with the path Maya Moore Irons, a celebrated former basketball player in the WNBA, followed in order to achieve justice for Jonathan Irons, who had spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.

I do not know anything about how the book was written. Maybe the two authors contributed equally to the book, or one was the primary author, or maybe they had a ghostwriter. But it got me thinking about how you go about writing a book with someone else. I don’t mean a story about one person who writes the book with the help of a professional writer. I’m talking about a book that has two authors because both are involved in the story they’re telling.

The Writing Process

I’ve edited a lot of writers’ work, and I’ve had editors edit my work. That’s a clear process. Good editors do not change the author’s voice or coopt the writing voice to make it their own. Still, the editor’s voice comes through a little bit. But that’s not the same as co-writing.

You can put both authors’ names on the cover without having them both do the writing. They can decide together on the chapter topics and organization, and then the writing can go any of these ways:

  • The two authors can split the writing work equally, each writing half the chapters in the book. They can each choose the parts they feel most comfortable with, they can alternate chapters, or one can write the first half and the other the second half. There are no rules, but if they want equal contribution, it’s easy to do that.
  • One author can write most of the book while the other writes just a few parts. Both are authors of the book.
  • One author can be the writer while the second author does the research. This can be efficient. While the second person is interviewing people and checking facts, the first one can be writing the portions that are ready.
  • One author can write the first draft and pass it along to the second writer to do more than an edit and really write a whole new draft based on the first draft. This second draft may include additional information gathered while the first draft was being written. The second draft may also reorganize the order of presenting the story. This method will take longer, since the second person doesn’t start until the first person has completed a full draft.
  • The two authors can literally write the book together. They can read passages aloud to each other as they collaborate and agree paragraph by paragraph.

Analysis of Each Method

That last option, truly writing the book as a meeting of the minds, may be possible, but I can’t imagine it going smoothly. I think eventually the writers would give up and have one of them write the book.

Splitting the writing by chapter or in other ways will result in a mix of two voices that will most likely make the book less cohesive than if only one person wrote the whole book.

If one author writes the first draft and the other the second draft, the result will be a uniform book with the second draft author having the dominant voice. If that’s okay with both authors, this method will take a long time but produce a coherent book.

I think the best choice is to have the better writer do the writing, as long as the authors can agree on who is the better writer. The second author can help with gathering the facts and interviewing any sources for background information or quotes. If photos will be included, the second author can gather those as well. The second person also can read the text as it gets written and point out errors, holes and organizational problems.

Advantages of Two Authors

If the story truly belongs to both authors, like the one the Irons couple is telling in their new memoir, both people deserve the title of author. They co-own this story.

When you write with someone else, you’re accountable to each other. You’ve decided together that you want to accomplish this goal. This is such a big benefit, because it motivates you to stick with the project. Then when you have your book, you share the joy with someone else.

If you’re considering writing a memoir with someone else who shares the story, go for it. It will be a powerful bonding experience.

Have 4 to 12 Wednesdays Free? Take an Online Memoir Writing Course!

Sign saying "This is the sign you've been looking for"

The very beginning of your memoir journey can be the most daunting phase. Once you get going, momentum can carry you through. As you get comfortable and confident with writing, you’ll make steady progress on your memoir.

How do you start?

A friend of Write My Memoirs specializes in coaching new writers through the first steps. She’s offering a 3-part online workshop beginning January 18, 2023, with each part made up of four weekly sessions. You can take all three segments or just one or two.

“I help non-writers focus on getting their story down and generating pages,” our friend and colleague Barbara of Writing Life Stories says. “It’s all about leaving your stories as a legacy to your family and friends! Not about learning to be a writer! Or publishing!”

In her coaching, Barbara motivates, teaches and inspires using a process proven to be effective for thousands of people over more than 30 years. While this process results in a full memoir for the participants, it has benefits that go even beyond that.

“Research shows that you will gain increased resilience and self-confidence, more compassion for others and a greater appreciation for life using this method,” Barbara says.

