Memoir Organization: The Chapter that Pushes “Pause”

Book open to a page

Structure is always a major decision for memoir authors. Should you simply go chronologically, starting from the beginning of your saga and following with chapters that document the incidents as they rolled out in your life?

Or, instead, should you view your life as a collection of topics and tackle each subject matter one at a time? For example, you might devote a chapter to your professional life. Within that chapter, you can go chronologically, but everything that’s important about your work will get covered. Maybe another chapter is about your extended family, your spirituality or your hobbies. Your life becomes a collection of aspects of who you are.

Only One Rule: There Are No Rules

There are no rules in writing a memoir. Let me say that again. I’m not talking only about structure. This is your life. You are the one who lived it, and you are the one who is writing about it. You get to decide what to include and how to present your life. There are no rules in memoir writing. So you can employ a chronological structure and still interrupt the time line with a chapter that is more topic-centered.

Let’s say your memoir’s core focus is the way you contracted, suffered from, and then rebounded from a rare illness. You want to explain what happened to you and perhaps help others who might have the same illness. You lay it out chronologically, starting from the time you were young and healthy, recalling the first signs of the illness, documenting the details of your treatment and finishing with your triumph and recovery.

Example of a “Pause” Chapter

During your ordeal, you picked up painting. This gave you a way to pass long hours, take your mind off your troubles, express yourself creatively, and bond with a local artist who sold paintings on the street. And, eventually after you conquered your medical problems, painting provided a side income that continues to benefit you in current time as you’re writing your memoir.

Although painting has become an important aspect of your life and your recovery, it still feels tangential to your medically focused memoir. So that’s one problem: should you include it at all? The second issue is that it develops over time. If you introduce incidents involving painting into every chapter in which they fit chronologically, you’ll be mentioning it a lot but only as a paragraph here and a paragraph there. You’ll always have to stop what you’re talking about to catch up on this development in your hobby.

An easier way to manage a topic like this is to devote one whole chapter to your painting. Insert the chapter into the chronology of when you set up that first easel in your basement studio. Then explain how the diversion helped you throughout your illness and your life. You can use a sort of future “would” tense: “I would discover that this creative outlet would fulfill me not only while I was sick but long afterward.” Then you can go into the details.

If It’s Good Enough for Springsteen…

I noticed that Bruce Springsteen uses this chapter-interrupt device in his memoir, Born to Run. He singles out one of his E Street Band members, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, for a separate chapter that pauses the general chronology of his memoir in order to tell everything about his colleague’s talents and the relationship that developed between them. He takes this narrative well past the point in time where the previous chapter leaves off while providing a bit of background of Clemons’s life before that point as well.

More Uses for the Interrupting Chapter Device

It’s a huge freedom! This single-chapter departure from your own structure takes the burden off you as a writer, permitting you to explain something in depth without having to revisit it in multiple chapters. You also can use it to preview how that one aspect of your life turns out, tease other pieces of your life you either haven’t yet introduced or haven’t yet resolved, or pay special homage to a person, institution, company or topic.

Admittedly, devoting a separate chapter to a topic is not as difficult than weaving it into your long memoir thread. But don’t feel as if you’re taking the easy way out. When something is easier for the memoir author to write, that means it’s probably easier for the reader to understand, keep track of and enjoy. And that’s the whole point, right?

Two Things You Can Do to Save Money on Memoir Editing

hands and a laptop

At Write My Memoirs, we sit down with someone’s original writing to polish and professionalize it. Although our authors tend to have little or no professional writing in their background, the quality of their writing can be very good. It’s the structure that often needs work.

We charge by the page, but many editors charge by the hour. To reduce the number of hours your editor will spend on your memoir, proofread it twice. The second time, comb through to find typos and grammar. So what should you proofread for the first time?

On your first full read after writing your memoir, read it the way a reader who has never met you would read it. You’re likely to find two problems that are polar opposites: holes and repetition.

