Tips For Writing A Memoir

I suspect that a number of you, my gentle readers, are thinking about writing a book. Am I right? Perhaps you want to share your life story. If so, here are some tips for writing a memoir:

Writing a memoir takes time

Photo by hannah grace on UnsplashWriting a book isn’t an overnight undertaking.

Although it might be possible to complete a book in a month or two, I urge you not to rush the process. Even if you have plenty of time, give yourself some breathing room.

Six to eight months is a good timeframe for completing a book. Set daily targets and hold yourself accountable to making them. Your memoir will be the better for it.

Character flaws are key

Even if you are a living hero, you’ll need to take a step back and look for a few non-optimum personality traits to share.

The reason for this is that the rest of us, your readers who have flaws, will never be able to relate to the story of a perfect superhero. Include the mistakes you’ve made in your life. Find a few lapses in judgment and delve into them. Anecdotes showing how you overcame barriers and errors will enhance your book.

Humor goes a long way

When an author can poke fun at his or her situation and enliven a story by bringing out its comical aspect, it makes for a more enjoyable and memorable read. While it is best not to make fun of others in your book, there are still plenty of other ways to include humor.

For instance, funny dialogue snippets lighten the mood nicely. There might also be times when you can uncover an absurd moment then expand on it. Don’t be afraid to shine a spotlight on certain aspects of your life that might make others laugh out loud.

Write and write and write

If you’re writing a memoir yourself, you’ll need to write on a regular basis.

Don’t expect to make much progress if you only type a few pages on the weekends. Great writers write every day. It keeps ideas flowing and the creative pump primed.

Feel free to embellish the details

No one expects you to remember every single little detail of your life perfectly.

For example, can you recall what you had for breakfast on October 20th, 1974? If you’re writing a breakfast scene and want to put Eggs Benedict on the table, go ahead. Your readers will accept it.

The situation is similar with dialogue. If you are writing about an important conversation, your readers don’t care about the exact words spoken. They just want to know the gist of the conversation.

The truth is, even if you have a photographic memory, you will want to change up the words a bit to improve the flow of the story. However, never invent fictitious and unflattering words for a real person you’re mentioning by name. He or she might not appreciate your creativity.

Be honest

Although you’re delving into the viewpoint of one character, you, you need to have the ability to pull back from your perspective.

Be objective.

This might mean that you don’t come out the winner in every argument. And, please don’t resent me for saying so, but you might turn out to be wrong on occasion. It happens! Remember, flawless characters aren’t very believable.

One of my biggest tips for writing a memoir is to be truthful with your readers. It’s possible that they might learn a lesson and avoid making the same mistakes you did. Wouldn’t it be good to know that your book changed the life of just one person?

Read other memoirs

Photo by Lê Tân on UnsplashI read a quote today that I loved. It said:

“Reading and writing cannot be separated. Reading is breathing in. Writing is breathing out.” (I wish I knew who wrote it.)

Writing a memoir is difficult if you’ve never read one by another writer. Reading a lot will help you learn about what works and what doesn’t.

With these tips for writing a memoir, you are ready. Now start writing. Continue to write. Then write some more until your first draft is completed.

Don’t edit, just write.

Enjoy the experience.

Personally, I love ghostwriting memoirs because I get to meet new people and help them share their life stories with others. While doing so, they usually remember new details about their lives that they’d forgotten for decades. And, in the end, they always learn a lot, as do their readers. The process is so rewarding!

Additional articles you might find helpful:

How To Write A Nonfiction Book

Why Should I Hire a Ghostwriter?

A Ghostwriter’s Fee: How Do They Charge?

Understanding Characters

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

Ask a Ghostwriter: Organizing and Outlining a Memoir

Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I want to write my life story. I’ve been working on my memoir for seven years, but haven’t made much progress. I know what I want to write about, but I can’t seem to get my thoughts on paper. Help! – Emma V.

Dear Emma V.,

Honestly, I think the problem might be simpler than you think. Consider outlining your memoir. Working from a jumbled mess of notes can be daunting for many.

