Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

A Memoir Book Coach Can Help You Write a Book That Sells!

A memoir book coach knows what agents and publishers are looking for. She can help you prepare your manuscript to give it the best chance of success. She’ll also guide you as you prepare your marketing materials. These include query letters, synopses, and a nonfiction book proposal (if you need one).

Your memoir coach will likely start by helping you identify exactly who you’re writing for. Once you have a clearly defined target audience, she’ll show you how to engage their interest—and prove your book’s marketability to agents, too!

What you need to sell your memoir

In addition to a great writing style, agents and publishers will be interested in your hook and your platform. Also, you may need to create a nonfiction book proposal, as well.

The hook for your memoir

A hook captures readers’ (and agents’) attention. It’s what sets your story apart. For instance, many memoirs (sadly) have been written about childhood trauma. Since the market is saturated with books on this topic, if a writer is focusing their book on early trauma, they would be wise to consider what makes their story unique.

Perhaps the environment in which they were raised directly impacted the difficult events they faced. For example, they may have grown up in a circus, or in elite boarding schools, or in a series of foster homes. In any of these cases, their memoir writing coach will suggest they home in on the unusual environment (or any other distinctive element of their childhood) to offer readers a fresh angle on the theme.

Create a platform for your story

A writer’s platform describes the various ways they connect with their target audience. If your memoir is about the healing energy of horses, for instance, your platform might include a podcast on that topic—or, more broadly, on horses in general. Or maybe you’ll have written a series of articles about equine therapy or belong to a list serve that discusses the value of time spent with horses. You might also regularly blog or give talks on the subject.

Agents and publishers put great value on a writer’s platform. A robust following on social media or a dedicated readership of your blog provide a ready-made audience for your book. This is important because it means your book is more likely to sell, making your memoir a sound investment for the company.

While blogging, podcasting, and regular posting take time (away from writing your book!), the bottom line is this: platform matters. You will be rewarded for creating a strong platform by the interest shown you from industry professionals.

Nonfiction book proposal

A nonfiction book proposal is basically a sales proposal or business plan for your memoir. You’ll submit it to agents and publishers to convince them that your book is marketable. Your book proposal will include a table of contents, two or three sample chapters, a marketing plan (referring to your platform!), and a literature comparison.

Currently, many agents and publishers require book proposals for memoir submissions. Although this hasn’t always been the case, now it is quite likely that you’ll need a proposal to win a contract with a larger publishing house. If you’re a first-time book writer, you’ll also need to have at least half of your manuscript complete as well. (Smaller presses may only ask you to submit your manuscript, not a proposal.)

While the book-proposal process may seem daunting, it’s actually a wonderful way to organize your thoughts about the business end of having your book published. A well-constructed nonfiction book proposal will make you look like a pro!

Want to write a successful memoir? An experienced memoir book coach can help!

Memoir book coach Jamie Morris, pictured smiling. Both writing and marketing your memoir are big undertakings. The more you understand the current memoir market, the better prepared you’ll be to give your story the launchpad it deserves! Wondering if a coach can help? Start by scheduling a free writing consultation with me. You might also want to check out THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.”

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Book Writers’ Coach

Why am I a book writing coach? Great question! Over the last ten years, I’ve coached writers of all types. New writers, short story writers, dissertation and thesis writers, hobbyists and journalists. But after a decade of working with a myriad of different writers, I’ve found my greatest joy as a book writers’ coach.

red book cover for book writers' coach Jamie MorrisFolks who commit to writing a book are a different breed. They’re tenacious (and sometimes hard-headed, lol).

They see the long view. They know their actions today (and tomorrow, and the next day/week/year) create their future: If they keep writing, they’ll be authors.

Me? I want to be along for that ride. Sure, there will be ups and downs. (If it were easy, everyone would write a book, right?) So when I agree to become a book writer’s coach, I’m declaring myself in it with you for the long haul.

I’ll be there to remind you about your goals, sure! But more than that, I’ll listen to your ideas and help you develop them in ways that (almost magically) transform your book into something more than you ever imagined it could be! (Believe me, I have a track record for doing just this!)

