Writing Memoirs

I receive an e-mail newsletter from the National Association of Memoir Writers. This is a great organization and site for memoir writers all over the world. It is a wealth of information, webinars and classes, as well as one-on-one coaching.

In the May 28th copy of the NAMW newsletter, it listed six questions that memoir writers ask:

The top six questions that memoir writers ask–and some answers.

  • ·         “Where do I start?” Start with a compelling story that you HAVE to write. List 5 more stories and write them one by one.
  • ·         “What do I include?” In your first draft, write everything that is on your mind. Remember, this is not your published version and you don’t have to show it to anyone.
  • ·         “Should I just copy my journals?” You can draw upon your journal but a memoir is a story. Learn the fictional tools that will help you write a compelling story.
  • ·         “What makes my life interesting to other people?” All of us worry about this, but the good news is that no one has lived your life, or understands being you and living on the planet the way you have. Everyone’s life is interesting to other people. Writing a great story makes it interesting.
  • ·         “Do I have to write a whole book?” (Gasp.) No. Write one story at a time. Just one.
·         “What will my family say?” Tell them you’re writing fiction. Don’t share your most vulnerable stories hoping they will understand you suddenly. Treat your writing like a tender plant in the garden.”

Oftentimes memoir writers worry about their content because of the personal nature of the subject matter. They worry about offending people in their lives who their stories may brush upon or talk about in detail. Our United States Constitution has given us the right to free speech. Speak freely about whatever topic you choose without worrying about hurting someone’s feelings. Everything you write will never be accepted by every person who reads it — whether the person is intricate to the story or a stranger reading the story. As long as you are not writing untruths about the individual or the situation the individual was party to, then there’s nothing you need to worry about.

Not everyone is going to like every story or book we write. There are too many obstacles in a writer’s path to “published” to let the feelings of others hinder you from writing. If you are able to:

  1. Write the truth, without sensationalizing it.
  2. Give facts and details.
  3. Speak from the heart in a non-vicious manner.

then you are able to write a memoir that you can hold your head high about and be proud of. You have not lied. You have provided great detail and all of the facts in the story. You are speaking from a storytelling perspective, free of thoughts of “pay back” or vindictiveness or seeking revenge. If someone’s feelings are hurt or you offend in your storytelling, you will know that your intent was to do neither. Your intent was to share with the world your story, from your perspective. No two people will have the same perspective and what you may see as the events of the story may be related by another party to the events in a totally different manner.

So, take a deep breath, relax, and write. It is your story. Your way. From your perspective. Remember that and know that you did not set out to anger anyone. My favorite quote from a very famous author:

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) 

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Using Free Writing to Overcome Writer’s Block

Do you write freely?

What I mean by that is — do you open up your notebook, grab a pen and start writing? Without thinking about what you are writing. Without worrying about punctuation and grammar. Without thinking plot and sentence structure. Without consciously attempting to develop a character or even make any sense at all?

If you don’t, you should. That’s what they call “free writing.” Just writing whatever comes to mind, in no particular order, and with no attempt at being coherent. Just get it off you mind and onto the page.

Free writing is an excellent weapon against writer’s block. It empties your mind of all the slush and garbage that is blocking you from working on your story. It also allows the muse to have her fun so that you can get back to work! I free write each morning before attempting to work on any of my manuscripts. If I don’t, then I might get a forced paragraph onto paper in one of my manuscripts and then give up due to the struggle to get something down.

Some say that free writing is also the best way to get your manuscript down. Just write. From my understanding, that is the premise of NaNoWriMo — get 50,000 “words” down on paper, no matter whether it makes any sense or not, in 30 days. To that I agree and disagree — and I will be doing NaNo, but not with that mindset. When writing your manuscript’s first draft, you shouldn’t much care about punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, and the other trappings of writing. However, you shouldn’t throw all that carelessly to the wind either. Your first draft should be written as you envision the book to be, and it should be coherent. However, you should not dawdle on writing the perfect sentence, making sure all your grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and etc. is correct. But your first draft should be written soundly — don’t just throw garbage on the page. If you just type up garbage, your editing of that first draft and getting a second draft knocked out is going to be a nightmare. You will spend more time fixing and moving and making the book flow then you will getting the second draft done.

Don’t go to the other extreme on a first draft either! Find a happy balance between being able to write freely and getting a decent first draft down. Just write. But just don’t write garbage for your first draft…

Free writing is also a great tool for your personal life. We all deal with stress in our lives. Whether it’s stress from a 9 to 5, the stress of parenting, or the stress of marriage. Everyone has it. Free writing not only frees you from writer’s block, it also frees you from stress. I mentioned in another blog post that one of my manuscripts deals with a touchy subject. Delving into the inner folds of my mind to remember the stories surrounding what happened can be hard. It is very stressful. I use free writing when the memories become too painful. I push forward with the manuscript for as long as I can stand it, then I whip out my leather journal and write. I allow all the anger and pain to flow from my mind and heart, down my arm and through my pen onto the page. And I am better afterward.