Now, some writers feel that outlining takes all the joy out of the process. One friend once told me, “If I were to outline the entire book, what would be the point in writing it? I know exactly what will happen!” Although I understood what he meant, I couldn’t disagree more.

Outlining saves time

As a writer, I enjoy creating the mile markers first and then filling in the details. I prefer knowing where I’m starting and where I’m going. It puts me in the driver’s seat.

Before I commit to days of writing, I want to know where I’m heading. I mean, if wrote thousands of words, which veered off a cliff, I’d have to toss it. That is frustrating to anyone.

Bottom line, if you’re stuck and unable to write, please consider writing a good, strong, detailed outline.

Outlining a memoir

If you’re writing a memoir (or fiction), tackle each individual incident. It’s important to work out:

  • Who is in the scene
  • Where it takes place
  • When it happened
  • What happened (briefly)
  • What is the purpose of the scene.

The last point is the most important aspect for this exercise by far. After all, if the scene has no purpose, you shouldn’t waste your time writing it. It will just land on the editing room floor at the end of the project.

Your outline should be purpose driven. Every scene must propel your story forward. Each incident must have a reason for being there, something that fits in with the flow of the book.

Outlining a how-to book

If you’re writing a how-to book, your outline will be very different. I’d suggest that you create a table of contents, with bullet points for subheads. I often write a little paragraph describing the proposed text under each segment.

I’d love to hear from fellow writers. What do you think? Do you use an outline? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.

Additional articles you might find helpful:

Easy Tips For Writing Your Book

Do You Want To Write A Book About Your Life?

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

How To Write A Nonfiction Book

Tips to Find Your Memoir Theme

Brave Knight

Photo by Henry Hustava on Unsplash

Writing a memoir requires the skill sets and virtues of a knight.

The author needs unparalleled bravery and must possess an honest and true heart. He or she has to show humility and be generous to the others mentioned in the book, even when they don’t deserve it.

But how do you find the theme of the tale you want to tell?

Start with the end to find your memoir theme

A good memoir takes the reader on a journey of the courageous hero (you). Your path should lead to growth or accomplishment of a goal (if it doesn’t, please rethink writing the book). This growth or accomplishment will point you in the direction of your memoir theme.

While the spoils of war, the victories, are the focus of your memoir, lessons will be learned along the way. Keep in mind, that means your mistakes will be exposed for all to see. But in the end, you should be the conquering hero.

And the reader will be by your side, sharing in your victory.

For instance, if you are a successful businessperson and wish to share your story, your theme might be how you slayed your personal demons that threatened to hold you back in order to rise up in the business world. I’ve written quite a few memoirs with this message.

Or perhaps you survived a life-threatening illness. In that case, your memoir theme would be centered around the successful life changes that guided you to health.

So, look carefully at your story. Where did you win? What did you do to get there? That’s where you’ll find your theme.

Summarize the book in one or two sentences

When you complete your book, you’ll often be asked “What’s your story about?” It’s good to tackle this question right at the start. When you first sit down to write out an answer, it might take you a few hundred words to summarize your 50,000-word book. That’s normal.

Remove the extraneous words and explanations and work to pare the description down to a single line or two. Thoroughly examine what your story is about. I know. It isn’t easy, but you have to edit it down.

This description will come in handy when you need an “elevator pitch” later. For instance, I’m writing a book about my experiences roadschooling three children. My pitch would be:

This is a travel memoir plus roadschooling how-to book which chronicles my adventure on the road after trading in my 2,500 square-foot home for a 36-foot RV.

Are you interested in reading my story?

Step back and look at the big picture

It can be hard, when you review your life, to find a theme. After all, it was your life and it can be hard to be objective. That’s probably why a lot of people reach out to me to help them ghostwrite their memoirs. It’s often tough to do on your own.

If you’re writing your book yourself, try telling someone who doesn’t know your story about your memoir idea. This may help you sort it out because they’ll probably ask questions and make comments. Note these. If you are not ready to share your story quite yet, try stepping back and asking yourself questions you think your reader would ask about your story.

“Why did you make that choice?”

“What was your mindset when you traveled that path?”

“What would you do differently now that you know what you know today?”