I’ll guide you to be more efficient when you need to get something—chapter, outline, query letter—done. But I’ll also encourage you to explore enticing paths that may make your work both richer for you as a writer and deeper and more meaningful for your eventual readers.

So, why am I a book writers’ coach? Because I consider it a gift and an honor to help creative people—you!—accomplish the huge task of turning your dream into a book.

It’s possible. It’s hard. It’s worthwhile. And you don’t have to do it alone.

Gearing up to write a book? A chat with a top book writers’ coach might help!

As a book writers’ coach, I have tricks of the trade to share! Book writers' coach Jamie Morris Schedule a free initial consultation with me. And also check out THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.” 

King of Cups, Your Writing Coach

If Tarot’s King of Cups were your writing coach, he’d teach you to calm the troubled waters of your writing life. He rules a kingdom that is entirely fluid and in motion—and he’s had to learn how to maneuver in its emotional depths. It took him some time, but the King of Cups has matured into a person who can acknowledge his feelings without being overbalanced by them. And this is his gift to you.

King of Cups, your writing coachYou see, it’s his kingdom—of water and creativity and the unconscious—from which our dreams and our writing emerge. But when we enter his world, we must be prepared. Our writing can take us far from known shores. It can bring us into waters so deep we get the bends. But, whether we are writing memoir or fiction, those depths are where we are most likely to find pearls of great worth.

Writing coaching advice from the King of Cups: “B” is for “ballast”

So how do we make the best use of the King of Cups’ advice? Take on ballast! “Ballast” is defined as something that gives stability—certainly helpful when we’re about to tug on our scuba gear and slip backwards into the wild waters of our creativity.

One way to stabilize ourselves is to take on a daily writing practice. Our writing practice might look like Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages or Natalie Goldberg’s writing practice. We might use a journaling app or keep a quiet blog. However we choose to do it, writing daily can keep our ship steady as we navigate difficult shipping lanes.

The King of Cups might also suggest we have regular conversations on dry land. We can meet with other writers, sharing advice as well as telling harrowing tales of the tsunamis we’ve survived! We might also seek out a counselor or a 12-step or other supportive group. Sharing our experiences with others can help us find balance while we’re deeply engaged creating an imagined or remembered life on the page.

From his sea-tossed throne, our writing coach the King of Cups reminds us that the more we commit to our literary work, the more likely we are to be pitched about by internal squalls. He’d like us to prepare for those squalls—by having plenty of ballast at hand.

Would you like to discuss your writing process with a top writing coach?

I’ve worked with many deep-diving writers. I’d love to hear about your work and see if I can help. Jamie Morris Writing CoachI invite you to schedule a free consultation. You might also read Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for kind permission to use the image of the King of Cups from the DREAMING WAY TAROT.

How a Book Writing Coach Critiques Your Book

Jamie Morris Writing CoachWhether your book writing coach calls it a “critique,” a “review,” or an “evaluation,” they mean the same thing. Your coach will read your work and give you their professional feedback on essential elements of your manuscript.

But wait! Does that sound scary?

For many writers, the idea of a critique—no matter what term we use to describe it—can be anxiety-producing. If you’re worried about sharing your work with a professional writing coach, here’s something to keep in mind. Your coach is not assessing your work to judge you, but to help you achieve your writing goals! As part of your book-writing team, your writing coach has only one objective—to support you.

To support you effectively, when you hire a book coach, the first thing they’ll want to do is evaluate your book-in-progress. It doesn’t matter how far along your book may be. You might only have an idea for a book. If so, that’s fine! In that case, your book coach will work with you to develop an outline or a synopsis from that initial concept. Whatever you have in hand—an idea, an outline, a partial draft, or just a few chapters—your new coach will want to get a feel for where you are in your book-writing process.

This initial critique will allow them to give you feedback on what’s working and what needs further thought. And it’s a great way to get the writing-coaching ball rolling in the right direction.

What your book writing coach looks for …

Writing a novel?

Specifically, if you’re writing a novel, your novel writing coach will probably ask you for a synopsis, a character list, a rough plot outline, and a sample chapter or two. From these materials, your coach will be able to review your story for significant story elements. They will want to know, is your pacing tight and suspenseful? Do your characters’ voices support the general tone of your story? Is your main character facing enough of a challenge to create their all-important internal arc?

