5 Ways to Motivate Yourself This Year to Write Your Memoir

New year, new writing project, right? Or the same old writing project—probably your memoir—that maybe this year you will finally start, continue, or finish. Let this be that year. Choose your motivation among these five!

1. Get inspired by other memoir authors who are just like you

You are no different from the tons of people who decide to document their lives. Some are professional writers, but many are not. Some are celebrities with built-in followers, but most are not. Some want to sell their books, while others want to tell their story just for their family to have. Some are skilled at language, but many need editors to smooth out the rough edges.

The important thing is that you are just as worthy of having a memoir as they are.

There’s only one difference between you and those authors: they sat down and wrote. All you have to do is that. Make the time today. Make the time tomorrow. A half-hour or whatever you can spare. Soon you’ll have a chapter, and maybe by the end of the year you’ll have a full manuscript to submit to an editor, run by an agent, or self-publish as is.

2. Get inspired by people who are more challenged than you.

I compete in track meets so I have to train regularly to continue to do that, but I don’t really enjoy running. Sometimes I just want to give up—the way you probably want to just give up on your writing project. How do I turn myself around?

The best way for me is to see someone around my age who can’t walk or has cognitive impairment or faces depression or some other challenge. I’m in my late 60s and can still run. That makes me grateful enough to take advantage of it. At any time I might sustain an injury or be diagnosed with an illness. As long as I can function, I should make the most of that.

You can do the same. Maybe you’re not the greatest writer in the world, but there are people who can’t sit at a keyboard. We had one client who’d had a brain injury and couldn’t get his memories and thoughts straight, and it was so frustrating for him. If you CAN write, DO write. It’s a gratitude thing.

3. Get inspired by your own story in your own voice.

If you don’t write your story, who will? It’s such a powerful life statement to say, “Yes, my life is worth documenting.” Whether it’s ordinary or unusual, it’s your unique life. Friends and family will remember you, but their memories will be shaped by their own perceptions. Only you can provide the “inside story” of how your life was lived.

It’s special. Do it!

4. Get inspired by the people you’re leaving behind.

Do you wish you’d asked your parents or grandparents more questions about their lives? Maybe you’d like to know how it was to live before all of our 21st century technology, or what their city was like when they were growing up. Perhaps you are not sure how the family relationships played out or maybe even how you’re related to some of your family.

Your children and grandchildren, or maybe nieces and nephews or friends’ children, will have the same questions. You can give them all the details, the backstories, your impressions of your time and place. They will be so happy to have all of that. Draw motivation simply from the love you feel for the people around you.

5. Get inspired by the feeling of achievement.

Maybe your memoir will become a best-selling book or your life story will be turned into an iconic movie. It can happen!

Even if the only people who read your book are you and your family, the achievement of writing a book, being an author, having a hard copy to hand out to people—it’s priceless. Find out what it feels like to BE AN AUTHOR!

Bonus motivation

One more thing: we’ll help you. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and ask questions in our Facebook Write My Memoirs Group. We would love to get to know you, receive your feedback, and have you join the Write My Memoirs community of authors just like you.

How Does an Editor Improve a Memoir?

What does an editor do

Memoir authors wonder whether they need an editor. What do editors even do?

Whether you’re a first-time author or a seasoned, published, top-notch writer, another pair of expert eyes should go over your manuscript for more than a simple proofreading. No matter what your skill level, an editor can polish your work.

Many of our members here at Write My Memoirs are not looking to sell their books. They just want to document their lives and share their perspective of their own experiences in their own voice. Often, it’s just for their family. They can be talented writers, but they’re not professionals, and an editor’s touch can make the difference between an easy, compelling read and a book that just doesn’t sound quite right.

Content facts and flow

An editor reads the manuscript in two ways. The first is as a reader. Does the content make sense? Is there too much? Sometimes authors leave in extraneous information that doesn’t move the story along. Or maybe is there too little? Some things need to be explained. The author can forget that the reader has no information before reading the book. Even if the book is just for family, you should write it for strangers.

If you decide to write your story out of chronological order, can the reader still follow what happened when? Often, the work is generally in chronological order, but the author will go off on tangents that stray into the future in order to finish up about a certain topic. That structure is fine if it’s done skillfully, and an editor will fill in any of that skill gap.

Inexperienced writers can be repetitive, not trusting the reader to remember information that came a few chapters earlier. An editor knows how to remind the reader without retelling. Let’s say a friend from an earlier period of your life shows up again in a much later chapter. Some authors will just give the full name all over again, or “my friend Joe,” without acknowledging that the reader already has been introduced to Joe. An editor will finesse that to remind the reader of the earlier mention.