These kinds of questions can help you formulate a good memoir theme, because your answers are really the successful solutions you developed. They brought you to the place you are today!

Your readers may be able to resolve their issues and be victorious in whatever battles they are fighting when they follow in your brave footsteps and apply your successful solutions. That’s the beauty of a good theme. You, the fearless knight, can really inspire and help others.

Please feel free to email me if you need a little help! To learn more about successful memoir themes, please check out my article on the subject.

Should I Write My Memoir?

writing a memoirBeing a ghostwriter, quite a few people have asked, “Should I write my memoir?” They often share their ideas and dreams with me about writing a book. I enjoy helping people fulfill their ambitions and complete their lifelong goals.

Many people who want to share their life story really aren’t sure how to go about starting.

Does that sound familiar?

If so, here are a few questions to consider:

What makes a good memoir?

This is a question many people fail to ask themselves. A book that seeks revenge or shares a horrific upbringing as its theme isn’t a book that should be written. Only write your book if you would still be proud of it in five years.

Here are some elements to think about as you consider writing a memoir, whether it’s for posterity or for all to read:

Will my book uplift others? Really, at the end of the day, you want to create a book that will inspire others toward greatness. You want to encourage them to live their lives to the fullest, and learn from your experiences.

Do I have an interesting story to tell? A story is made up a series of incidents tied together by an overall theme. These incidents flow on a path, which follows a message and purpose. If you really only have an anecdote, even if it is hilarious, moving, or powerful, it isn’t enough for a book. It could make a good short story though!

Is my story unique? If you have a powerful viewpoint and a story with lots of action, you have the makings of a riveting book. But it’s equally important that the author has done something which would intrigue and educate the reader. Adventures are fun, but when it comes to memoir readers expect to take something positive away from your life experiences. They want to learn from your example.

Should I self-publish?

If you’re a celebrity or have been the topic of a strong news story recently, you might be able to write a good proposal, find an agent and get a good contract with a publisher. Otherwise, it’s unlikely (but not impossible) that you will land a decent publishing contract. And keep in mind that this process takes time and can be difficult. In addition, if you’re a first time author, don’t expect to get an advance. Most likely you’ll receive a 10% royalty, which will only kick in once the book starts selling and that could be years later.

In this day and age, especially with the advent of eBooks, you can do very well as a self-published author. You’ll have to learn a little about the industry, but if you can pull together a marketing plan, you can sell your book on Amazon.com and other popular retailers.

Should I hire a ghostwriter to write my memoir?

The answer really boils down to time, money, and skill. Writing a book on your own takes time and skill, but will save you a lot of money. Hiring a ghostwriter will alleviate your concerns over time and skill, but will cost you money upfront.

These are the top questions I receive from readers and clients specifically regarding writing memoirs. I’d really encourage you to explore your goals in writing a book. If your purpose is to help others, you will probably do well.

If you have a question that I haven’t covered here, please feel free to email me! I’d love to help you. If you’d like to learn more about pricing, please check out my article on the subject.

Additional articles you might find helpful:

Questions for a Ghostwriter

Seven Tips For Writing A Great Memoir

It’s Good Business to Write a Book

Four Different Ghostwriting Methods

Write Great Dialogue

lossless-page1-671px-Two_people_talking.tiffHave you ever read dialogue that doesn’t sound real? It stands out like a blooming weed in a garden of tulips. The reader’s attention will suddenly ripped from the story and will shift onto the awkwardness of the passage.  It really isn’t hard to write great dialogue. You don’t need a master’s degree; it just requires a little practice and study.

Read books to write great dialogue

When you read a book which captivates you, go back over the scenes you liked best and observe how the author conveyed his or her message. Look for style points that you might be able to use.

Pay particular attention to the words that are used. Are all the thoughts completely spelled out, or are there short cuts?

Some new writers might wonder about contractions. As a child, I was taught that one never used them in formal writing. Later, I learned that isn’t always true.

Sure there are times when a character might shout, “I will not do that!” If you read that line out loud, you’ll probably find yourself punching each word individually. I…Will…Not…Do…That! However, most of the time, in a normal (not yelling) conversation, the character would use a contraction. “I won’t do that!” It is more casual. And that’s often the right way to go.

