I am no authority on memoir writing. But I did write one, and am happy to share with aspiring writers, how I went about it. It worked for me. I hope it works for you.
1. Five Ways To Get Started
There is only one way to get going: Start writing. Just do it. Don’t loose sleep over a theme. Don’t fret over an outline. Just write, and see where it takes you. Once you get going, you will find your voice.
Set a time of the day to write. It should be your most productive time. If you are a night person, write at night. I am a morning person. Clear your daily calendar and stick to that time. It takes discipline, and you will need that.
How much should you write a day? It doesn’t matter. No need to set a goal as to # of pages, or number of hours. Just write until you can write no more. My average was 3 hours, with a range of 1 to 5 hours. Don’t push yourself.
Clear your work area of distractions, shut down your phone and put it out of sight, and send your significant other in the other room.
Take stretch breaks.
2. IS THERE PREP WORK?
1. Read books on memoir writing. Your library will become your best friend.
2. Read memoirs. Many memoir writing books offer suggested lists of memoirs. At the end of the day, you will rely on your own writing style, but this exercise will broaden your perspective, give you ideas, and much reading pleasure.
3. Take classes. Memoir writing classes are offered at your local college, if you are in the U.S. Go to seminars, conferences, or wherever.
4. Stock up on resources: Dictionary, book of styles (Chicago or New York Times), book on grammar/punctuation, and a thesaurus.
5. Read, read, & read. A good writer is a good reader. Set a goal. I read a book a week, and I can do better. 50 pages a day, and you are done in 6 days. Up that, and you can do more.
3. WHAT ELSE?
1. Join a Writers Group. Or form one. When I took my first writing class by Sidney Offit at Hunter College, I asked my classmates if they wanted to form a writers group. They did. We started meeting once a month – the five of us. Two years later, we are still meeting. Each of us reads for 10 minutes, and then we critique. I owe my book taking shape to my writers group.
2. Book Readings: Go to as many as you can. They are free (unless it’s a celebrity and you are required to purchase a book to get in). The writing tips you pick up just listening to various authors, is remarkable.
3. Network: Go wherever there is an opportunity to meet fellow writers. The writer community is a very open, friendly, and resourceful community. They will help you, connect you, offer you writing tips, and you will end up making friends. Some may even offer to read your manuscript for you. How cool is that!
4. Goodreads: Sign up. Its free. You are now part of a readers community, and get insights into good reads, all for the good of honing your writing skills.
4. WHAT ABOUT THE OUTLINE?
Aaah yes! So somewhere in the early stages of writing, you will find your voice, and you will know what it is you want to write about. At that point, if I ask you, ‘so what is your book about?’, you should be able to answer my question in a 15-second elevator speech. If you cannot, then start honing it in: “What is the book about?”
Now you can do your outline.
A word of caution: don’t let your outline constrain you. Remember, its not a term paper. It’s a piece of work laden with emotion. If you have to push the boundaries, do so. It’s your story.
5. WHEN DO I EDIT?
Don’t edit as you go along. I made that mistake. Just write, and don’t look back.
When you are done with your manuscript, let it rest for about 4-6 weeks, and don’t even think about it. Take a long break.
Come back, print it out, and start redlining it. Edit & cut, edit & cut, edit & cut. Take out anything that is not driving your story forward. So what if it really happened! Cut, Cut, Cut. Read a paragraph over and over again, and ask yourself, ‘can I cut it further?’
Now you are ready to show draft #2 to your first reviewer.
6. WHO SHOULD REVIEW MY MANUSCRIPT?
Definitely do not show it to your spouse while you are writing? He/she is bound to say how wonderful it is. Restrain yourself.
When you are done with your first edit, show it to your spouse or significant other.
Share draft #3 with a few people you trust and whose opinion you value.
Show draft #4 to someone who doesn’t know you. It’s a memoir, and you need that unbiased opinion.
EDIT again; and again.
If you can afford it, get a free-lance editor to edit your almost-final version.
7. HOW MANY DRAFTS SHOULD I GO THROUGH?
As many as you can. I went through six drafts before handing it in to my publisher. Ten would have been better.
8. BE CAREFUL
You don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, or violate their privacy. If you are using real names, get permission.
Be compassionate and forgiving.
10. AND DON’T FORGET THE ‘F’ WORD