Friday, December 30, 2011

How to write a memoir . . . Continued

    This is a continuation from a post I wrote before Christmas:

How to write a memoir

     As you know, my first memoir is a journal.  My second one though, is an actual memoir. Today, I thought it might be fun to look at the differences between the editing process of both--in case you'd ever consider writing a memoir or trying to have your journal published.
    While editing my journal, I didn't want to change too much, but at the same time, I wanted it to read easier.  I remember changing this sentence "everything is going to be okay" to "everything will be okay"--things like that.  The journal stayed the same other than condensing and clarifying in areas.  It read horribly before the revisions, so I'm glad I made them.
    When I first started going through my journal, there were pages upon pages.  I went from 120,000 words to around 90,000.  I knew people wouldn't want to read about the time a dog stepped on my face and gave me a black eye.  Who wanted to know I used to push my best friend around in a moving cart.  So, things like that, which didn't move the story forward, got hacked.  Sure I left some hilarious things, but only those which moved the story onward (like the time I got sprayed by a skunk).
    Writing an actual memoir has been totally different.  "The Golden Sky" is the third book in a series.  The two books before it are "Bible Girl" and "Homeless in Hawaii."


    When I decided to write "Bible Girl," I knew I'd have to write an outline.  Sometimes with real life, it can be hard staying on course because other fun memories try taking over the story.  I researched and found that I prefer chapters that are around 2,000 words in length.  I also knew, most readers prefer books with consistently length-ed chapters.  That immediately gave me the idea that if I had 30 chapters at 2,000 words each, then I'd have a full-length book.
    It wasn't hard deciding on the 30 most important things to write about.  I ended up with 33 when I finished, though, since I'd left out some (painful, but) necessary things.  The book's about my life as a teenager and why I ran away to be a homeless street musician in Hawaii.  It's also about dealing with religion, what I really believed, facing betrayal and those who would stick by me even when everyone else didn't.

    Because of those themes, I knew the readers would need to feel the bond I had with my brother and other family members as well as my friends.  If I could do a good job building the foundation, then when I pulled it out (like really happened) the reader would feel what I'd gone through.
    The key to writing a memoir, for me, is writing from the heart.  My most powerful chapters are those which poured from my fingers.  Often times I'll blast a song that inspires me like "Lightning Crashes" by Live, or "Apologize" by One Republic. When I wrote those chapters I didn't leave anything out.  I was brutally honest, even if it did make me sound bad in parts.

    Writing is about telling a story and doing it well.  As long as that's your intent, I think your editor can help with the rest.
    Today, I'm editing "Bible Girl."  I have to fix the first chapter because after reading back through, I feel I tried sugar-coating things for the reader.  At the time I thought it would show how happy I was before everything turned sour, but in all honesty, I wasn't being fair.  This is a part of my life.  If I'm willing to share it with people, it needs to be real, not some fairytale that sounds good to me alone.

So, if you want to write a memoir, here's my advice:

1- Decide on the chapter length that you like.

2- Write an outline (keeping your chapter length in mind).

3- Be real.  Write from your heart.  Don't pick the rosiest part of your life.  People like conflict.

4- Have fun.  When I finally loosened up, my writing got a million times better.  I still have a long way to go, but at least I'm making progress.  When you can be tough on yourself is when you edit.

5- Hire a good editor--two if you can.  One for content and one for grammar.  Whether you're self-publishing or going traditionally, publishers like reviewing polished manuscripts.

6- Cut what doesn't move the story forward.  Even if it seems important to you, it can sometimes make or break a story.  Listen to your editor's advice.  By removing those 30,000 words from "The Golden Sky" it fixed the journal so it could become a book.  It became more fast-paced--the work it was meant to be. 

    Anyway, I hope you'll find these tips helpful.  I'm off to edit "Bible Girl" again. It comes out on 4/21/12 so I better get busy!  

    If you have any questions about this process, or things you'd like to add, I'd love to read your thoughts on this ;) 

    For my goals and others, please visit:

The Scribble Muse


  1. i've never thought about writing a memior, but you've got some great pointers.

  2. You could write anything and i'd read it girl! I'm excited for this one to come out!

  3. Thanks, you answered some questions I was wondering about. I am in the middle of writing my memoirs now.

  4. I'm bookmarking this. It's full of great information and guidance. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  5. I've only done memoir short stories and poems, so this is very interesting to me. Thanks so much for sharing your your life and on your publishing path. :)

  6. I would be happy to proofread "Bible Girl" for you, if you'd like. No pressure--it's up to you.

    I would also like to preorder any book you've ever written--or plan to write!

  7. I shall bookmark this post should I ever decide the world needs the story of a D&D playing geek with two autistic kids. ;)

    Until then, there's plenty of good advice here for fiction writers as well. Like you, I've also found that 2k is a good size for a chapter.

    Excellent insights as always!

  8. I'm still chigging through my WIP a few hundred words at a time. It should be finished somwhere around 2055. *headdesk* These are great tips, Veal...wait..would that make them "Beef Tips"? Hahahahaha..Lmao. eh em... Anywho, I've also found 2,000 words to be the magic number for most of my chapters or essays rather. Now, if I could just get the kids to sleep long enough to make it past the 21,000 word mark, I'd be a happy camper...

  9. Great post. Thank you for the lovely card. So precious to me. Donna

  10. These are some great tips. Especially #4. You're right. Everyone likes some conflict while reading a story.

    Good luck with the new book and have a wonder New Year!

  11. Yep all great tips and they can be used for any kind of writing really. Except maybe rhyme, because that you just have to be nuts and all is good..haha

  12. You are an inspiration. This Christmas I bought your book as a present to myself. Happy New Year! Hope it is a year full of love and happiness.

  13. from someone who plans to write a memoir one day, your tips give a nudge to actually get down and write from my heart!

  14. Such great suggestions--esp. about cutting out anything that does not move the writing forward. That is a gutsy thing to do, and I need to do it. Happy New Year, or as my Nappy You Hear (as my 33 yr. old son says).

  15. I have enough conflict for 20 memoirs. I appreciate your advice, though, and I would like to write a memoir; but, unfortunately, I did not keep a journal on a regular basis and so many of my memories are fragmented. Perhaps I could actually use that to my advantage. I have blocked out some events, however, I guess because they are so painful.


  16. You have an amazing blog! I love how you have such a different perspective on things!!! Look forward to seeing more. Happy New Year in advance!

  17. Though I'm not sure I'll ever write a memoir, I've enjoyed this series of insight into it. I think a lot of it is applicable to any form of writing, especially write from the heart and have fun :D

    And thank you for the link :D I'm really looking forward to some #writemotivation to kick off 2012 :D