Authors can rely on their memory and neglect to fact-check. A good editor will look up the spelling of that street in Baltimore or check the date of the eclipse in Minneapolis. If you say in chapter 1 that your sister was born in 1967, and then in chapter 5 you mention that she was 24 when she served as your bridesmaid in 1991, the editor’s mental calculator will check your math.

Grammar, spelling, punctuation

The picky details are probably what you think of when you think of an editor. This is the second way an editor reads your manuscript—more word by word than the sum of the parts. If you believe that your computer’s grammar check and spell check take care of this aspect, any editor will tell you the technology is not as good as a person.

For example, you’ve probably seen a spell-check program underline a person’s unusual name. You ignore it. But if you make a typo in the name the next time you use it, you’ll just see that same underline and ignore that one, too. An editor will spot the inconsistency and ask you which is the correct spelling.

Other considerations like paragraphing and word usage also come under the editor’s discretion. If you use the word “happy” three times in the same paragraph, your editor will change at least one of them. If you use “find” when the better word is “identify,” the editor will fix that. And if your sentences fall into too much passive voice, the editor will suggest ways to turn that into the more interesting active voice.

A good first draft

You are your first editor. Write your draft, and then do your own polishing. You may work on some passages dozens of times before you feel you’ve gotten it right. And we always advise brushing up on the basics and the fine points with our affordable ($39) writing course.

Then, when you feel you’ve done as much with your book as you can, turn it over to an editor. A good editor will make sure to keep your “writer’s voice,” and you’ll be surprised how professional your thoughts, and your voice, can sound.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Is “Show, Don’t Tell” in Memoir Good Advice?

reader demonstrating show don't tell reaction

If you’re a writer or trying to be a memoir author, you’ve heard the advice to “show, don’t tell.” It’s easy to think you know what it means until you sit down and try to put it into practice. But as with most writing, it is important to “show, don’t tell” in memoir.

Too many adjectives

Especially in a memoir, we want the reader to know our deepest feelings about the experiences we’re describing. The natural way to convey our reactions is to use adjectives—it made us sad or happy; we felt afraid or angry; we were surprised or baffled. It’s okay to pepper your work with adjectives like these, but it’s just not that effective. When you spoonfeed the reader your emotional intent, the reader doesn’t become as engaged as when the reader organically experiences the same emotions.

As you get better at “showing, not telling,” you’ll find that you rely on adjectives less frequently. You’ll describe everything that occurred, but you’re not an objective observer. You’re you. It was your eyes that saw the event take place, your ears that heard the accompanying sounds and conversation, your heart that took it all in. And then it all gets filtered through your memory. So telling the story in itself lets the reader know how you felt about it.

Trust the memoir reader; don’t authorsplain

The product that comes out of all that is a biased and detailed account. The emotions you felt are exactly the same that the reader is likely to experience. You don’t have to “authorsplain” how the events made you feel. Readers are smart. Did the joke strike you as funny? The reader already knows this, because you described the way you laughed uncontrollably. Were you feeling jealous of someone? The reader senses that when you mention that in your mind you were picturing yourself strangling the person. Did you feel ashamed of yourself about an incident? The reader feels your shame because, after all, who wouldn’t be ashamed of doing what you so vividly just described?

Your reaction is important

The other clue is what happens next in your story. Instead of telling the reader about your shame, maybe you reported that you slouched, turned and left the room without saying a word. If you were afraid, you could describe your hand shaking. Even a simple “a huge smile crossed my face” is better than “I was so happy to hear this.”

The role of the confidante

Dialogue can be useful, too, in letting the reader know what’s going on in your mind. Relating an experience to your friend can let the reader in on your thoughts that might not be as obvious. It’s still tricky. Telling a friend “I’m so happy” is no more compelling than saying it directly to the reader. But in skilled hands, dialogue can be a useful device.

Watch this space for more “show, don’t tell” in memoir!

Check back soon, and we’ll give examples of passages that show vs. those that tell. That will make everything crystal clear!

Your Memoir Resolution for the New Year

Be an author on Write My Memoirs

Every year around this time, Write My Memoirs lights up with a rush of new members. I always love seeing that.

Of course, it’s not difficult to figure out what’s going on. In the first few days of the new year, people are signing up because their New Year’s resolution is to finally, finally write that memoir they’ve been promising themselves. It’s a great resolution! If you’ve made it, we are here to help you fulfill the goal.

How will you make sure you won’t let yourself off the hook and abandon this resolution? Polls show that many resolutions have gone by the wayside by as soon as February and more by halfway through the year. Your resolution to write a memoir does not have to be one of those statistics.