Holes in Your Story

There are big holes, such as leaving out that important incident that occurred during the years you didn’t write about because, mostly, those years were uneventful. Then when you refer to something that was the result of that event, the reader is lost. You should be able to pretty easily spot big holes and fix them.

It’s the micro-holes that may give you trouble. The reader is not looking through your eyes, hearing through your ears, feeling through your skin, smelling with your nose or tasting with your tongue. Unless you mention that you entered the bedroom, the reader doesn’t know where you are. Unless you describe the bitter taste, the reader doesn’t know why you’re wincing. Never leave the reader; take the reader with you.

Micro-holes occur easily in chronology. The reader doesn’t know that three hours went by and wonders why you’re describing a sunset as if it happened right after you described the difficult lunch you had with your siblings. It’s not that the reader can’t figure it out; people understand how a day works. But in the reading process, it feels like a hole.

Repetition

Authors tend to repeat themselves—and not precisely. Let’s say you were consistently bullied at school. You developed a lot of feelings around that. You resented the way the faculty and administration neglected to come to your defense, you hated yourself for routinely hiding in the bathroom, you felt hungry when kids took your lunch.

So you write about your primary school and also talk about what was happening at home during those early years. You do the same with middle school. You’re probably not dividing your youth into all school, then all home, which is okay. So you may think that every time you return to the school narrative, you have to remind the reader of your feelings yet again. You don’t.

By the time you get to high school, with the bullying continuing, you’re feeling the same feelings you were feeling when you were six years old. Don’t just repeat those feelings, and don’t tweak them with the adjustment of your more grownup view. That’s still repetition.

Go back and edit the primary school chapter to include something simple such as, “That resentment would follow me through to graduation twelve years later.” In your high school chapter, then, describe the incidents themselves. This will show how the bullying changed when you became a teenager. You can cite an earlier incident that the reader will remember, but don’t repeat the whole story of that incident or your feelings.

Storytelling, not Essaying

Your memoir probably has a theme, and it’s tempting to keep driving the theme home in every chapter. There’s an overarching point you’re making—that’s why you’re writing your memoir. But you can’t keep stating it and expect that to compel your reader to continue reading. This isn’t a guest essay; it’s your memoir, a series of small stories, incidents, actions. It’s a lot closer to a fictional story than it is to a term paper.

When you fill your holes and consolidate your repetition, you’ll be saving your editor hours and hours—and probably saving yourself dollars and dollars.

May Is Creative Beginnings Month—Perfect Time to Start or Restart Your Memoir!

Creativity Month man with paints and pens

By May, many of our New Year’s resolutions have long gone stagnant. With next New Year’s a long way off, I can suggest a different calendar trigger to get back to your memoir or other writing project. Guess what? May is Creative Beginnings Month!

Facts About Creative People

Are you creative? At Write My Memoirs, we believe everyone is creative. You’re creative if you develop computer code. You’re creative if you’re raising children. You’re creative if you decorate a room, cook a dinner, plant a garden or figure out why your car won’t start. Check out these factoids about creative people and creativity, which we’ve adapted from a National Today list:

  • Take a shower! Up to 72% of people have creative insights while they’re in the shower.
  • Spend some alone time. Creativity thrives in solitude. While collaboration is fun and group work can help, it is when you’re alone that you engage in constructive internal reflection, which boosts creativity.
  • Let yourself daydream! Studies have long shown that daydreaming provides a sort of mental incubation period for more creative thinking to come.
  • Imagination isn’t creativity. You might think of imagination and creativity as synonyms, but “imagination” refers to thinking about something that doesn’t exist, while “creativity” is more about making an idea a reality.
  • Don’t worry about messiness. Some research indicates that messy or cluttered spaces can help the brain focus on the bigger picture and boost creativity. A lot of creative people have trouble keeping their spaces tidy.