You and your coach will discuss these and other aspects of your novel-writing craft after their review of your materials. From there, you’ll create a road map of the path you’ll take as you complete your novel.

Writing a memoir?

While writing a memoir is surprisingly similar to writing a novel in some respects, your memoir coach will first want to consider the scope of your story and its focus.

Memoir vs. autobiography: You see, a memoir differs from an autobiography in two ways. An autobiography considers the entirety of a person’s life—from birth up to time of writing. It will be written chronologically, start to finish, and may well include quite a bit of information about the writer’s parents and other family members.

A memoir, on the other hand, considers either a limited period in a writer’s life or focuses on a single aspect of their life over a longer period of time. Because of these limits, a memoir might be effectively written in any one of a number of non-chronological ways.

Therefore, when they are assessing your memoir concept, your writing coach will want to know the timeline you’ve planned to develop: For instance, where does your story start and stop? Does it cover just your high school years? Your first ten years of sobriety? Or the six months you were in rehab after your accident?

They’ll also be interested in understanding how you are “framing” your memoir. For example, are you focusing your story on a specific event—like the summer you were a ball girl for your local AA baseball team? Or are you writing about a trait from childhood that you overcame in adulthood—like a debilitating fear of dogs?! Your memoir’s scope and focus will determine the outline, so that’s where your coach will start their critique.

Writing a nonfiction book?

If you’re writing a nonfiction book—especially an instructional book, like a self-help or how-to title—a chapter by chapter outline is the most efficient way to convey the organization of your ideas to your nonfiction book coach. This outline will guide you in your drafting process—and it can also form the basis of a nonfiction book proposal, if you choose to create one.

Add in a sample chapter or two, and your nonfiction writing coach will be able to “hear” how you’re addressing your audience. From there, you and your coach are well on your way to tweaking what needs to be tweaked and getting a good, solid draft—or book proposal—done.

Accountability partner + cheerleader!

In addition to reading and responding to your writing, your coach will act as your accountability partner, creating a regular meeting schedule and offering assignments to keep your book moving forward. Your writing coach will also cheer you up when you feel discouraged and cheer you on as you make strides towards completing the very best book you can write!

If you need support in finding a book coach, check out this article on how to find a writing coach. Also, check out Should I Hire a Writing Coachin THE WRITER magazine. If you are considering hiring a book coach, I’d love to invite you to schedule a free writing consultation. Let’s see how I can help!

Plotting Your Novel: 5 Fabulous Tips!

Plotting your novel can be confusing!

I compiled these 5 fabulous tips for plotting your novel because, if you don’t have a guidance system to help you navigate, you might find yourself asking questions like these:

  • Where do I start my story for greatest impact?
  • What events will force my main character to undergo the change they so desperately need to make?
  • How do I construct stakes that are high enough to keep my main character engaged with their quest all the way to the end?

If you, like me, need some help to deal effectively with these and other pressing plot questions, read on. I’ve compiled a short list of tips, approaches, and resources that demonstrate ways to successfully traverse the rough terrain you and your main character must travel to create a compelling tale.

FABULOUS NOVEL PLOTTING TIP #1: Explore a myriad of plotting methods.

Fortunately, for those of us who are writing novels, novellas, short stories, screenplays, or memoirs—basically, anything that tells a story and develops a character arc—many writers have gone before us and have generously blazed a trail through the wild woods of plot for us to follow.

So which of these many plotting methods is the best? I think that depends on your learning style.

When I immersed myself in the mysteries of plot, I read book after book on the subject. But I always felt I was missing something. Then Joyce Sweeney and I started developing the plot clock—and everything fell into place! The plot clock’s approach made perfect sense to me. Suddenly, I saw how exactly how plot can create a character arc—and what steps to take to make that happen.

For years, Joyce and I taught the plot clock at workshops, writing conferences, and to our clients one-on-one (which I still do).