Delete the boring stuff

In real life, we sometimes carry on very mundane conversations.

“Hi!”

“Hi!”

“How are you?”

“Good. And you?”

This sort of dialogue is terribly boring for a book. No one wants to read it.

Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Drama is life with the dull parts cut out of it.”

As a writer, you must be creative and work out how you can get your point across, forward the story, develop your characters, all while trimming the humdrum.

Watch the dialogue tags

When I was starting out as a writer, I loved to use any alternative to “he said” I could think of: “She argued” or “He pontificated” or “She moaned” (you get the idea). I went way overboard and it became terribly distracting for my poor readers. It’s much better to stick with the bland “he said.”

If you have two characters in a scene, you can skip most of the tags. Just pop them in as needed.

“Last night was rough,” Jane said.

Mary nodded. “You’re telling me. I’m sore all over.”

“Think we’ll be called in again tonight?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“It’s Tuesday,” Mary said. “Nobody wants to see us wrestle on a Tuesday.”

Read your dialogue out loud

When you complete your book, leave it alone for a few days to a week before you edit. Give yourself time away from the piece.

Now, read your dialogue out loud.

Bad dialogue pops out beautifully when you do this.

Here’s a rule of thumb: if the words don’t slide off your tongue easily, your character will trip over them, too. As will your reader.

Note: If you’re bored as you read through the dialogue, you need to edit. Don’t worry, that’s normal! Even though you wrote your book, you should be just as enthralled as your readers. When it flows and you get sucked into the story, you know you have a winner.

Write great dialogue by eavesdropping

I know it sounds weird, but if you eavesdrop on the conversations of strangers, it will assist you to write great dialogue.

Really listen. How do people naturally chat? What slang do they use? Take notes. Observe them. It’s very instructive.

Keep in mind that slang and pop culture references will date your piece. This can be helpful.

“Groovy, Daddy-o…” would put us in a different era than “Gag me with a spoon.”

“Wassup?” was huge in the 90’s, whereas the term “newbie” really only came into popularity this century.

I’m always learning about the ways people put together words. I find it fascinating.

Like your characters, even the evil ones

If you don’t like a character in your book, at least to some extent, they probably won’t be authentic.

Robert De Niro said in an interview that he must really like every character he plays; even the evil ones. He has to be able to relate to them in some way in order to get the audience on board.

Evil people don’t think they’re evil. They have purpose and drive, just like anyone else. Their purpose is just more disturbing.

If you want to write great dialogue for a bad guy, make sure you keep it real. You have to really understand and get his or her viewpoint. Think and talk as they would. Otherwise, your character won’t be believable.

If you need help to with dialogue, email me and we’ll sort it out. Dialogue driven stories tend to be my favorites.

Additional articles you might find helpful:

Easy Tips For Writing Your Book

Do You Want To Write A Book About Your Life?

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

How To Write A Nonfiction Book

How to Write a Prescriptive Nonfiction Book

Prescriptive nonfiction is basically a how-to book that gives someone direction or information on a subject. It does not tell a story. Instead, it helps readers understand about an area of life. Readers wishing to improve a skill or educate themselves on a topic would reach for a prescriptive nonfiction book.

Should you write a prescriptive nonfiction book?

To answer that question, I’d like to ask a few more:

  • Have you developed a niche area of expertise?
  • Do you have specialized knowledge in a particular field?
  • Is your way of doing things better than the norm?
  • Would someone be able to do a task better and more efficiently by using your method?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, you should consider writing a prescriptive nonfiction book to share your knowledge with others.

Define your terms

Being an expert in your niche area, you probably are fluent in the language of the field. Remember, though, that your reader is probably a novice. Can you think of a time when you were surrounded by people speaking a language you didn’t know? If so, you probably felt left out. That’s not an enjoyable experience.

To prevent that in your book, make sure to define all the industry terms you use. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that people will be impressed with your liberal sprinkling of hard-to-understand technical words throughout the manuscript. The goal is to teach; the goal is to be understood. Keep it simple, so that everyone can understand.