History of the “Holiday”

It may be a celebration without a lot of celebrating, but spring brings that fresh beginning anyway, so it’s great timing. Here’s what National Today says about Creative Beginnings Month:

“There are varying opinions on the origins of creativity. Some claim it began back in the days when humans made tools for hunting, while others say it started with Australian Aborigines and the invention of the boomerang. Many even state that creativity can be traced back thousands of years ago to the stone age when people carved inscriptions and drawings on the walls of caves. Another report claims that creativity and the art of creation started with the people of Egypt and Mexico. It is also said that ancient creativity comes from Asian countries like India, Iran, Cambodia, etc.”

The website further notes that this month is celebrated by several countries across the globe. “We celebrate Creative Beginnings Month so that people can awaken their hidden creative skills,” it continues. “Each person uses creativity differently and in their own way. There are a plethora of options for how you can celebrate the month of creative beginnings! This is the perfect time to get over that creative block you’ve been facing, resume a project that you’ve been putting off, or simply start a project you promised yourself you would. It can be simple, complex, fun, serious, or anything.”

Creative Beginnings of Writing Your Memoir

Coming to WriteMyMemoirs.com is a great first step for getting your memoir on track! We have suggestions to inspire your creative flow, and we’re happy to help with the writing as you proceed, the editing along the way, and the self-publishing when you’ve finished.

So how do you start? Write one sentence. Then write another. Before you know it, you have a paragraph. Write another paragraph. Before you know it, you have a chapter. Write another chapter. Before you know it, you have a memoir. It’s just like any other journey: one step at a time.

5 Memoir Writing Tips We Can Glean from Tina Brown

Vanity Fair Diaries

I just finished Tina Brown’s memoir, The Vanity Fair Diaries, about her time as editor-in-chief of the magazine Vanity Fair from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. I liked it. You can read my Goodreads review here.

Brown is recognized as one of the best magazine editors of all time, but she’s a very good writer as well. Here are five lessons we can learn from this memoir:

1. Keep a diary.

You can’t go back to your childhood and start writing down everything that happened throughout your life, but if you’re thinking that you may “someday” write a memoir, start keeping a diary now! Then you won’t have to rely on your memory. Imagine that! What if you opened a book of entries you’d written right at the time the events were taking place? Your memoir would be rich with detail. That’s exactly what you find in The Vanity Fair Diaries. Tina Brown kept an account of everything, from what she wore to what she ate, from the dinner party conversations to her impressions of the other guests. It’s like fiction, the way the writer can just make it up and mention all of those things, except these details are not made up.

2. Don’t worry so much about naming names.

One very common question we get is whether a memoir author should obscure the identity of people presented in an unflattering way. Maybe if you change the name and the description, and say in your memoir that some people’s identity has been disguised, that will keep them from suing you for defamation of character or libel or whatever authors are so afraid of getting sued for. Tina Brown throws caution to the wind and tells it like it is whether the person she’s trashing is famous or not. I don’t necessarily encourage you to be as harsh as she is in this book, but tell your truth. If it’s the truth, that’s your defense. And if it’s your opinion, as Brown presents a lot of her trash talk, then you’re free to express it how you wish.

3. Write in specifics, not generalities.

I explain this point in the Goodreads review, so I’ll just quote it:

For example, why call someone a girlfriend when you can call her a seductress? From “seductress,” the reader learns so much about Brown’s regard for the person. It’s not fiancée or lover, paramour or gold digger, not even temptress. Another example: Brown observes that it had become fashionable for women to remove their earrings before dessert. She tries in vain to make sense of this odd trend, but concludes simply that when “the creme brulée arrives,” the earrings come off. She could have just said “when the dessert arrives,” but she never would do that. I get it. Don’t repeat a word when you can drill into it and hit something specific instead.

4. Write a good first line—and a good last line.

I wouldn’t say this book has a great first line: “I am here in NYC at last, brimming with fear and insecurity.” But it does set the stage for the decade she’s about to roll out. It makes you want to read at least the next sentence. It’s the last line that I like: “But I also hear something else, something I can’t resist—the sweet Gershwin strings of a new opportunity.” An epilogue follows, but this is the last line of the main book. Again, Brown gets specific with “the sweet Gershwin strings.” It’s a true ending, closure. She lets us know that we’re leaving her in a good place. And she sets herself up for a possible sequel.

