Focusing Your Memoir

Writing a memoir is a daunting task. A writer often struggles with what to include and what to leave out. It can be very overwhelming because no one wants to leave out any of the “good parts.” But how does one determine what the “good parts” are?

Memoir writers are often tempted to put in too much information. Characters and details that really are not important to the story you are trying to convey. These characters and details may have been part of the actual events, but do they make sense to the story from the viewpoint you are writing the memoir? If not, leave them out…even if it’s one of your siblings. You are not altering history here, you are simply writing the important memories you want to convey without the fluff stuff that isn’t necessary to the story you are telling.

I recently read an article on the American Scholar website on How To Write a Memoir. The author relates detailed information that can assist in memoir writing, some of which include:

  • But in my memoir I don’t write anything about the war itself. I just tell one story about one trip I took across North Africa after our troopship landed at Casablanca.“, and
  • Remember: Your biggest stories often have less to do with their subject than with their significance — not what you did in a certain situation, but how that situation affected you and shaped the person you became.“, and
  • Tackle your life in easily manageable chunks.

I think that these tidbits are good information for memoir writers to keep in mind. There is a wealth of other useful tidbits in the complete article, which can be found here. Don’t overdo it. Write just what is necessary to the story at hand. Your life spans many decades and trying to get a history of all those decades recorded in one volume is not only a difficult task, it may be unnecessary. Unless you are writing your autobiography, every detail is not necessary to tell a story about a portion of your life in a memoir. There’s no reason to relay all or most details of your life from birth up until the time of the story at hand. Leave those details for a different memoir. Focus on the subject matter of the memoir at hand — your memories of trips to your grandparents house, your memories of growing up in the church, your memories of baking cookies with your mom and selling them for a nickel at your lemonade stand…

In writing a memoir you must keep the story you are telling in focus. Do not lose your readers by giving too much information. Only what is pertinent to the story need be included. I suggest you take the time to read the full article. It is time well spent. I will be implementing the author’s suggestion to write a story about your life each morning and file it away until you have enough material to review and look for recurring patterns and themes. This helps the writer to really find out what their memoir is about, which is not usually what you think.

Time to share…
What do you struggle with in memoir writing? Has this article or the article on the American Scholar website helped you to refocus your memoir writing? In what ways?

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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) 

Your Writing Life and the iPad

DISCLAIMER: I am a technology junkie. I have worked in the information technology field for over 20 years. As such, gadgets get my adrenaline up. I am forewarning all who read this blog post that I may get a little geeky on you…

I purchased my iPad 2 on the Monday before the New iPad was released (Friday of the same week). The retina display et al that the New iPad boasts was not enough of a draw for me to spend the extra $100+ dollars, nor was I waiting in mad mob lines trying to get my hands on one of the New iPads on release day. I have since put my iPad 2 next to a New iPad and looked at the display. There is a clear difference between the displays; however, still not enough for me to have spent that extra money. If you are into doing lots with photos, streaming videos, and creating/editing both then yes, the New iPad would be marvelous. But I’m a writer…

Since I have purchased my iPad, I have been on a hunt for a productivity app that would allow me to type my manuscripts onto my iPad, save them, and access them later from other devices (iPhone, laptop/desktop PC, android tablet, etc.). I happened upon Storyist in one of my searches, purchased the program and use it religiously on my iPad. However, with me writing multiple manuscripts at the same time (the muse won’t let me focus on just one…) it was getting cumbersome to use the iPad, save to Dropbox, download from Dropbox on my PC, convert the file to a useable PC format (for Word), and then be able to start writing. I have enough procrastination techniques already…don’t need another one!

This morning, I was determined to find a tool that I could use on my iPad that I carry everywhere and enable me to write at the drop of a dime without all the uploading/downloading/converting hassle. So I did a Google search. Lo and behold I found OnLive Desktop! Can I tell you how excited I was to find this?! This is a FREE app for the iPad that allows you to access a Microsoft Office desktop which has Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Adobe Reader X at your disposal. Your account also comes with 2 GB of storage in the cloud. They have paid options as well; however, my needs were met with access to Microsoft Word and 2 gigs of storage space!

Now, I am not putting this out there as a “complaint” against Storyist. I love that app as well. However, being a PC-shop at home and the only Apple devices I own are my iPhone and iPad, it was just too cumbersome to use Storyist. If you have a MAC at home, you can get Storyist for the MAC as well and that would resolve all the issues that I was facing going between an Apple device and Windows.