It’s that “one bite at a time” approach that will probably work best for you. Write up one story. Your chapter doesn’t need to have a name; in fact, you don’t even need to assign the story to a chapter yet. Write up the easiest story in your life. Then you will have that written!

The next step will feel easier – just another story from your life, or you can go chronologically and write up whatever happened after the story you just wrote. You can wait until the next day or the day after, but don’t wait a full week. Make writing your memoir part of your routine at least 3 days a week.

You can keep yourself accountable by sharing your goals or your writing on our Write My Memoirs Facebook page. We would love to hear how your memoir is coming along.

Take This Quiz to Find Out Whether You’re Writing a Memoir or an Autobiography

Woman wondering what to call her book.

A common question authors have about memoir is whether they’re writing a true memoir or an autobiography. At Write My Memoirs, we don’t make much of a distinction. If you’re writing about your life, you’re writing about your life. Call it a memoir, autobiography, life history—we don’t think it matters much.

But authors continue to want to know how to label their book, so here’s a little quiz for you to take to reveal whether, according to conventional thinking, you’re writing a memoir or an autobiography.

Answer TRUE or FALSE:

  1. My story begins with my birth and continues to present day.
  2. My primary goal in writing my book is to provide information for my children and grandchildren to “know where they come from.”
  3. I would like generations in the future to have a reliable record of what life was like growing up when and where I grew up, as well as what adulthood was like during my lifetime.
  4. Even though my life hasn’t been that unusual, I want to get all the facts down.
  5. I want to tell all about my life in my own voice.
  6. The hurdles I overcame in my life holds lessons for other people.
  7. Even though I am not yet 50 years old, I want to write my book now.
  8. I will devote much of my book to one part of my life that was very unusual.
  9. Something happened to me that I feel compelled to write about.
  10. Everyone asks me about one episode in my life, so I decided to write about that.

As you may have figured out, this list of 10 questions starts heavy on autobiography and progresses incrementally to memoir.

Give yourself 1 point for each time you answered TRUE to questions 1 through 4.
Give yourself 2 points for each time you answered TRUE to questions 5 and 6.
Give yourself 3 points for each time you answered TRUE to questions 7 through 10.

Scores

1-8: Your book is an autobiography.

9-16: Your book is more of a memoir.

17-20: Your book may not have enough of a theme. Rethink whether you want to focus on one part of your life or write a comprehensive book that gives relatively equal treatment to all parts of your life.

Hope this helps! At Write My Memoirs, we want to help you write and publish the best book you can have to represent your perspective of your life.

Journaling Can Be First Step in Writing Memoirs

Cover of Little Women

On a visit to the Boston area some years ago, I took a tour of Orchard House, which is where Louisa May Alcott wrote her memoirs in the form of Little Women and other well-loved books. In an introductory video, an actress portraying Miss Alcott talked about her home and how she became such a widely read author. She’d always kept a journal, so when she decided to write a book for girls based on her own family, she had a lot of information already in writing and did not have to rely on her memory. Thus she encouraged everyone to keep a journal.

That seems like great advice. You never know when the urge will strike to write your autobiography. If, earlier, you described important events right when they occurred, you’ll have a much more accurate account of how they unfolded and who said what. You’ll be able to capture the feelings of the day—the weather, sounds, colors and your own emotional responses.

Even if you never turn your journal entries into a full book, the process of journaling can be rewarding in itself. Alcott has been widely quoted as writing, in 1855, “I am in the garret with my papers round me, and a pile of apples to eat while I write my journal, plan stories, and enjoy the patter of rain on the roof, in peace and quiet.” You never know—maybe your memoirs will become as famous as Louisa’s!


Happy U.S. Thanksgiving from Write My Memoirs!

Write My Memoirs Thanksgiving

Many of our members here on Write My Memoirs do not live in the United States, so they do not celebrate Thanksgiving. But the Thanksgiving sentiment is something that applies to memoirs no matter what your nationality. Thanksgiving brings up all sorts of memories.

  • For Americans who were alive in 1963, the memory of that Thanksgiving can be painful, because President Kennedy was murdered six days earlier. All Americans remember where they were when JFK was shot. I was in fifth grade, and we were sent home early. Walking home in the middle of the day, I was surrounded by an eerie silence. This is something that could go into a memoir. Even if you’re not American and weren’t living in the United States at the time, I’m sure the news reached you and touched you in some way.
  • Thanksgiving brings to mind family traditions in general. What are yours? Do you cook Thanksgiving dinner? Attend a family get-together? Is your autumn all about football, or raking leaves or getting away from the cold? Certainly Thanksgiving or any family celebration can be a focal point of a memoir.
  • The end of the year signals loss for many people. Those memories are punctuated by the contrast of holiday celebration. My own mother died on this date, November 25, and we held her funeral the day before Thanksgiving. The following day, it took until afternoon for any of us to realize it was Thanksgiving. We bought some deli turkey, ate sandwiches and cried and reminisced about Mom. Perhaps you have a November story to tell in your memoir.

