The best memoirs are those that speak to a universal theme. But those memoirs went through several stages of rewrites and drafts. Many writers of memoir are stumped when it they start realizing how long and hard it actually takes to write a memoir. I’m stumped myself when I hear about memoirists who have been writing their memoirs for more than 10 years. I would go crazy! But the truth is, you can actually write your memoir from start to finish in less than a year’s time, maybe slightly more.
The advice I’m about to give has nothing to do with reaching a daily word count or developing good writing habits, but has to do with strengthening your daily “memoir” muscles. That will happen when you know your story’s arc and can put this knowledge with forward motion. the advice I’m offering you has to do with keeping track of the right mindset. These are the things that have worked for me and some of my memoir writing colleagues. So I guess you can say, they are “time-tested and true.”
From start to finish, you’ll be engaging in some very heavy lifting in ways you never thought possible. Your heart will tear at the seams because you didn’t realize how one simple scene can connect with another and weave an entire hero’s journey. You’ll cry by the impact of writing the experiences.
Since writing the later drafts for my memoir, Accidental Soldier: What My Service in the Israel Defense Forces Taught Me about Faith, Courage and Love, I’ve been largely focused on figuring out how each “scene” connects to a larger “scene.” Now that I’m at the heavy lifting stage, I’m making some serious progress by revising a chpater a week because I intimately know now my story. By April 2015, I anticipate on finishing a complete draft of my memoir, Accidental Soldier after working on the later drafts for a year. this may seem like a lot of work, and it is, but it’s doable even if you work and hold down a family like myself.
Here are the top steps or ways I’ve been able to write my memoir at turbo-speed:
1. First, write your story. Get a shitty first draft down as Anne Lammott would say. Don’t worry about making it pretty because you can’t. Get the right mindset You can’t worry about what the world will think of your story and whether your family will not like you or disown you because you’re writing your memoir. You need to create the right space. You need a first draft if you want to create any further magic.
2. As soon as possible, hire a developmental editor. The right editor can be life-changing and this is the best investment you can make for your career as a writer. Ideally, you should hire one way BEFORE you publish. All newbie memoirists including myself, need a developmental editor specifically in the memoir genre to help flush the story and help you discover the story’s themes. A good editor will also champion you to the finish line. If I didn’t hire an editor, I would probably still be toying with the first draft of the story, and getting stuck in my own head.
3. Keep a running list of the takeaway points and themes after each draft. This is key. why? Because you need to knowhow each chapter is connected to the story’s arc and theme. A takeaway point is the “lesson” the reader will get from reading your chapter. You need this as “fuel” to keep your story going. The craft of memoir writing is unlike any other genre so you need to get clear on each of your takeaways before worrying about word count.
4. Continue to keep writing no matter what. If you get stuck, hire an editor or seek support via a critique group. If you wake up in the morning, and get stuck, look at your vision statement and your WHY’s for writing your memoir. Honor your writing as a sacred safe space. Writing is the only way through the mountain. You get in your way when you stop believing in yourself, thinking this memoir writing stuff is too hard. It is and it can be, but only if you let it.
5. Keep holding the vision for yourself and your book. As http://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/Iyanla-Vanzants-Vision-Exercise-Video states, “don’t feed your vision with fear.” The fear is what will clutter your story. What is the story you hold for your memoir? Can you see yourself writing a story about what it feels like to conquer your fears? As you write, you’ll come into contact with the story, what’s at-stake for your character and what your character will do to overcome and surmount his/her fears or issues. This revelation will continue to motivate you even when the skies are dark and grey and life starts getting in the way.
Sure you should give yourself a break when you can’t write. You may not be able to write every single day. Two hours of writing a day is better than nothing. Each time you sit to write, you aren’t just giving voice to your character’s struggles, you’re also giving voice to your dreams.