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."


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    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 ;) 

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