But now, we’ve also written the book! How to plot your novelAs you’re browsing Amazon looking for good books on plot, check out our PLOTTING YOUR NOVEL WITH THE PLOT CLOCK. It’s short—just seventy pages! And yet it explains how to accomplish the two most important tasks you face when writing a novel or memoir: 1) relating a dynamic set of story events and 2) making your character change in response to those events.

Of course, as I said, this is just the method that works best for my brain. You might love any one of a number of other more linear takes on plot, like SAVE THE CAT WRITES A NOVEL by Jessica Brody. Or you might enjoy diving really deep in story theory with a book like THE WRITER’S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler.

This choice is personal. Take the time to find what plotting approach works best for you—even if you have to experiment with several styles to do so. It will be worth it. Because once you find what fits, that method will be your trusted guide through the rest of your story-writing journey.

FABULOUS NOVEL PLOTTING TIP #2: Start with the basics.

Here are five quick, handy reference points to help you think about how to get your story started and where you’re going to take it. Considering your plot in these simple terms allows you to see if your basic idea has enough oomph to carry the story to the finish line.

Once upon a time there was … (Describe your main character.)

Every day … (This is a glimpse at your main character’s “ordinary world,” before the inciting incident changes their life.)

One day … (Aha! Inciting incident!!)

Because of that … (Here, we see how the main character responds to the inciting incident—and we establish stakes [see Fabulous Novel-Plotting Tip #5, below] that propel them forward into the main events of their story.)

Until finally … (This actually takes you past most of what happens after your character commits to their story—their trials and challenges; their low point; their lessons learned—and brings them to the climax, the battle to end all battles, the inevitable high point of your tale!)

FABULOUS NOVEL PLOTTING TIP #3: Let the three C’s catapult your plot.

Raindance, an independent film festival and film school that operates in major cities, including London, Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Budapest, Berlin and Brussels, offers up a helpful article on the “The Three C’s of Plot (and how they help you get through Act II).”

The “three C’s” of this approach are conflict, choice, and consequence. Having a handle on these major story drivers will assure that your plot has the traction it needs to keep readers deeply engaged.

Further, in the above-mentioned article, writer Jurgen Wolff says, “{While] you can use these [the three C’s] to develop your main plot … they are equally useful in constructing the smaller components of your story-–the individual scenes. This is especially true in helping you construct the hardest part of any story, the middle, or Act II.”

Learn about this concept at the Raindance site.

FABULOUS NOVEL PLOTTING TIP #4: “Yes, and …”

This improv acting tenet offers an easy-peasy way to allow your character to engage dynamically with the events of their plot. Every time the plot makes your character an “offer,” be sure she “accepts” that offer (says “Yes” to it), and then adds to the situation (or, better still, complicates it!) by adding an “and …”

For example, let’s say your character is walking down a crowded street and notices someone running from a store, having just robbed it. In improv, we’d call this an “offer.” In other words, the story has brought something to your character’s attention that she can act upon. Taking action in response to the “offer” is your character’s way of saying “Yes, and …”

Rather than allowing your character to just ignore the commotion—which can slow the story and make plotting more difficult—consistently require she make a “Yes, and” response to whatever happens in her story. In this case, she might give chase (the “Yes” being her acknowledgement of the thief escaping and the “and,” her taking off after the person). Alternatively, she could rush into the store to try to help anyone who was injured in the incident—or she could rush into the store to take advantage of the confusion and steal something herself!

In any one of these examples, your character’s active response to a situation raised by the story allows more and increasingly complex interactions with other characters to unfold. These interactions will drive her character arc and her plot forward.

This technique is particularly useful when you’re writing your first draft, as it keeps you from stalling out in the shallow waters of character ennui and unwillingness. Once you’ve “Yes, and-ed” your way through the entire plot, you can always revise to rein in or eliminate any excessive reactions on the part of your main character.

To learn more about improv and how “Yes-and” creates lively story-telling and a lively life, I suggest YES, AND: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration—Lessons from The Second City.

To learn more about how to apply this improv precept to life off the stage, take a look at this MEDIUM article titled “Saying ‘Yes, and’—A principle for improv, business and life” by Mary Elisabeth.

FABULOUS NOVEL PLOTTING TIP #5: Create compelling stakes.