You can also use free writing to quiet the muse. When I am working on a manuscript, the muse always wants me to work on a different one than that one. Or, she comes along and pops a brilliant idea for a new manuscript into my mind and keeps nagging me about it. So, when I cannot make her shut up, I free write for 15 minutes. This allows enough time for me to get the new idea broadly laid out or give 15 minutes of attention to the manuscript she wants me to work on. After that, it’s all gravy. I can go back to my original manuscript and punch out 2,000 or so more words in one sitting.

If you want to be freed from the commotion in your mind that is causing you difficulty in your writing life, then free write. If you’re like me and don’t want to mess up one of your nice journals, buy a cheap spiral bound notebook. That way you won’t cringe like I do when I see my sloppy writing, throwing grammar and punctuation to the wind, and doing so in a nice journal. I have since moved past that and can write in journals — I actually purchase one for each “theme” that generally plagues my mind. Who knows…one day one of those free writing journals may become the next NYTimes Best Seller…

Time to share…
Do you free write? If so, what’s your method? How does free writing help you?

Writing Through the Pain

I “win” at writing — I write to inspire and nurture… My writing aims to empower and uplift. Some people may classify some of my works as “self help.” Most of my writing is drawn from personal experience, and thus puts it in the classification of memoir.

Writing memoir is hard. Hard because it means you will be dredging up memories. Memories that are sometimes difficult to re-live. I am currently working on a two-book memoir which deals with infidelity. The writing is bringing up some heart wrenching, traumatic, and painful memories for me. How do you continue writing through this pain?

It is difficult. My subject is a very sensitive one. Writing reminds me of my experiences with this subject and the pain and destruction it causes. As a writer, it is already quite difficult to get the words on to the page. Fighting with your inner critic, fighting the urge to edit as you write rather than “get it down, then get it right” as Don Fry would instruct, distractions of home/work/life, writer’s block — the list of road blocks is monumental. Add to that writing from the heart on a topic that brings back painful memories and you have one great recipe for not making it to the printing press…

How then does one avoid the pitfalls and continue writing — to completion — a memoir with harsh memories?

The answers are many. As many as there are writers of memoir. Each writer handles things differently with one common thread — writing. They continue to write through the pain. They push forward and get the pain out of their minds and hearts and onto the page. But for me, this doesn’t always work…especially with my chosen topic. Sometimes the pain is too great to write through and one must take a break. So how do you prevent the necessary emotional breaks from stalling the writing process?

Write about something different…

Rather than take a mindless break that would have most writers lost for hours surfing the Internet or doing laundry (procrastination techniques 101), take a writing break:

  • Write and schedule your blog post for the next several days or weeks.
  • Edit your NaNoWriMo from 2011.
  • Try your hand at romance novel writing.
  • Start your first mystery trilogy.
  • Just don’t stop writing…

Change what you are writing about. I took on the ScriptFrenzy challenge for the first time this year. Failed miserably! But having another thing to write gave me something I could escape to while continuing to write… I was able to take a break from the pain of recalling the memories yet I kept writing. For me, this makes it an easier transition back to the hard task at hand. If I took a break by not writing anything, it would be much harder for me to pick the pen up again and get going. It is hard enough putting “butt in chair” and starting in the first place. To stop writing, especially when writing something emotionally difficult, would hurt far more than it would help.

My advice — keep writing. Write through the pain in the manuscript if you can. If the pain of writing is jetting you toward putting down your pen and doing laundry, switch gears and brush up on your screenwriting. Or start your first paranormal romance. Take a stab at fiction writing if you consider yourself a nonfiction writer. Whatever you do —

Keep writing…

Time to share…
How do you make it through writing about difficult subjects, ones that cause you emotional distress and/or hurt? What advice can you give to other writers who run up against this same issue?

I’S B N’ing…

Otherwise known as getting your ISBN on…

What are they? Why are they necessary? Do I need one for my book? Should I get my own or use the one provided by the POD/ebook vendor I am using to self publish? Where do I begin?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. From the Bowker website: “The most important identifier your book can have is the ISBN. …ISBNs provide unique identification for books and simplify the distribution of your books throughout the global supply chain. Without an ISBN, your book will not be found in bookstores, either online, or down the street from your house.” By the way, Bowker is the only official U.S. source for ISBNs. Their website can be found here.