5. Show and tell.

The conventional advice to writers is “show, don’t tell.” Describe what’s going on in an objective way. Don’t say it smelled good in the room; tell the reader it smelled like freshly mown grass after a rain. The reader will get the idea that you think that smells good, since who wouldn’t? This is all great advice. But it’s a memoir, not a piece of fiction. You can tell the reader how you felt about seeing someone after so many years or how tasting the soup reminded you of your mother. You can let the reader into your brain and do a lot of showing but also some telling, as Tina Brown does in this book.

It’s Poetry Month! Can You Write Your Memoir in Verse?

If you prefer to write poetry over prose but still want to write a memoir, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from writing your memoir in poetry. And you wouldn’t be the first by a long shot.

Like a series of stories, a series of poems can break down poem by poem to provide information about a point in time and, taken together, the series will build a full narrative. Poetry is the format, but the genre is still memoir. By the end of the book, the reader learns about a segment of, or significant event in, the author’s life.

So it’s not just a book of poetry by one author. The poems must relate to the topic of the memoir and proceed in an order that makes sense to the reader. As with any memoir, the chapters—or poems—do not have to roll out in chronological order. You can start in the middle, then cover earlier parts, and finish by picking up from that first middle part with a conclusion. You can begin at the end and work backwards, or you can begin at the end and then go to the beginning and follow through full circle. If you’re skilled enough to make it work, your chapters can even jump around. These considerations are no different whether you’re writing in poetry, in prose, or in customary nonfiction reporting.

Currently Memoirs Written in Verse

If you’d like to pick up books of memoirs written as verse, we have some suggestions for you. For some reason, these poet/memoirists are all women. Five of these are listed on bookriot.com.


Inside Out & Back Again
by Thanhhà Lai
A Vietnamese girl has a tough time growing up as a refugee in Alabama.

Memoir: Poems by Honor Moore
by Honor Moore
Reviewing this memoir by the poet Honor Moore, The Village Voice reviewer wrote: “Moore’s poems speak of a strong faith in hard work and in the land of working alone. Her poems mark out both the experiences she describes and . . . the experience of making a book of poems.”

Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
The Black girl experiences of the 1960s-1970s fold out through verse.

Poetry for Men: A memoir written across three continents
by The Expiring Mind
Even this one seems to be written by a woman—perhaps it is her message to men told through memoir and poetry.

How I Discovered Poetry
by Marilyn Nelson
One of the country’s celebrated poets uses her craft in 50 poems to describe her 1950s childhood.

The Favorite
by Lucinda Watson
Through 64 poems, the granddaughter of IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, Sr., paints a picture of complicated family relationships and growing up with privilege.

Under the Mesquite
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Somewhat fictionalized, this poetic account tells of a child dealing with her mother’s cancer diagnosis.

Pocket Poetry Day 2022: April 29

April 29 is Pocket Poetry Day. To celebrate poetry, post your poet on social media with the hashtage #PocketPoem. We’d love it if you’d hashtag #writemymemoirs as well!

The 2022 poster shown above was designed by eleventh grader Lara L. from Saunders Trades and Technical High School in Yonkers, New York. Her poster won the 2022 National Poetry Month Poster Contest and features a line by 2021 Presidential Inaugural Poet and 2017 National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman.

One More Time: Yes, Your Life Story Is Worthy of a Memoir

man kissing his reflection

There’s no greater incidence of imposter syndrome than among memoir authors. When your first book is a memoir, not only can you question whether you’re a “real author” but also whether your topic is important enough for a book. The question of worthiness comes up time and again. Is my life interesting enough to fill a memoir? Why would anyone want to read about me?

By definition, your life is unique. There’s only one you. We language nerds never use the term “more unique” or “less unique,” because “unique” means “one of a kind” without adding a descriptor. So I won’t say that some lives are less unique than others, but certainly some lives, while unique, have fewer dramatic moments or seem to follow more typical patterns. They’re kind of ordinary. So let’s look at both extremes.