Start with an outline

Start with an outline. Get the key principles out of your head and onto paper. I like to bullet-point the important topics, only jotting down a few notes at this stage. This outline will later form the table of contents of your prescriptive nonfiction book.

Next, take each important point and expand on it. Don’t write out the entire chapter now, but rather, express your thoughts in a few paragraphs of prose. Create further bullet points which will serve as your subheadings.

Add personal stories 

While your readers have picked up your prescriptive nonfiction book to learn more about a subject, they still want to be entertained. No one enjoys dry text.

Your readers will want to hear your stories and anecdotes that complement the lessons. When you’re outlining, add a few lines to jog your memory about these stories. 

Include practical exercises

Very few people can absorb information without trying it out. Add in a few practical exercises for your readers. It’s a good idea to get people out of the mode of just reading and put them into action. Make the assignments simple and easy to follow. The goal should be that they can accomplish a task and feel they can do it again and again. The last thing you want to do is frustrate your reader.

Starting your first draft

When you have your detailed outline worked out, start on one chapter. This can be any chapter; you don’t need to start at the beginning of your book. I suggest starting with your favorite section, one you know very well. You’ll gain confidence that way.

Continue to write each chapter, in any order that you like. You might find it helpful to start at the beginning, now that you’ve gotten your feet wet.

Don’t edit as you write. Just let the words flow onto the pages.

As you progress through your first draft, you’ll most likely think of other things to include in other parts of your book. Simply add them into the detailed outline; don’t stop midway to write that new segment. Finish the chapter that you’re on.

Final steps

When you complete your first draft, review it all and make sure it flows. Take out any repetitions.

If you are self-publishing, your prescriptive nonfiction book can really be any length. Having said that, be sure to cover your topic thoroughly. When you’re done, I highly recommend that you hire an editor to polish your manuscript and fix any typos.

Please understand that every writer needs an editor. We all make errors, which are hard for us to see because we’re too close to the piece.

Share your knowledge in your niche area of expertise with others. You’ll feel great when people write in to thank you! And if you need some help writing your book, please email me. I’d love to help you write your prescriptive nonfiction book.

Additional articles you might find helpful:

Seven Tips For Writing A Great Memoir

Why Should I Hire a Ghostwriter?

A Ghostwriter’s Fee: How Do They Charge?

Working With A Ghostwriter – What Steps Should You Take?

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

Four Common Memoir Mistakes

Memoirs are a very popular genre in literature. We all love to step into the shoes of another person and learn about their world for a few hours. Memoirs allow us to delve deeply into the lives of people who have overcome incredible odds to be successful in some facet of life, fought an illness or acted as a caregiver, or lived through an extraordinary event. Through this medium, readers can learn so much about others and themselves. However, first-time authors can sometimes fall into pitfalls and make some basic memoir mistakes. Don’t worry, they are easy to sidestep.

Error 1: Focusing on the trivial rather than the big picture

When you write your memoir, you aren’t producing a laundry list of everything that happened to you. Don’t write about your meals or share other mundane details of your life. These would be high on the list of memoir mistakes. Toss most of the trivia and focus on the big picture, which would be the themes or main messages of your book.

Before you begin writing your memoir, ask yourself, “What can the reader gain from reading about my life experiences?” You might need to dig deep and really mine for the gold that’s there. The lessons you learned will form the backbone of your book and help you develop your themes.

Some popular memoir themes you may have seen:
  • Hard work pays off
  • Self-pity gets you nowhere
  • A positive outlook helps you attain your goals
  • Change can be a good thing
  • Life is too short not to forgive

Once you’ve determined what your book’s themes are, you choose the incidents that illustrate these ideas for your readers. Of course, you wouldn’t want to come out and say, “Hey reader, you should realize that being a parent is one of the most important jobs you’ll ever have!” Instead, show them how you’ve raised your children. Chronicle the journey you took and describe the sacrifices you made. Share the blunders and the successes. They’ll get the message!