When you finish the workshop and complete your first draft, come back to Write My Memoirs for editing/polishing and publishing! We will finish the project so that you have a wonderful book to distribute to friends and family in 2023. It’s still only January. This is the year you’ll do it!

“You may wish you knew more about your father or grandmother who passed away, but it’s too late,” Barbara says. “Your family loses by not knowing YOUR story. Isn’t it time to write it?”

 

 

5 New Year’s Resolutions That Fulfill Your Dream of Writing a Memoir

A paper with "New Year Resolutions" written on it, and a pen

If you want 2023 to finally be the year that you write your memoir, you can, of course, just list “write my memoir” as one of your New Year’s Resolutions or even your only New Year’s Resolution. But you also can use writing your memoir to fill the slot of any of five different resolutions.

1. Leave my family and friends a record of my life. This is a great resolution to make. How many times do we hear people say they just wish they could ask a parent or grandparent some questions? Your memoir will paint a vivid picture of what it was like to grow up at the time and place of your childhood with your parents and extended family. It’s such a personal, appreciated gift to give the people who love you, especially those who share some of the same family members.

2. Get my perspective down in writing. Sharing your opinions and viewpoints is another great goal to have for the coming year, and memoir is the perfect format. Everyone talks, but who listens? With a compelling memoir, you’ll have a captive audience of readers.

3. Work through difficult or traumatic life episodes. Journaling is becoming more and more recognized as an effective tool for facing a past that may frighten, sadden or anger you. It may even still be hidden from you. Begin your writing as a journal, and then turn it into a memoir. Whether you share it with anyone is your decision, but this can be the year you defeat your demons through memoir writing.

4. Publish my first book. If you want to be an author, what do they say? Write what you know. Your own life is a good place to start as an author. Remember that a memoir typically focuses on a narrower slice of your life than your entire autobiography, so this first book could lead to more books about fascinating you—or once you’ve gotten into the writing habit you can go on to fiction or another nonfiction topic that interests you.

5. Help others. Many memoir authors write about a life challenge that resonates with readers. These authors hope that chronicling how they triumphed over difficulties will give the next person confidence that things can improve. If you fit this description as an author, the sooner you can get your story out there, the better.

With the dawn of 2023 just around the corner, your goals take on a new shine. They’re ready to go, and you have 12 months to fulfill those resolutions. Write your memoir in 2023!

5 Things Memoir Authors Can Be Thankful For on Thanksgiving

Two people wearing t-shirts saying "thankful"

You memoir authors work so hard to reach your goal of writing and publishing your life story. Write My Memoirs has identified five things you can be thankful for this Thanksgiving, whether you’re in the U.S. or elsewhere:

1. Your life. It’s pretty obvious, but your memoir is about a life, your life, and life is a gift. Whether you’re writing about a happy life or one full of trauma and grief, you have a life worth writing about.

2. Modern technology. From word processing software to photo editing to digital printing, today’s tech makes memoir creation easier, faster and more accurate than ever. Many of you are old enough to remember Wite-Out, erase tape and other inadequate methods of correcting errors. Cropping photos was done with red wax pencils. It wasn’t that long ago that authors would have to mail paper manuscripts to the printer. Without modern tech tools, you would have to hire professionals to complete every step instead of just sending a completed pdf to a self-publishing company like Write My Memoirs.

3. Supportive people. Most likely, at least one friend or family member is supporting your memoir goals. This support can keep you accountable, motivated and grateful.

4. Freedom to write. If you’re writing your memoir for publication, you have the freedom wherever you’re living to do that. We can’t take that freedom for granted. History shows that it’s fragile. Keep writing! Books contribute to freedom because they give the next generation information and perspective on what your life, living in freedom, has been like.

5. Health. Not all memoir authors would describe themselves as healthy. Perhaps you’re fighting an illness or living with a chronic condition. But you’re healthy enough to think through your life and, one way or another, get your story down.

At Write My Memoirs we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and all the turkey and trimmings you want. We’re thankful for you!