Stakes. They’re what gets your character off her duff and involved with a plot that, let’s face it, is likely to end up being a pain in her butt!

According to the Institute for Literature, “One of the most important questions to consider when developing a story is ‘What is going to be at stake for my main character?’ By this, we mean, ‘What is the cost of quitting?'”

These are great questions!

If your character can quit the demands of your plot with few or no consequences, you’re likely to lose your reader early on. You see, we readers like to see a character struggle with conflict. It helps us understand better how to do so in our own lives!

So, how do you make sure you’re getting your character into a situation that has sink-or-swim urgency? Consider my four-question “stakes squared” approach.

Jamie’s Stakes Square: Your character is faced with a significant choice. You’ve backed her into a corner. She MUST say yes or no, not delay the decision—because her decision will set a significant plot point into motion! To establish the stakes inherent in the choice, ask yourself these four questions:

Question 1: What might your character GAIN if she says YES to the choice on offer?
Question 2: What might your character LOSE if she says YES to the choice on offer?
Question 3: What might your character GAIN if she says NO to the choice on offer?
Question 4: What might your character LOSE if she says NO to the choice on offer?

If you make sure that all of these potential outcomes create problems for your character—problems that are in proportion to the overall intensity of your story—you’ll be well on your way to creating plot-driving stakes that will hook a reader and not let them go!

(Be sure to consider how this stakes-setting technique impacts the perhaps-impulsive choices your character makes when you require that she say “Yes, and …” to everything the story offers her!)

Do you need a writing coach?

Do you think you may need help with your book? I’m available to be your professional writing coach. Schedule your free consultation and check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

A Good Writing Prompt Can …

 

A writing prompt can take your work to fresh, new places.

If you’re willing to leap into its invitaion, a good writing prompt can catapult you out of your writing doldrums, unstick your project if it’s stuck, and fling your work in fresh and unexpected directions! And, interestingly, a prompt doesn’t need to be complicated to work its magic. Take, for instance, the writing prompt novelist Heidi Julavits used to rediscover her writing mojo—after children and other obligations had back-burnered her literary life.

Over the course of two years, writing promptsmost evenings Julavits started a journal entry with this prompt: “Today I …” From that simple start, she would record details of her day—her thoughts, activities, pleasures, regrets. But she didn’t stop there. Instead, she allowed herself to stray far from the day’s events. Like a dragonfly, she would flit from topic to topic, shifting freely on the winds of association, revisiting the joys and puzzlements of past experience, as well as conjecturing about the future, often with only the most tangential of connections.

The result? A NEW YORK TIMES Notable Book, her 2015 memoir, THE FOLDED CLOCK.

I absolutely recommend reading THE FOLDED CLOCK—yes, for pleasure, but especially for inspiration if you keep a journal or are writing a memoir. But even if neither applies to you, you might want to take Julavits’s approach for a test drive. Try this: Set aside ten or fifteen minutes each evening for a week or two and write, starting with “Today I …,” then leap to whatever thought attracts your attention next.

I’ll give it a try myself!

(TRIGGER WARNING: So, when I use a writing prompt to let myself free associate, a lá Julavits, I often ended up writing about cats. And, of course, the hardest thing about having cats is their inevitable loss. Which is where this writing went. Just letting you know.)

Today I … was drowsy. If not for the cats needing breakfast, I would have slept late, lying in bed, half-dreaming for hours. But the cats were not to be refused. Are cats ever to be refused? Not in my experience. Which includes a lot of cats. Present cats, of course, but past cats, too. And that’s where the heartbreak lives, with the cats of the past and their various ends—which started, in my cat-life, with the disappearance of our black Persian Sukie.

My mother was beside herself with worry—truly, I think, much more worried about Sukie than she ever was about my sister or me. I was eight or nine. Old enough to want to reduce my mother’s anxiety. So I told her I thought I could see Sukie under the house—a wooden farmhouse we were renting that year, its placement up on concrete blocks creating a long, dark crawl space beneath. Dark enough that it was plausible that a black cat could be hiding there, invisible in the murk, except for his eyes glinting if you shined a flashlight towards him. Which I didn’t, not having a flashlight. Although I reported to my mom that I had seen that green glint, wanting to buy her some hope.