Error 2: Covering your entire life rather than focusing on a specific time period

A typical memoir mistake for new authors is to try to start with birth and move forward chronologically. Remember, you’re not writing a school essay or an autobiography. You’re writing a memoir, which should be an intimate excursion into the author’s relationships, memories, and raw emotions. A memoir is usually just a slice of life, not the whole pie. For that reason, it often focuses on a certain period, one that would fascinate readers and teach them about something new.

Now, it’s worth noting that a memoir is usually not written in diary form. Journaling can be a wonderful and beautiful expression of one’s deepest thoughts, but it usually doesn’t translate directly into a book. For one thing, the target reader of a diary is, well, you; a memoir is written for others to read. However, as a professional ghostwriter, I can tell you that diaries are an excellent source for details when I write a memoir for a client.

Error 3: Not considering the feelings of the real people mentioned in your book

I always advise authors not to use a memoir as an excuse to get back at someone. Writing a book for revenge is very sharp-edged, and can do permanent damage. Plus, you open yourself up to lawsuits.

Obviously, you can’t avoid discussing the lives of the people around you when you write a memoir. However, you can make minor changes that go a long way to conceal the true identities of the characters in your book. For instance, you can change the name of the grouchy neighbor or maybe make the schoolteacher a brunette instead of a blond.

The safest approach is to ask all your friends and relatives who are featured in your book to sign a release. You can find examples of a legal release online. If anyone refuses to sign, it might be best to leave them out of your memoir.

Error 4: Writing for every reader rather than settling on a demographic

A common memoir mistake is to write for “everyone.” You need to determine who your reader is before you even outline your book. You need to pinpoint a demographic and write to them. The more specific you can get, the better.

Some examples of specific target audiences for a book:
  • Teenage boys who are addicted to video games
  • Medical professionals who are open to holistic cures
  • Parents who have lost a child to cancer
  • Fans of Star Trek

Memoirs are an important part of the literary world. They offer a peek into the soul of another individual. Avoid the common memoir mistakes and you might just make a difference in someone’s life. Enjoy the journey!

Ask a Ghostwriter: How Do I Start Writing a Book?

Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I have an amazing story to tell, but don’t know how to start writing a book now. I have so many things all jumbled up in my head and I don’t know how to get it out on paper. Help! -Art M.

Dear Art M.,

When I received your question, I did a little search on the internet: “How do you start writing a book?” I was curious to see what other writers had to say. Up popped a dozen articles that made the process seem ridiculously easy. In my opinion, these articles paint a false picture; writing a book is far from easy and you’re not the only one to have difficulties in this area! So, I don’t want to answer your question with a cookie-cutter twelve-step to-do list; instead, I would like to give you some broad-stroke advice.

Make a list

A movie is made up of hundreds of scenes. These flow together to tell the story. With a book, these scenes can be better described as incidents. Basically, think of these incidents as the things that will happen to your characters (or if you’re writing a memoir, they are the experiences that have happened to you).

Some people like to make flashcards. They write the individual incidents out onto three-by-five-inch cards and put them into the order they think will work best. I prefer to open a word doc and write out the incidents there. I don’t number them, but just get them out of my head in the simplest way possible. For example, it might look like this:

Incident: Bob discusses breaking up with Mary in a coffee shop.

Incident: Terry says good-bye to her parents before entering her new college dorm for the first time.

It just needs to have enough information to jog your memory when you create a more complete outline later on. Don’t worry about putting the incidents in any order. You’re just trying to get the information out of your head and onto the paper (or computer document). It simply is a list of what happens.

Note: Some incidents might be super short. That’s fine!

Give each incident a time stamp

Photo by Mohammed Fkriy on Unsplash

You should end up with dozens of incidents (perhaps even hundreds). Next, go through and give each incident a time stamp, which tells you when it took place. Some timestamps might be simply a month and year. For example:

Incident: Sam starts high school: September 1979.

Incident: George gets a job at Mercury, Inc.: May 1983

Sometimes, the time of the incident will be relevant. In that case, be as specific as you can. If you know the exact date, mark that down. For instance:

Incident: Bernice gives birth to her daughter: June 17, 1988, 4:30am.

Incident: Lonny graduates high school: May 25, 1999, early afternoon.

Again, these are notes for you. Don’t get bogged down. If you don’t the exact date, just put in the year.