With yesterday’s lengthy post on Self Publishing Options Today, I touched on the subject of ISBNs. If you are going to self publish, my opinion on the matter is clear — get your own ISBN! Here’s why:

  • You retain greater control over your product. If no more than being able to dictate where it is sold, having a service provider ISBN may limit your distribution channels. ‘Tis true — some service providers try to force your hand to use their ISBN number in order to gain a wider distribution; however, if you are a savvy self publisher then that simply means you will have to do the work to be distributed to those channels rather than the service provider. Why do all the work writing, editing, formatting, uploading, tweaking, proofing, etc. and then put someone else’s name and mark (the ISBN) as publisher? After all that’s done, it’s simply print-on-demand…
  • You have started a small business for yourself. Not that you need yet another task for your list! Just being an author means you will be wearing many different hats — whether you self publish or go the traditional route. Having and using your own ISBN means you are the publisher too. Your book will be written and published by you, whatever name you choose for your publishing company…
  • You have opened up a new niche for yourself. You’ve gone and done it. You’ve self published your own book, through your own publishing company. Now what? Use the information you have gained through the process to help the next aspiring author walk the path. Write some posts on your blog about your experience. Do a list post with the top 10 things NOT to do when self publishing. Write to Inspire and Nurture!! Use the experience to gain audience!

The benefits are many. The control and freedom over your work is unmatched. Of course, this is coming from a self proclaimed control freak. It’s probably one of the reasons I have worked in the I.T. field for more than 20 years — the end users are clueless so I can control the situation and outcome. That is as long as poor Mr. PC decides to work with me and not against me LOL!

On the serious side, you should look into ISBNs. It is an easy process to secure your own. It is not that expensive. If you purchase them in a block instead of individually, you can get more bang for your buck. Best of all — you will be glad you did when it is all said and done…

Time to share…
Your own ISBN vs a service provider ISBN — that is the question. What are your thoughts for and against obtaining your own ISBN?

Using Excel to Create an Editorial Calendar

So you’ve noticed I’m really on a kick with this editorial calendar thingy, huh? Two posts about it two days in a row…

I see an EC as an immense tool for bloggers. Although I have just instituted this tool in my writing life yesterday, it has already done innumerable things to assist me:

  • Organized my weeks into cohesive “themes”
  • Ensured that I am not overloading my readers with the same drudgery day after day after day
  • Gives me a clear overview of my weeks and months
  • Has “forced” me to plan ahead — I had to fill out the calendar once created, right?
  • Removed the forced scrambling to 1) come up with something to post, and 2) writing it on the fly once I thought of something so that I can get it posted that same day ;-p
  • The list goes on and on…

I used Microsoft Excel to create my EC. It was the easiest piece of software I could easily use to layout the calendar. Others have used Microsoft Word and the table function in Word. I decided not to deal with adjusting rows and columns in Word when Excel was made to easily do just that. Here’s a screenshot of the beginnings of my calendar, with the layout of it being based on Michele Linn’s screenshot from her article entitled How to Put Together an Editorial Calendar for Content Marketing, which I shared with you in yesterday’s post:

EC Screenshot

My Editorial Calendar Screenshot

My goal is to post an article 5 days a week — Monday through Friday. On the first Saturday of each month, I will share a short story writing sample. This sample writing project will be a “first draft”, so don’t look for perfect grammar and sentence structure and the other trappings of finalized prose. It’s a fun exercise for self to keep me writing and for my readers to keep them motivated and writing as well.

Each day of the week has a specific theme. For example, each Monday I will write about the articles and information which I’ve devoured over the weekend as it relates to writing. I read up on the writing industry constantly and I would like to share some of the information I garner through my reading. Fridays are my “break” day where I get to write about whatever is churning up in that brain of mine. It’s the day I let the Muse free to do as she pleases. I may post a poem, or you may get an article about my Shorkie, Ebonie (a Shorkie is a Shitzu/Yorkie “designer” breed dog — a mutt with a price tag LOL! but I love her so…she’s my writing buddy…). You never know…

I hope that yesterday’s article at least got you thinking about ECs and how they can be useful to you in your writer’s life. If not, then today’s should really get you going — especially if you’ve been struggling to be a faithful blogger who publishes great content and not just throwing something up to say that you post daily. This tool in one day has already had a major, positive impact on my schedule and my time management. You could enjoy the same benefits too by instituting your EC today!

If you are interested in instituting an EC but are not the techie type, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll send you a blank copy of my Excel spreadsheet for your use. You will need Microsoft Excel in order to open/edit it for your use. Google Docs may also be used as well.

Time to share…
Let’s see a screenshot of your EC! What software did you use to create it? Any tips on easy ways to create one? You are creating a daily calendar for a full year afterall…