Like any kind of writing, memoir writing is slow going. With each revision, you need to deepen the scene and your memoir’s takeaways. You need to constantly think about your reader and how s/he can relate to your story. Knowing the craft of memoir writing can of course, deeply facilitate this process.
Now that I’m just TWO (yes, TWO!) chapters away from finishing a very polished draft of my own memoir Accidental Soldier: What My Service in the Israel Defense Forces Taught Me about Faith, Courage and Love, I have some insights that can help you get closer to the finish line with your own memoir.
1. Think slowly. I cannot tell you how many times I have received a comment from my editor that goes along the lines of: “Anchor us in this scene. Slow your scenes down.”
Here’s a pre-revision example of what I mean. You’ll notice after the line break, there’s no real anchor and it’s easy for the reader to get lost. Of course, I’ve now cleaned that whole section up by including transitions, dialogue and description to create a sense of time and space.
From Chapter 20, Finding Love in Gaza
When he’s finished, he hands the pen back to me.
“Read it when I’m gone,” he says and with that, he closes the journal and cups my hands in his. He lingers for a moment more, looks deeply in my eyes and disappears behind the netting, his footing strong enough to not sink in any soft spot of our “dusty tent floor.” Now, in the strongest of sunrises, I can see his shadow getting smaller beyond the thick netting until it becomes just a small dot and in its place, are intense rays of sun.
I open the journal and read:
“Let the good luck be with you everywhere you go. And let love attack your little heart to live sweetly with it all the days of your life.
Someone loves one, someone two. I love just one. That is you.”
“I’ve been waiting for you,” he says laughing. He pulls a Noblesse cigarette, hands one to me.
Bonus Tip: Trying writing when it’s snowing or pouring outside. The calm of a snowstorm or a rainstorm forces us to slow down and tap into the energy of the calm.
2. Read your memoir over as if you have never read this piece before in your life. Read as if you don’t know your protagonist and her/his story. See if you can notice the places where it’s so vague that the image can’t be formed. You need to think of the words as a way to create a picture in the reader’s mind, AND a feeling.
3. Attack the revisions of your story as if if nothing else matters. Steve Jobs once said, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” This approach creates a deeper sense of urgency and reactivates your motivation –specifically your WHY for writing. After all, this is your life story we’re talking about.
4. Don’t get up until you finish your planned writing sessions. (And you do have your weekly writing sessions planned, don’t you?) I’m dead serious. Even if you only have an hour, hold yourself accountable. My life right now is full of distractions and potential excuses why I can’t write, but I’ve got to stick to my weekly deadlines of sending a new chapter to my editor. This too will fill you up with productivity forcing you to stick to your story.
5. Accept the fact there is NO perfect moment. Revision can be a good thing, but sometimes we say to ourselves, “I’ll revise the story when I have a perfect moment.” It’s one thing to take a break away from the writing, but it’s another thing to procrastinate because you are waiting for that perfect moment. Maybe some quiet or no snow or some snow as a reason to get out of the house, or no children in the house.
Many writers I know struggle to just get the darn piece of writing finished. But somewhere along the line, they don’t see quick outcomes of their writing and quickly give up. Only 8% of writers will have finished the book they’ve set out to write when they’ve set their New Year’s Goals. Consider getting a head start on the revision process.
Writing a memoir? A non-fiction book?
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