In fact, that hope was fleeting. A neighbor pulled up to give us the news. Sukie was (predictably, as I all too soon came to understand) dead. Hit by a car. Like Floffleas and Wobble and, as the years unfolded, several other cats—until we understood that an indoor life for cats might be better for all concerned.

However they passed—traffic, illness, age—so many of the cats I’ve lived with have left an enduring mark. There are dents in my heart where they’ve curled themselves in its various chambers, as if that red beating muscle were a pillow. The special ones—Umphrey, Bertie, Jake, Pea Mouse, Roo—left lasting hollows behind in the exact shape of themselves, their permanent selves, the selves the cars and cancers couldn’t obliterate. “Past cats,” that’s what Jill said, when Jake and Bert died too young and within months of one another. And she was right. Because now there are Jack and Winter and Milo, present cats, each one kneading at the flesh of my heart, softening it up so it will hold their image long after they, too, have passed on.

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

 

Ethical Will: What Really Matters?

What is an ethical will?

The other day, my new writer friend Rabbi Rami asked me if I knew what an “ethical will” was. “Nope,” I said, “not a clue!”

Turns out, an ethical will, also called a “legacy letter,” is quite different from the legal document we imagine when we think of a last will and testament. While what’s called a “simple will” indicates our wishes for the distribution of our possessions after death, an ethical will gives us an opportunity to pass on to future generations what we’ve learned through our experiences—our most profound lessons, values, and perspectives.

writing an ethical willIn addition, according to Next Avenue’s Deborah Quilter, ethical wills quite often include blessings for those who outlive us (particularly our children), our “hopes for the future, apologies to those [we] fear [we] have hurt, or gratitude to those [we] think [we] have not thanked enough.”

In a way, you might see an ethical will as a mini-memoir—one that gets right to the point: I did this; I learned this; I want to share this. And like any other memoir, there’s no need to wait until we are at the end of our lives to write it. In fact, in his article “Why Write an Ethical Will?” Dr. Andrew Weil says, the “main importance [of an ethical will] is what it gives the writer in the midst of life.”

WRITING YOUR ETHICAL WILL

We’re living in troubling times. Taking a few hours to create such a deep life inventory could help us remember what’s most important to us. We might focus our ethical-will writing on recognizing the positive impact we’ve had on others, or on the gifts that have been given to us by others. We can name for ourselves our true values: what’s most important to us; the influence we would like to have; the legacy we would like to leave.

On the other hand, this might be a months- or years-long process, a document we begin now and add to as our lives and understanding unfold—continuing to write “… in times of reflection,” as mentioned on Everplans, “whether in moments of happiness or hardship.”

10 questions to help you write your ethical will

1) List ten turning points in your life. What decisions did you make at those crossroads that impacted your future?

2) List the three most difficult challenges you’ve faced. What did you learn from each?

3) What sacrifices have you made? Were these for others? Or have you also sacrificed pleasures of the moment for longer term goals?

4) What had you hoped to have accomplished by this point? What have you actually accomplished? Which accomplishment gives you most satisfaction?

5) Which five people have had the most significant influence on you?

6) If you had the opportunity to give three pieces of advice to the world at large, what would they be?

7) What roles have you played in your family? At work? In your community?

8) What do you love to do most? List up to 100 items.

9) Have you had what you’d consider spiritual experiences? If so, write about one or more of them. If not, how have you been guided so far in your life?

10) What would you want to see as your legacy?

WRITING ETHICAL WILLS WITH YOUR FAMILY

No matter how young we are, we have learned something from the time we’ve lived. Rather than embarking on your ethical will alone, you might create a family event—just you and your children gathered at a table responding to questions like the ones above, or several generations sharing the experience via video call.

You might all agree to respond to a single question, then write together for perhaps ten minutes, before sharing what you’ve written. If time permits, repeat the process. This could become a family tradition—a weekly or monthly opportunity to dig into deep topics and learn what your loved ones think about the things that matter most.