Memoir Authors Should Study “Finding Me” by Viola Davis

Screen capture of Goodreads review

Every successful memoir offers lessons for memoir authors. Celebrities who want to write a memoir have an easy time getting an advance from a publishing company, but having that advance, or even being a celebrity, does not guarantee that the memoir will be a best-seller. To appeal to readers, it has to be well-written and tell a compelling story, just like most other best-selling books. So when a celebrity memoir does sell briskly, it’s worth taking a look for those lessons.

Lessons for Your Memoir Writing

Viola Davis’s Finding Me is a good place to start. Any rise to fame is at least marginally interesting if described well, but Davis has more than that to work with. She had a childhood framed in extreme poverty, bullying and parental fighting, and she experienced rejection after rejection because casting directors didn’t find her pretty enough, or light-skinned enough, for leading roles.

Davis tells her story in ordinary, yet eloquent, language while quoting dialogue in the voices of people speaking casually, people less educated than she eventually was. She draws in the reader with every sentence and makes that look easy.

From the Write My Memoirs review on Goodreads, here are a few other tips this book offers memoir writers:

“Like many memoirs, Finding Me begins with a pivotal moment in the author’s life. In a lot of celebrity memoirs, that moment recalls a time along the journey of fame—after its launch but not too far in. Instead, Davis starts her memoir with an episode from her childhood. That’s because the little girl, Viola, influences the entire story. Davis always goes back to who that girl was, the hard life she endured, and who she remains in memory, legacy and perpetuity.

“From that episode, Davis jumps way ahead to a related anecdote from her time as the star of the TV show How to Get Away with Murder and then to another pertinent episode soon after, at her therapist’s office when she was 53, shortly before she wrote this book. Bridging little Viola with both famous, multi-award-winning Ms. Davis and private Viola Davis sets the tone for the book: they’re all the same person. The actor we applaud is still the child inside.”

Specific Devices in Memoir Writing

Memoir authors often reach for segues to soften the lines between topics. Davis uses a kind of basic technique that shows even sophisticated memoirs can rely on common writing devices. To tell readers about her mother’s background, she starts with how she always studies her mom’s face whenever they’re together. She can see the lines and wear and tear from a rough life. Then she goes into that life. When she’s finished, it’s easy to transition to her father’s life.

Your story may have many of the same elements of Davis’s memoir—rising above a tough childhood, for example. Read Finding Me to inspire you to tell your story in a way that keeps the pages turning.

What’s With the New Look for Write My Memoirs?

writemymemoirs.com snips from home page

We are excited to bring you not just a fresh, easy-to-navigate look for the Write My Memoirs website but also a number of new options to help you write and publish your memoir. Now that our website redesign has gone live, we invite you to explore!

One of the first things you’ll notice is that we’ve packaged up some services to give you a break on the price tag if you were to purchase the services separately. New memoir authors typically need both coaching and editing, so we created a package for those two services. Since many want to go ahead and publish their book as well, we added publishing to create a three-part package.

Memoir “Soup to Nuts”

You can come to Write My Memoirs without one word written and leave with a published book. That may sound like a pipe dream, but we guide you through every step, “soup to nuts,” as you build your dream and make it come true. If you don’t know where to start your story, we’ll talk it through with you. If you can’t get into a writing habit, we’ll assign exercises to get you comfortable getting down the frames, facts and feelings that define your life story.

On our home page and in a “learn more” popup, we tell you how we approach memoir writing for the average person and what frustrates us about other sites offering similar services. We consider writing a memoir to be a serious goal that takes some work but brings you, your family, your friends and your descendants a world of “wow.” People who love you get to know you in the way you want them to know you.

Schedule a Call!

A serious goal is not necessarily a complicated goal. That’s where we depart from other sites. You’ll put your heart and soul into your memoir, but the process of writing, getting it edited and publishing your book is pretty straightforward. Whether you enjoy that process or not, at the end you will have a product that you can treasure and distribute the rest of your life.