Starting a memoir now is a great idea, because it’s a jumpstart on the New Year. A lot of times we start some goal on January 1 only to abandon it by February. Starting now gives you that necessary six weeks to get in the habit of writing so that you don’t disappoint yourself in 2020!

Happy Thanksgiving, memoir authors!

Can You Write a Good Memoir Without Fact-Checking? No!

Fact-check your memoir

Memoirs rely on the author’s memory, but we all are  aware that memory tends not to improve with age. It’s well-known that witnesses to the same crime report sometimes vastly different details. When you compare notes with siblings or childhood friends, you’re likely to discover that your accounts of the same incident differ significantly.

In many cases, you can’t know for sure whether your memory is correct. That bullying incident on the playground in fourth grade—did the other kid really say the words you remember? There’s no way to know for sure. That’s ok. Whether it happened exactly the way you remember is not as important as the fact that, in your mind, it did happen as you’re describing it. The incident’s effect on you is clear even if the truth about it isn’t.

But so many small facts can be checked. Today’s technology makes writing a memoir easier than it’s ever been in so many ways, and fact-checking is high on that list. Unlike in years past, there’s no need to sit in a library all day.

If you’re writing about the snowfall that occurred on your sixteenth birthday, take a minute to look up the weather report on that day. If you believe you attended your town’s bicentennial when you were 12 years old, some quick Googling will make sure you have the time line correct. If you describe walking down Center Street to your elementary school, make sure in your hometown it wasn’t spelled “Centre” Street, or it wasn’t Center Avenue. These are not unforgivable errors, but this is your book—why have any error that you can easily prevent?

Show your draft to family members for their input and recollections on the events you describe. Ask them to be particularly attentive to the facts you lay out. A parent, child or sibling may offer a perspective that you hadn’t considered or have some information that would add texture to your account.

Knowledge that we’ve carried with us all our lives can turn out to be our impressions rather than hard facts. Just check out everything you can.

New Feature: Post Your Writing at Write My Memoirs!

Our Write My Memoirs community and services are growing!

While we provide publishing services to help you publish your book, we’re hearing from some authors who do not want “paper publishing” but would prefer to share their work by displaying it online. Some people want to share with the public, and some want a link to send just to friends, family or other selected people.

In response, we have created a new section on Write My Memoirs that gives you, the author, your own publishing page! See an example here of an author who would love for you to read her stories. As you can see, we place the copyright symbol with your name at the top of the page to protect the work.

Let us know that you would like to post your work, and we’ll create a page for you. You can use our Contact Us form or write us directly at: support@writemymemoirs.com

Our tech department is working on a way for you to upload your work, but for right now you can just email the work to the “support” address, and we’ll get it online within a day or two. Then we’ll supply you with a link to share. Feel free to include images.

This is a good way to get feedback little by little as you write each chapter. You can learn how people are reacting to your writing and continuously polish it as you work to complete your book. And if you’d like, at our very reasonable prices we’ll supply a quick edit before you display your work.

Lizzo Reflects a Common Memoir Theme: Life Happens, and You Fix It

There’s a song out right now, “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo, that has the lyric:
“Yeah, I got boy problems, that’s the human in me.
Bling bling, then I solve ’em, that’s the goddess in me.”

That way of thinking proves to be a catalyst for many memoir authors. Your problems happen to you through no fault of your own, but you manage to turn them around or triumph over them. You change the direction of your destiny through sheer will and hard work.

As a child you suffered neglect, poverty, family dysfunction, maybe abuse—and look at you now. You mended your broken parts and became a whole adult. Or you fell into a downward spiral of addiction until you kicked it for good.

Maybe the redemption wasn’t as dramatic. You were a clumsy kid who became an accomplished athlete. Or you left Wall Street to run a small farm and love it. Or you took a chance on surgery that cured a debilitating medical condition. It can even be what Lizzo says: you figured out what you were doing wrong in romance, and now you have a great relationship.

We’re driven to share our win against the odds or the formula we devised all on our own for repairing our situation. It’s not about bragging, just documenting. We write it all out to add weight to the fact that it happened. The writing provides a bit of therapy—or at least closure. It’s letting out a breath we’ve held for so long. Phew. We did it, and now we wrote about it. And we hope that sharing our story will help others facing a similar set of circumstances.

If you’re looking in the mirror and seeing someone you’re relieved to finally be, no wonder you want describe who you are now and how you got from then to now.