Unusual Lives

The most common reason people give for writing a memoir is that they’ve lived through a difficult event or time and want to write it out for cathartic reasons or to help the next person facing the same crisis. This can be any life challenge—an abusive childhood, harsh poverty, a health condition, an escape from a dangerous political environment, anything.

The opposite exceptional life—privilege or fame—also motivates people to write a memoir. Simply chronicling how the person acquired wealth or became famous supplies the author with a story that people will read.

In both cases, the compelling plot drives the narrative. How did this start? What came next? The idea is to make it a page-turner. If you’ve had something significant and uncommon happen to you, or if you’ve chosen to take a road less traveled, I can assure you that your life is interesting enough to write about.

Ordinary Lives

Now let’s say you’ve had a life much like the lives of everyone else you know. You’d like to document the facts of your life, but you have a hard time picturing anyone except your family wanting to spend time reading about your picket-fence family life, your desk job with its periodic promotions, your golf hobby or your volunteer activities in your community.

First, at Write My Memoirs we often get requests for second and third printings from our self-publishing authors because of the person’s initial underestimate of how many friends and acquaintances will ask to read the memoir. People who know you even only through social media can be curious to read about your life.

Second, let me ask you something. What are your favorite TV shows? Maybe “Stranger Things” or “Law & Order” is on your list, but many of the most popular shows, both comedies and dramas, center on ordinary people like you and a family or professional life like yours. The incidents may be exaggerated, but from “Family Ties” and “Family Matters” to “Friends,” “Modern Family,” “This Is Us” and both versions of the “The Wonder Years,” the shows are relatable to viewers specifically because they ring true; you recognize your own life in the lives of the characters.

For the memoir of a more ordinary life, the plot isn’t what drives the page-turning. It’s the way the life is presented. Humor can entertain, warmth in telling your story can engage readers and, most important, being candid and honest makes readers trust you and enjoy what you have to tell.

Writing is the Key Ingredient

So if you’re looking for a recipe for a great memoir, it isn’t really the story. The key ingredient is the writing. Use strong verbs. Paint visual pictures so the reader is right there with you. Don’t repeat yourself. Don’t leave holes that readers can’t fill in by themselves. Develop your own writing style, and be consistent with it.

You’ve lived the life you’ve lived. No one else has lived it. Telling what that life was about from your point of view will make a fine memoir. You just have to sit down and write it!

Selling a Memoir: One Author’s Top 10 Lessons to Share

Three books

Simon Michael Prior has written three books about his travels. He self-published them and says they’re selling pretty well. Simon created a video to share what he’s learned with other memoir authors.

Go ahead and watch the video, but I’ve also summarized his points for you along with my own comments:

1. Market Widely

Simon: While some of your friends and family will come up with excuses for not buying your book—“I don’t have a Kindle,” “I don’t have time to read,” “I’ll wait until you’ve written a couple more books”—someone you barely know, maybe just a Facebook friend, might be the one who buys your book and recommends it to friends. So make sure you tell everyone about your book.

Write My Memoirs: I agree with this. Don’t get mad at your friends. It’s not their job to make you a best-selling author. But also don’t be afraid to post your book repeatedly on all of your social media. You never know who might have a large Goodreads following and rave about your book in a review.

2. Continually Market

Simon: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint”—you’ll hear that a lot. Believe it! To sell a lot of books that you’ve self-published, you have to keep your sales consistent over a long period of time. It’s better to sell one copy a day for a long time than to sell 100 copies the first day and have the sales come to a stop. That means selling to strangers. Figure out what works for you to continue to sell to strangers, and keep doing it even if that requires you to do some marketing every day.

WMM: I’ve learned this the hard way! My children’s book, The Case of the Disappearing Kisses, sold relatively okay right out of the gate because it was winter holiday time and my friends bought it for the children in their lives. Both the parents and the kids loved the book, but then I stopped marketing and guess what? Crickets. When sales lag, both Google and Amazon will quickly make it harder for people to find your book in a general search. One of these days I have to do what Simon Says: figure out how to sell a really charming kids’ book to strangers and keep doing whatever it takes.

