For years, like many others, I have felt I have had a book inside me. I have enjoyed writing since I was about ten years old when I wrote plays for my maternal grandmother, Nan and all her little Italian lady friends. I can still see them gathered in the living room sipping coffee and chattering on in Italian. I never understood a word but I can still feel their fascination and loving attention as they hushed each other when I stood at the archway to announce the play would begin.
As I grew older and began facing life with all its complications, I found myself journaling my way through the heartaches of relationship failures, the searing pain of divorce, the exhaustion of being a single-parent, the terror of loving and living with an alcoholic son, the heart wrenching losses of my maternal grandmother, Nan, my best friend, Judy and the recent death of my beloved father as well as my own diagnosis of cancer. Journaling became my pathway to healing, capturing my moments of need, longing, passion, creativity, my life.
We all have our own stories to tell and we are the only ones who can tell them. But not everyone feels a need to write a memoir, which by the way is not an autobiography. A memoir is a slice of your life told as a story.
About three years ago, I decided I wanted to and here’s what I’ve learned:
- If I’m going to write a memoir, it has to read like a novel.
- The rules of fiction apply to memoir writing: an opening hook, plot, structure, character development, narrative arc, theme, conflict, suspense, resolution, and a distinct voice.
- Journaling is not a memoir. A journal is a tool to express and explore feelings and reactions. A memoir captures a story with a message.
- The memoir market is very difficult to break into. If you are not a celebrity, you need to become known through a strong author platform and a strong social media presence.
- A memoir should include reflection and insight into your story. It should not be written to disparage another or to work out your feelings (that can be accomplished through journaling) A memoirist needs to be far enough removed from the situation to be able to see it as a story.
- Writing memoir involves resurrecting memories, discerning the truth, facing the pain, facing down your inner critic.
- Writing memoir takes courage, focus, drive, persistence and honesty. I have been writing my stories for the past three years and am just beginning to shape all the vignettes into a story.
As a result of the above, I have learned to:
1. Study the art and craft of memoir through the Masters:
Take courses: A Google search of memoir writing will direct you to many sites. Here are a few I recommend:
National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW) with Linda Joy Myers
The Heart and Craft of Life writing with Sharon Lippincott
Memoir Writers’ Network with Jerry Waxler
Women’s Memoirs with Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler
Men with Pens
The Memoir Project with Marion Roach Smith
Shirley Hershey Showalter
The Christian Writer’s Guild Writing Essentials Course
Writer’s Digest website and courses
Attend conferences and workshops: There are many. Here are the ones I have attended:
The Writer’s Digest Editor’s Intensive
The Writer’s Digest Annual Conference
The International Women’s Writers Guild (IWWG)
The Story Circle Network
The Firehearts’ Writer’s Institute with Heather Summerhayes Cariou
The Christian Writer’s Guild Writing for the Soul Annual Conference
2. Start a blog to develop an author platform. I started with a free WordPress.com blog and moved to a WordPress.org site that is self-hosted by Blue Host. I have also taken Dan Blank’s Build Your Author Platform Course and ongoing Mastermind forum.
3. Join a community of Memoir Writers:
4. Submit your writing to writing contests: There are many. Here a few I have submitted to:
Annual Writer’s Digest Competition
Story Circle Network Competition
5. Join Lifewriters’ Forums:
Writer’s Digest Forum
Yahoo Lifewriters’ Forum moderated by Jerry Waxler and Sharon Lippincott
6. Study social media options and join the ones that suit you. I belong to Facebook, Twitter, Linked In,Google+ and Goodread. I’m intrigued by Pinterest
7. Develop a regular writing schedule, preferably daily
Find ways to get organized:
I use Evernote to organize my thoughts.
8. Develop a “deep-in-my-core” belief in my own story
For me, that has happened through my writing. I have learned to listen to my muse and allow my story to unfold.
9. Define my readers and write to them. Writing with the reader in mind, even if it is just one person, can help you keep a focus. Visualize the reader.
10. My favorite quote that says it all is from Chris Baty (founder of National Novel Writing Month) in his remarks from the closing session of the recent Writer’s Digest conference:
“Have faith that someone out there has waited their whole life to read your book then give that reader the best you have to offer.”
My work-in-progress memoir is “Mazes and Miracles: One Woman’s Story of the Power of Hope through Faith.”
Please join the discussion below