We’re not slick and shiny. We’re sincere, down to earth and helpful. Schedule a call with us today! We would love to work with you.

10 Ways Writing Your Memoir Boosts Your Self-Esteem

Man jumping from one cliff to another

Like any goal, completing your memoir will bring you a sense of accomplishment. That’s not the only way it will make you feel good, but let’s start there in counting out the 10 benefits writing your memoir has in store for you.

The new adjectives you can use to refer to yourself will be:

  1. Accomplished. Writing a memoir is an achievement! There’s nothing like working on a goal until you finish it to make you feel that you had time well spent. Go ahead and cross it off your list!
  2. Industrious. Writing a memoir is a long process, and it’s hard work. It’s an extra task, apart from your day job, family responsibilities and ordinary routine. You got down to work and did it.
  3. Persistent, also tenacious and persevering. So many people start Chapter 1 but never get to Chapter Last. You stuck with it.
  4. Relieved. Even if you enjoyed the process, on some level you’re relieved that it’s over. And if writing your memoir was part of healing from trauma, then you’re very relieved that, finally, you can truly move on.
  5. Magnanimous. Writing your life story for others to read and learn from is a generous act of giving back to your family, the community and, well, the universe.
  6. Brilliant. You’re brilliant not in the meaning of super-intelligent, but in the brilliance of shining like a star. When you finish your memoir, you are a shining star, lighting the way for others and beaming with the glow of, again, accomplishment.
  7. Talented, also artistic. Not everyone can sit down and write at all. You have the skill to get what’s in your head onto the screen/paper, and you’re not just reporting facts. A memoir is a work of art, showcasing your own writing flair.
  8. Grateful. You probably weren’t sure you could do this, and maybe you worried whether you’d live long enough to see your book. Gratitude for the opportunity to write and publish is a common outcome.
  9. Brave, also courageous, a synonym, but this point deserves two words even if they mean the same thing. It’s not easy to put yourself out there, display your triumphs and errors, your assets and weaknesses. Good for you.
  10. Trendy. From celebrities and politicians right down to people with what can be considered ordinary lives (no life is ordinary, really), everyone is writing a memoir! You’re on trend now that you’ve written yours.

Would you like to claim all of those ten attributes? Plus an 11th – proud of yourself? Start writing—or continue writing—your memoir, and when you finish you will feel all of that.

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Then just set up a chapter and start writing your memoir. Don’t worry about rules. There are no rules to writing your memoir; there are only trends. These trends are based on techniques and features identified in current top-selling memoirs. At best, they’re the flavor of the month. If you’re capturing your life in print for your family, for your own gratification or to inspire readers, rather than aiming to set off Hollywood screenplay bidding wars, these trends don’t even apply to you. You’ll write the memoir that suits you best, and it will be timeless, not trend-driven.There are no rules, but there are four steps:

1. Theme/framework
2. Writing
3. Editing/polishing
4. Self-publishing

You’ve researched this, too, and you’ve been shocked at the price for getting help with any one of those steps, much less all four. That’s because most memoir sites promise to commercialize your work. They’ll follow a formula based on current memoir trends, because they want to convince you that they can turn your memoir into a best-seller. These sites overwhelm you with unnecessary information not to help you, the memoir author, but to address Search Engine Optimization (SEO) algorithms so they can sell more.

That’s not what we do at Write My Memoirs. Our small community of coaches, writers and editors are every bit as skilled as any you’ll find, and we charge appropriately for their expertise and the time they’ll spend helping you craft a compelling, enjoyable read. But you won’t pay an upcharge for other websites’ commercialization, the marketing that follows, and the pages of intimidating “advice.” You can sell your book if you like—we have ISBNs available for you—but our organic process of capturing your story takes a noncommercial path.

If you want help with any or all of the four steps above, choose from our services or save money by selecting one of our packages. If you’d like to talk about what’s right for you, schedule a call. One year from now, you can be holding your published memoir in your hand. And at that point, it will be a big deal!