I haven’t even had the opportunity to do anything more on my iPad then launch the app once I installed it and launch Word. I was in heaven! Haven’t typed one word yet… Therefore, the jury is still out regarding the stability of the app and whether it crashes and/or you lose data. I will definitely update my review on this find once I am able to get working with it. In the meantime, however, if you are like me and were struggling with compatibility issues between mobile working and working from home, then this might be the app for you.

Check it out and let me know your thoughts. I would love to hear about this service or any other apps or services others may have found that you are using in your writing life which are working for you.

Keep writing!

On Writing…

I read a great article yesterday by a newly published author — Khanh Ha. His first book, Flesh, was released this month from Black Heron Press.

Mr. Ha is of Asian descent. In his article, he speaks about writing from a voice that is not your own. A voice in which your ethnic background is totally different from that of your character’s. It is difficult to accomplish this task, as a writer needs to pull from a place where she’s never “been.” His article then goes into giving the reader some tips on becoming a successful, published author.

I enjoyed the article in its entirety; however, Mr. Ha’s 7 Rules for Writing really drove it home for me:

ON WRITING

So you want to write a novel. Do you have a writing routine? I know no one’s routine is like another’s. While writing FLESH, I was regimented. I wrote every day. Each day faithfully by sticking to the seven rules—7 is my lucky number.

#1—find discipline in solitude, in aloneness so you can meet your characters. It’s like a rendezvous with ghosts. Then make that meeting every day or every night with no excuses.

#2—write each scene as if it were the only thing in your universe—it must command all your attention.

#3—write one scene well and that scene would breed the next scene.

#4—leave room for readers to participate: don’t overwrite.

#5—stop where you still have something to say so the next day you won’t face a dry well.

#6—read each day to keep your mind off your own writing.

#7—don’t believe in anybody’s rules except yours.

If you were born to write, write something, even if it’s just a suicide note. Somewhere I remember Toni Morrison once said, “I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.”
[Credit: Khanh Ha, “Rules for Writing and Revising Your Novel”]

These 7 rules are golden! But the rule I liked best — “#7 — don’t believe in anybody’s rules except yours.” Many new authors do more reading about “how” to write and “how” to be an author and “what NOT to do…” that we 1) don’t spend enough time writing — the whole goal, and 2) have so many conflicting pieces of advice that we stay still for fear that we’ll choose the wrong writing path to travel down and break the rules. The only rules are the ones you set for yourself…

The full article can be found here. It is worth the read. And then, get to writing!

Time to share…
How do you feel about Mr. Ha’s 7 rules for writing? Will you implement any of them in your writing life? Which one(s) would you change?

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?

Guest Poet: K.A.O.T.I.K. THOUGHT, Poem: Purpose

Today I am pleased to bring you a poem by W.I.N. at Writing’s guest poet, K.A.O.T.I.K. THOUGHT. This poet is an entrepreneur as well as someone who upholds the principles of this blog — Writing to Inspire and Nurture. One of BUSS-Radio’s “BUSS Drivers”, he can be found running his artist management company (OBM Enterprises & Studios) and hosting his Internet radio show. Look for K.A.O.T.I.K. THOUGHT at the Collective Minds House Music Festival, Labor Day weekend in Druid Hill Park — Baltimore Maryland, as host of the Cultural Arts stage. For a video of K.A.O.T.I.K. THOUGHT performing another one of his spoken word pieces, The King Within, visit OBM Enterprise’s YouTube website.

PURPOSE

A twister for your brain, of course all the words will sound the same.
At the end of this poem wont you please tell me my name?
You dont know me from Adam tho you judge me as if you do.
You seem as if my very existence is a bother to you.
I go about my day, I bother no one I stay in my lane.
For the world passes me by I am numb due to my pain.
Some mistakes were made and opportunities were missed.
I had no idea things would turn out quite like this.
I speak to myself mostly dwelling on my regrets.
And because you dont see me I cant get proper respect?
Nobody is perfect who the hell are you to judge?
You don’t know how I got here maybe I should be the one with the grudge
See thats what happens when ignnorance ir present, we must brake this chain
you’re so wrapped up in you, you cant even see another’s pain.
Is it your clothes, cars or money that makes you think you’re so great?
And I’m supposed to be nobody because I don’t have your material items and cant remember the last time I ate?
Your position in life is just that, where you are.
Your zip code and income tax don’t make me a derelict and you a star.
The energy you burn being negative could have a more positive use.
My possession’s are minimal and I’m not ignorant like you so whats your excuse?
You don’t see me because you judge based upon my surface
My experiences in life could have been grand, only Allah (swt) knows their purpose.
I may have knowledge that will help you grow.
I’m talking about your spirituality, centering yourself not your portfolio.
So judge not based upon the surface
For all of Allah’s (swt) creations have purpose.
Your purpose is not greater than mine nor is mine greater than yours
Drop the negative! you blocking your blessings look at all those open windows and doors.
See we can block our blessings by the way that we live
They come in many forms and sometimes the size is determined by what you give.
I am at the end of the twister that is for your brain
So wont you please tell me my name?