Put the incidents in order

Now that you have the time stamps, you can put the incidents in chronological order. It’s possible that some incidents will serve as a flashback. If you know that will be the case, you can group them after the appropriate incident. For example:

Incident: Joe waits for Sally at their favorite park bench: September 2002.

Incident: Flashback: Joe and Sally share their first kiss on the bench: August 1994.

Flesh out your incidents

Now that you have all your incidents in order, it’s time to drill down and examine each one. I find it helpful to use a kind of journalistic approach with each incident.

Here are some questions you can answer:

  • Who is in the incident? (Name all the characters, even minor players.)
  • Where does it take place? (Be as specific as you can.)
  • When does it happen?
  • Describe what occurs (very briefly)
  • What is the purpose of this incident? (Why should it be included?)

You might have other points to mention, but it is important to keep it very brief. Don’t indulge in lengthy descriptions. It’s not time to start writing your book quite yet. For one thing, some of these incidents might not make the cut!

Note: The most important element on this list is the last one—the purpose. You must have a strong purpose for including this incident in your book. If you can’t come up with one, cut the incident immediately.

If you feel inspired to write a scene from this list, go for it. You might need to rewrite it later, but that’s OK. I understand the need to get the ideas/images out of your head! Sometimes I just write a few notes under the incident description. This helps me free up my attention and move on to the next incident on the list.

The next step

After you finish creating your master list of incidents, you want to make sure they flow one into the next. Once you have them all in sequential order and you’ve weeded out ones that don’t fit or have a real purpose, take a step back and review it. Read the list over a few times to make sure it works for you. This is one way to create an outline. If you want to change the format, it will be easy to do so, because you now have all the information you’ll need.

You may just find that the book is pretty much written! Yes, it’s still in your head and you’ll need to write the 50,000 (or so) words, but now you know where you’re going.

The incident list is a great tool to help you sort out the ideas that are jumbled in your head. And it will act as mile markers for you on your journey, helping you make sure that you’ve included all the important occurrences and events. It’s much easier to start writing a book if you have a well-laid plan. Enjoy the process!

As you begin your new adventure, you might find yourself hitting a few distractions. If you’d like some tips on how to avoid these, read my article on the subject. And, of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to email me!

Progressing as a Writer

Guest blog by Dan Sherman

Few things can match the satisfaction a writer feels at capturing, in words, their mind’s vision. Even the description of an actual place or event gives a kind of permanent record through which the author’s style and insight shines through.

For these reasons, and perhaps as many others as there are writers, a great many of us find pleasure in writing. Some will simply record daily events to keep the juices flowing, but most who partake in this endeavor have gripping stories to tell. The stories may be short or long and of any genre, fiction or non-fiction. All the same, each tale is told in the unique voice of the author.

Unfortunately, many writers never pursue their craft. Some might make an initial stab, but wind up shelving it, unsure how to proceed. How many writers have the intention to “get back to it at some point? Sadly, they can put this wonderful endeavor off until retirement, or forever.

So, how does one walk down the road as a writer? If you follow the path I give, you will both develop your craft and have a body of finished work to show for it.

Determine your medium

For some writers, determining their medium is a simple matter. They always think in terms of a grand plot that will take at least a couple hundred pages to give its due; or the reverse, of shorter and separate plots, each its own work. A specific genre, such as action or mystery, may even be preferred.

The purpose here is not to limit you. If you look over the careers of your favorite authors, very few novelists do not have at least one collection of short stories, and the best short story writers have tried their hand at full-length work. And who is to say that a novel would not also make a good theatrical play or a good screenplay, or vice versa?

No, the purpose here is to get started. Examine your ideas. Choose the vehicle that best places them on the written page. Be sure you are familiar with the medium you select – an old-fashioned trip to the library brings one to the best teachers, whether of novels, short stories, screenplays, etc.

Outline a project

Depending on your project’s length, and depending on your own style, your outline will vary in length and maybe format. At the very least, it is important that you delineate what will happen in each chapter or section of a book. This will remind you what to include as you write, as well as guide you on your path of the plot.

