Every ordinary life story is extraordinary!

Every ordinary life story is extraordinary!

Editing Your Memoir for Word Choice: Part 1

Editing your memoir for word choice requires you to choose your words wisely

Now that you’ve written your story, make sure you’ve worded it for impact.

If you’re like me, you go over your manuscript countless times—literally so often you lost count long ago—and one thing this process covers is editing your memoir for word choice. For your first draft, you likely followed the advice to just write and not worry about the quality of the writing. Get your story down, and you can fuss with it later.

Guess what—it’s later! And you’re probably fussing. I think it’s a good idea to do one read-through with just the storytelling in mind. Does it tell the story you want to tell in the order that works best for the reader? Are there holes, is there repetition, or is there extraneous information that distracts the reader from the main theme of your memoir?

To discern all of that, you’ll want to read your book as if you were your target reader. But it’s a topic for another day. The edit I’m referring to now is the one you do to check out everything else—punctuation, grammar and that devilish word choice issue. Let’s tackle two aspects of word choice—accuracy and precision—and in my next installment I’ll finish off the rest.

Correcting Outright Word Choice Errors

Between homophones, closely related words and word mixups unique to you, it’s easy to make errors as you focus on telling your story. Closely examine every word to ensure it’s the best word for its spot in all of English!

Sometimes we say something automatically that is flat-out incorrect, and we write it the same way because no one has ever corrected us. You may think conflate means the same as confuse, but take the time to make sure. When you look it up, you’ll discover that conflate means to mash together two or more ideas into one. So it relates to confuse, because conflating two things can create confusion, but the two words still are not synonyms.

Other times, since homophones sound the same, we write down the wrong one if they have different spellings. You can know the difference between your and you’re perfectly well but still absentmindedly write the error, “You know your heading for trouble when you start out that way.” It happens. During one of our phone chats, the author of a memoir I’m ghostwriting used the word gait, which I wrote as gate. It’s not that I don’t know the difference, but I’m not sure I’ve ever used the word gait myself, and the correct spelling just didn’t hit my brain as I was writing.

Choosing the Most Precise Word

Editing for precision is a task that might not come until you’ve read your manuscript multiple times. At that point, you have your story as you want it to read, but is every word chosen wisely?

English is such a rich language; don’t settle for a general word when a specific word is available. The replacement word doesn’t have to be esoteric; it’s often an ordinary word but still provides your reader with a clearer picture of the scene. This is not the easier route, since when you replace a word you may have to change other parts of the sentence so that it all works grammatically. Let’s try an example.

Maybe you start out with, “Dad put me on his shoulders so that I could see the parade better as it passed by.” Meh, right? So you change it to, “Dad put me on his shoulders so that I could view the parade better as it passed by.” View is a bit more specialized than see.

On your next read, you decide to try, “Dad put me on his shoulders to give me a better vantage point from which to view the parade.” You like that, but on reviewing later you get stopped by all of the from which wordiness, so you make another edit to combine the best of both: “Dad put me on his shoulders to give me a better vantage point as the parade passed by.” With vantage point, you eliminate the need to tell the reader that being on his shoulders helped you view the parade, so you have to let go of the word view you worked so hard to find.

On yet another read, the word put glares at you. It’s such a general word, so you change it to, “Dad lifted me on his shoulders to give me a better vantage point as the parade passed by.” Well, you lift people, but then you still put, not lift, them on your shoulders.

Now you have a decision to make. You decide to elaborate. “Dad lifted me by my waist and quickly raised me high, plopping me on his shoulders to give me a better vantage point as the parade passed by while he kept his safety hold on my waist.” Now you have the more colorful, distinct verb plopping to replace putting. But you’ve added a lot. Is it necessary? Is it better than the original? I think it helps readers create a visual in their mind’s eye.

Rely on the Simple Search for Synonyms

Often, I look at some general word I’ve written and I think, “I know there’s a word that means exactly what I’m getting at.” I google for synonyms all the time, and eventually I usually find the word I was trying to think of—or an even more suitable word.

Let’s say you’ve written, “Mother was good at making people feel bad.” Here, good works as wordplay with bad. But good is a general adjective, and in other cases your narrative can usually benefit from replacing it.

Let’s say your mother was good at something else. You might say, “Mother was adept at making every person in the family feel valued.” Or, “Mother was effective in using her icy stare to let me know I’d crossed the line.” Or, “Mother was skilled at all outdoor jobs, from mowing and planting to washing windows and patching the roof.” Or, “Mother was useful to have around when Dad would drink too much.” You could have used good in each of those cases, but in no case would good have been as good, er, successful, as the replacement.

On my first draft of two paragraphs up, I wrote that good was a general word. When I read it over, I replaced word with adjective. That’s exactly what I mean—find the most precise word available.

Next time, I’ll help you spot more areas for improvement in word choice to make your copy compelling for the reader. As always, if you need help editing, our editors at Write My Memoirs would be honored to help polish your memoir.

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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!