WRITING INSPIRATION

Some folks have published their ethical wills. Here are a few examples:

THE MEASURE OF OUR SUCCESS: A Letter to My Children and Yours, by Marian Wright Edelman

EVERYTHING I KNOW: Basic Life Rules from a Jewish Mother, by Sharon Strassfeld

Barack Obama’s legacy letter to his daughters, written on the eve of his 2009 inauguration.

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

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Image: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Memoir: Is Writing Your Story Worthwhile?

DO YOU WANT TO WRITE A MEMOIR? If so, do you wonder if your story will have value for readers outside your immediate circle? Yes? Well, you’re not alone.

Often, memoir writingI talk with folks whose experiences have been meaningful enough to them that they want to share what they’ve been through. They feel that, if published, their life story could benefit others—in part, by demonstrating to future readers that at least one person has survived the circumstances about which they want to write and also by offering others the wisdom they’ve gleaned in the process. These potential memoirists may have been subject to abuse or have hit a deep bottom after self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Perhaps they’ve had a serious illness or gone through the devastating loss of a child or spouse.

Whatever their story, having undergone a life-changing trial, they’re ready to share their experience of strength and hope. But faced with the long haul of learning how to write a memoir, they may wonder: Will others really find what I have to say worth reading? (Then there’s the not-insignificant task of on-boarding excellent narrative writing skills!)

With all that in mind, I wrote a note—both in recognition of those who have shared their memoir-writing dreams with me and with the hope that, if I send it out on the ethers, it might reach the heart of someone hesitating at the brink of writing their story.

Dear Memoir-Writer-to-Be,

I understand you’re concerned that your story might not hold meaning for anyone else—that it might not be a valuable contribution to literature or society. But I want to assure you, if you can dig deep and excavate the shining core of your experience and convey it in a compelling way, readers will connect with what you have to say.

Of course, much skill and craft goes into writing a compelling memoir—but with patience and diligence, those can be learned. If you are really committed to the task, that commitment will be the reliable spark that will fuel the work of learning what you must to deliver the story you want to share.

Work hard. Find techniques that will make your story strong, that will convey the deepest meaning of it, that will showcase its worth, that will help you develop its shape and create of it a presence that will make its inherent value evident to your readers.

Tall order? Sure. But having lived through something so life-changing you believe you can impact others by sharing it, I bet you can tackle this, too.

Wishing you every inspiration and a basketful of determination,

Jamie, Memoir Writing Coach

 

Memoir-writing inspiration

There are wonderful resources available to support you in writing your memoir. Among them, I recommend THE ART OF MEMOIR, by Mary Karr, and MEMOIR WRITING FOR DUMMIES, by Ryan G. Van Cleave.

If you’re looking for more suggestions, Meghan McCullough wrote an article for The Perch (the Penguin Random House blog), titled “The 9 Best Books on Writing Memoir.”

And for a shorter read, you might like my post, “Telling the Truth: A Memoir Writing Prompt.”

Writing coach

Need help writing a memoir? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

Snapshot Memoir: Short Form, Big Impact

Writing a snapshot memoir

 On the longest night of the year, my mom and I strolled softly lit paths through the wooded grounds of the Central Florida Zoo during the Asian Lantern Festival—and I’m so glad I preserved this precious experience as a “snapshot memoir.” As we wandered, we encountered illuminated lanterns shaped like crescent moons and meerkats and life-sized hippotamuses—and, yes, tigers. Oh, my!

snapshot memoirNow snapshot memoirthat she’s 85, I treasure sharing quiet adventures like this with my mom. So I took pictures—lots of them. Of the tigers and cheetahs and dragon lanterns, yes. But also of my mom. Because these are moments I’ll want to remember, and the pictures will help me do so. But I know I can drop even deeper into those moments by writing about the photos that capture them.

In a blog post titled “Why Do We Write? A New Year’s Exploration,” I quick-list a dozen reasons I write and help others write (and in the post, I invite you to explore your reasons for writing, too!). While I somehow forgot to include “preserving memories” on that list, doing so is one of the wonderful gifts writing gives to us.

snapshot memoirI’m not alone in thinking this. Natalie Goldberg says writers live twice: first in their immediate experiences and second in writing about them. Of course, if we have photos of our experiences, we have the opportunity to home in on details we might have forgotten otherwise. And vice versa: When we write from photographs of our lives, we tend to discover what’s hidden beneath a photo’s surface.