3. Be Prolific

Simon: You have to write more than one book—preferably many books. Each one helps to sell the others.

WMM: This is a tough one for memoir writers. Most of our Write My Memoirs authors have a single memoir in mind. It’s an itch they must scratch, but when the book is done, they’re done. I agree that sales tend to benefit when a writer has multiple titles. It’s obvious that someone who enjoys one of your books will want to purchase another, so with three books you’re tripling the exposure to each one. But I’ll also point out no one cares that Tara Westover has written only Educated. That book is good enough for one lifetime. Every hear of any book by Margaret Mitchell other than Gone With the Wind? I’d say that book did pretty well for itself. Click here for a list of other iconic one-hit wonders like Black Beauty.

4. Price Your Book Appropriately

Simon: A lower price doesn’t mean you’ll sell more. You may be able to sell as many books at a higher price as you can from a lower price, and of course then you’ll be making more money.

WMM: I agree. My children’s book is priced too low for me to make money on it when I sell through Amazon. I make money only when people buy directly from my website, because Amazon requires me to track the delivery, and that costs a lot. I’m also thinking of raising the price on the Write My Memoirs Grammar and Writing Course because, at $39, people may undervalue how good the course is. According to Simon, he sold more e-books when he raised the price by a dollar.

5. Study All Types of Books

Simon: Learn how to write a memoir from authors and books in other genres. Read broadly in fiction and other types of nonfiction.

Me: Yes, definitely do this. You’re writing a nonfiction book that reads like a fictional story. You have to write compelling dialogue and descriptive text that paints a picture in the reader’s mind. You’ll see these devices in fiction.

6. “Write to Market”

Simon: If you want to make a living from writing books, eventually you’ll run out of things to write about if you stick to memoirs. You’ll have to branch out to whatever genres are currently popular.

WMM: This depends on the writer’s reasons for writing the memoir. At Write My Memoirs at least, most authors don’t have their sights set on launching a big writing career. You may want to sell your book for a screenplay and get a windfall from a successful movie, but I don’t think most of you are planning to become working book writers. If you are, then I agree with Simon. Consider learning how to write romance or young adult fiction, which are both hot right now.

7. & 8. Don’t Discount Any Potential Reader, and Learn from All Genres

WMM: Confidential to Simon—these two are just repeating #1 and #5. When you want a Top 10 list but have only eight ideas, you twist two of them a little. I recognize this trick. However, you do give two good tips in #8: look at the titles of best-selling fiction. They’re short and snappy, yet still intriguing enough to make people want to see what the book is about. And fictional books have a story with a beginning, middle and end. The book is not just a series of chapters that can stand alone, which is how some memoir writers structure their chapters. Google to discover different story structures.

9. Don’t Assume You Know Your Reader

Simon: You probably think you know which parts of your book people will like best, which scenes are the most compelling and which chapters are funny. But every reader will experience your book differently, and you’ll be surprised at how wrong you were!

WMM: This is so true. Even the articles I write get reactions I never anticipated. You thought that part was funny? THAT line was your favorite? You just never know how people will react. Think about telling a joke to a group. Some people will not be able to stop laughing, and others will look at you with no expression at all.

10. Let Your Writing Bring You Joy

Simon: Joy is what should happen. If writing this book really is not bringing you some level of joy, stop writing.

WMM: I partly agree with this. It’s cathartic to write a memoir, and I suppose catharsis is a form of joy. Even if parts are painful, once you get going the memories pour out of you and provide a relief you may not anticipate. People with a dark story to tell often find that writing it out is the best—or only—way to move forward. But goals have another side. They don’t always bring us joy in the process of accomplishing them. The joy comes afterward. I write constantly. There are times I don’t enjoy the writing, but I always enjoy having written. A piece of writing that you’re proud of? That for sure brings you joy.

If you want to self-publish, please think of our Write My Memoirs publishing services. We’re here for you :).

 

 

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!