K.A.O.T.I.K. THOUGHT
(Keep All OldSkool Traditions In Konscious Thought)

Jackie Collins: Why She Chose to Self Publish

I read a great article recently about author Jackie Collins recently making the decision to self publish. She has a couple of reasons, but the one reason that struck me most:

“But times are changing, and technology is changing, and I wanted to experiment with this growing trend of self publishing.”

‘Nuff said… Ms. Collins hits the nail on the head. The trend is moving toward self publishing for many many many authors, both those already published and enjoying successful writing careers and those of us aspiring to get there.

Whether you decide to pursue traditional publishing or if you go down the self publishing path, I believe all authors should have at least one experience in self publishing. If you take the time to publish a work yourself, then you will have the clearest understanding of the publishing industry. You will know what it takes to get a book from finished manuscript in Microsoft Word, to a printed and bound work that is saleable to the public, as well as what it takes to get that now printed book sold and up on the ratings list.

Why would you want or need this information? Because information is power. Knowing the ropes and how to navigate them puts you in a very powerful position. You may get picked up by a traditional publisher. As a newbie, you wouldn’t know all the ins and outs and what you should negotiate for in your contract. But if you have experienced the process, then you have more information to use when negotiating that part of the contract. You have also had to push a book 100% by yourself — you are the publisher. What you learn while marketing your book and getting the sales numbers up is also invaluable information. Information that can then be used during contract negotiations with a traditional publisher…

So, get published. Self published. And learn the industry to its fullest extent. Place yourself in a position of power. The big boys of traditional publishing have done it for years. Now you can learn what they already know and use it to your advantage. Just like they have done. You should always be willing to learn something new in the industry and have it in your arsenal. It can only further your career. “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave…”

If you would like to read the full article on Jackie Collins and her thoughts on self publishing, visit the Association of Independent Authors site. Not only for the article, but for the wealth of information that the site offers. The specific article can be found here.

Time to share…
What are your thoughts on what Ms. Collins had to say about her choice to self publish? Do you believe this is valuable information to have — even if your choice is to traditionally publish?

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?

The page where those who will be joining me in Robert Lee Brewer’s month long challenge is up! Just click on the “Author Platform Challenge” tab in the header to get there. The original article regarding this challenge can be found here.

Cannot wait to get started on this challenge and see where it takes me! Are you in?!?

Kick off is tomorrow, May 15th…

Monday Morning Review: Facebook Contests

I read a great article over the weekend on running Facebook contests. It’s not as easy as one would think…

Not that setting up the contest is difficult, it is all of the numerous rules and regulations that must be followed in order to legally run a contest on Facebook. Facebook has left no stone unturned when it comes to protecting their liability with other company’s and individual’s contests. Because of this, their policies on running a contest for your business on Facebook can get pretty confusing.

Ideally, you cannot use Facebook to run the contest. You must use a third party application which can be used on Facebook. Any submissions — pictures, e-mail addresses, whatever you are collecting for the contest — must be collected via the third party application rather than through Facebook directly. I assume this is to take Facebook out of the liability loop. If the submissions are not submitted to Facebook, they can’t be held liable. It was submitted to some other site (Wildfire, iFrame, whatever app), and therefore the liability lies with the third party app for any missed or miscalculated contest results.

In the scheme of business, it is a wise move for Facebook to protect itself from any liability at all costs. At the same time, however, they shouldn’t make following policy a treasure hunt. The article stated that most contests run on Facebook are illegal and at risk of having Facebook shutdown the contest, page, account, or the whole kit-and-kaboodle. As authors, we must self promote whether we self publish or publish our works traditionally. We really need to get these policies down to a science to ensure that our Facebook promotion efforts are not foiled because of Facebook’s convoluted policies.

For a more indepth discussion of Facebook contest policies, read Social Media Magazine‘s article in their April/May 2012 edition of Fb+Business Magazine. Author Marketing Experts put out four magazines targeted at assisting authors — Fb & Business, LI & Business, Tweeting & Business, and The Big G & Business. They each contain some great information and articles to help the author build their business using social media.

Time to share…
What are your thoughts on using Facebook contests as a way to build business? Are FB contests an effective method for authors? What do you think about FB’s policies on contest — too restrictive or easy enough to follow?