With short stories, treat each as you would a full-length novel, even if you wish to complete a good many. Give each one its own heading in your outline, along with any notes you think necessary.

There is no need to follow a formal structure, as the outline is a communication from you, to you. You just need to draw your road map, so that you can write your book without interruption.

Complete your writing project

This advice may seem comical in its apparent simplicity. Now, we’ve hit the pen to the paper phase. This is where the rubber meets the road, as they say. There’s no way around it, you need to convert your idea into words; it’s the great make-break moment for any writer. Have no fear though. You have your outline, your vision for the course your story will take.

If you find you never have the time to complete your book or you struggle to make productive use of the time you allot, please refer my wife’s article, Writing Tips: How to Avoid Distractions. She gives a lot of good advice on how to keep on a steady path.

The bottom line is that you’ll need to sort out your own ways of handling challenges you encounter. Under what circumstances do you produce the most? When you find yourself getting stuck, what frees your mind up and gets you rolling again? Those will be your go-to strategies.

Continue with the project you have outlined until you are finished. If you must change elements of the plot as you proceed, or even find you must go back to alter some earlier portion, do so. Just limit these impulses as much as possible. Remember, the goal is to have a completed product.

Where to go next

Once you complete your first draft, you will feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Many experience a huge feeling of being unburdened. Save editing for a later time; give yourself time to enjoy the moment: you’ve completed your first book! The process you just went through of developing a plot, creating and resolving a conflict, and describing your ideas in words, has improved you as a writer. No dissertation on the subject can substitute. After a week or two, take the time to review the manuscript for edits and begin that whole process.

When you have completed your book, I’m sure you’ll have a few new projects ready to consider. Every step, from the initial spark of inspiration to the final written word, will become more grooved in with experience. You are well on the path to creating a good body of personal work.

Dan Sherman has been a ghostwriter for two decades. He specializes in fiction and memoirs. He welcomes emails from all his readers.

Help! Help! I Need Help Writing a Book!

help writing a bookMany aspiring writers need help writing a book.  For first-time authors the task of writing two hundred pages can seem mammoth. It’s always much harder than it appeared when they first started the project.

Actually, this can be true for well-educated and talented writers, as well as novices.

Writing experience is key

The process of writing a book is not really taught in school. If you talk to seasoned writers, you’ll find they uniformly say they learned their craft from experience. It comes from reading and writing and reading and writing and…(you get the picture.)

So, if you want to write your first book, what do you do?

One option is to hire a writing coach, who will charge by the hour to assist you in organizing your thoughts and ideas and getting through the mental blocks that are stopping you from making forward progress. This is a great solution for writers who are doing well overall, but just need an occasional helping hand.

Hire a friendly ghostwriter

If you are having great difficulties and it seems like you may not be up to the task of writing your book at all, consider hiring a professional writer, a friendly ghostwriter like me, to help you.  If you’re an excellent storyteller, who lacks the writing expertise to get your story into book form, your ghostwriter will get the job done.

On the other hand, if you are one of those talented writers who just needs a little help, the ghostwriter’s minor rewrites and editing skills will be invaluable in making your dream a reality.

A professional ghostwriter will help troubleshoot your book and work out the kinks.  For instance, he or she can assist you with character development and story line. You can do the majority of the writing yourself or leave most of it to your writer, depending on what your goals are for your book.

It isn’t cheating to hire a ghostwriter

Some feel that it’s cheating to hire someone to write a book for them. After all their name will be on the cover right? How can that be ethical to take credit, if someone else wrote the book for them? Although I understand the concern, let me assure you, it’s done all the time. It’s an accepted practice. After all, it’s your idea and really should be your book.

Having an experienced professional to help guide you through the book writing process will help you grow as a writer. It will give you an experience boost that will carry through to your second and third book. Your next literary adventure won’t be fraught with the perils of inexperience. You will have traveled these waters already.

Please feel free to reach out to me anytime. I’m here to help!

Additional articles you might find helpful:

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

Seven Tips For Writing A Great Memoir

Hiring a ghostwriter

Should I Write and Publish My Memoirs

Four Different Ghostwriting Methods