Snapshot memoirs

A sub-genre dedicated to writing from our pictured memories, in the snapshot memoir (also known as flash memoir), we may be writing from actual images—on our phones or in our photo albums—or from indelible snapshots in our mind’s eye. Either way, though flash memoir is different from flash fiction—because we focus on our own lives rather than on the created lives of imagined others—many of the rules of flash fiction apply to this super-short snapshot memoir form, too.

Readers Write: THE SUN MAGAZINE

THE SUN MAGAZINE has a wonderful feature called Readers Write, in which SUN readers are invited to write and submit their own snapshot memoirs. On THE SUN’s site, you’ll find examples of published Readers Write pieces as well as the prompts and guidelines governing their submission process.

Snapshot memoir writing prompt

Setting aside just ten minutes with pen in hand and a photo in front of you, travel back to the moment the snapshot has captured in its frame. Allow yourself to enter the picture. Look around carefully. Now, peek outside the frame to your memory of the wider context. What’s going on to the left of the image? To the right? Who’s taking the photo? Why?

You might take a deep breath and dive into the emotions the image evokes—both the sweet feelings and the bittersweet. Or maybe the photo calls to mind associated memories that add to the meaning and magic of that particular instant in time.

However deep you’re ready to delve, imagine the photo snapshot memoiras a treasure map. It’s full of possibilities for sure! But to access the gold it promises, we need to follow the path the map reveals. When we write about the image before us, sentence by sentence, we step steadily toward riches the photo can only hint at. Because the real treasure lives inside us. And our pen creates the road that will take us there.

 

Would you like a writing coach on your side?

Are you interested in writing stories about your life? And would you like some support as you do so? I’d love to talk with you about becoming your memoir writing coach! You can schedule a free consultation and be sure to check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

Writing a Memoir? Read Memoirs!

Are you writing a memoir?

If so, reading others’ memoirs can give you a boost! The work of published memoir writers can help you in a number of ways. For instance, you might find that the structure of an author’s story is applicable to the part of your life that you’re recounting. As a memoir writing coach I can provide the following recommendations to help you with your writing.

Story structure

WILD, by Cheryl Strayed, is a great example. While the main thread of WILD takes place in the story’s present, during which Strayed is hiking 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, the reader first meets Strayed at the low point of the story, about halfway through her hike. We’re then taken into a significant stretch of backstory, before being returned to her first steps on the trail. From there, Strayed dovetails backstory with tales of the trail, all the way to book’s end.

Tone and voice

Or, if you’re seeking the right voice for your story, you might consider the difference between the cool, journalistic tone of Jeanette Walls’s THE GLASS CASTLE and the sharp-tongued young persona of Mary Karr’s first memoir, THE LIARS’ CLUB.

Recently published

While all of these are wonderful works to learn from, if you’re aiming for a traditional publishing deal for your memoir, reading work that’s been published more recently (within the last five years) will give you a sense of what’s in fashion, memoir-wise. Taking your cue from what’s currently being sold, you might freshen up your own approach to improve your chances of capturing an agent’s interest.

Apply liberally to all genres: young adult, women’s fiction, self-help, sci-fi, fantasy!

These ideas are applicable to all genres. For instance, a few years ago a rumor was circulating through my writing world: A writer, deciding she wanted to write middle grade (MG) fiction for a living, started her new enterprise by reading two hundred recently published examples of MG.

As I heard it, after finishing that research, she wrote her story, taking intoWriting a memoir consideration all she’d learned from what she’d read—and got a two-book deal with a big-time publisher!

Now, I never confirmed the details of this story, so I can’t send you hieing off to read this woman’s no-doubt fabulous blog about her diligent investigation into what gets agents and editors to pull the trigger. But I can tell you this: From what I know about the wild and woolly world of publishing, this (mythical?) writer’s approach seems likely to get any would-be traditionally published writer out ahead of the pack.

Writing coaching

I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! Check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine for more insights on hiring a writing coach.

Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of The Chariot from the DREAMING WAY TAROT. http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/dreaming-way/

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