Tips for Writing Your Memoir

People from all around the world email me each week with a strong desire to write their memoir. I love these requests! Memoirs and autobiographies are so important as they record a slice of history. As readers, we can all really benefit from these books in so many ways. After all, when we are given the freedom to step into another’s shoes for a few moments, we often comprehend life a little better. I know I learn a lot by reading a good memoir.

So, how do you go about writing your life story?

First, understand that a memoir isn’t purely a list of chronological events. I was born… then I ate cereal on the 22nd of September…then I… No, I think we can all agree this is boring. Yes, you will include dates and it’s best not to jump around the time line like a crazed kangaroo on frosted coco sugar squares, but we need to find the right stories to share.

FIND YOUR PURPOSE

Sit down and write out the summaries of important events that brought you to where you are today. Just a few lines that communicate to you. Trace your journey through these key incidents, so that you can lay out the breadcrumbs that others may follow.

As you identify these segments, zero in on the purpose of the scene. If you can’t identify a purpose, toss the scene. Be ruthless about this. Here are a few examples of a good purpose for a scene:

  • Introducing an important character
  • Showing a turning point in some key aspect of your life
  • Demonstrating an error you made
  • Sharing a realization you had

Of course, there are many more, but these give you a few ideas. Now, in contrast, here are some examples of bad purposes, which should be avoided at all costs:

  • I’d really like to get back at so-and-so.
  • I want to brag.
  • I’m angry at the world.

Your reader will be able to discern your purpose easily, and will throw your book away like a hot potato if they sense your motive is self-serving. You have to be honest with yourself here, as there is no fooling your reader. They’ll know.

When done correctly, the various incidents will fit together like an intricate puzzle, a beautiful work of kinetic art. They flow seamlessly. One question that will help you determine whether any particular incident should be included is: Does it help move the story forward? Make sure it does.

DISCOVER YOUR THEMES

As you write the summaries of these scenes down, observe what the emerging themes might be. Consider the lessons you’ve learned, which you wish to impart to your readers. Some examples of powerful and effective messages that I’ve recently seen are:

  • Hard work can overcome many obstacles.
  • Don’t hold on to anger. Forgive.
  • Practical experience is essential for any entrepreneur.
  • Failure is always part of success, if you learn from your mistakes.

It can take time, but you must discover your messages before you can really write a good memoir.

When you sit down to write your chapters, you need to write with honesty. Tap into your emotions and communicate them. Use all your senses to describe what occurred for you in the past. That way your reader will feel what you felt. If you do it correctly, your reader will experience your life as if they had been there alongside you.

Enjoy the process! And if you need help, please don’t hesitate to contact me. To learn more about pricing, here is an article I wrote a while back.

If you liked this article, here are a few additional ones you might find helpful:

Questions for a Ghostwriter

A Ghostwriter’s Fee: How Do They Charge?

Working With A Ghostwriter – What Steps Should You Take?

I Want To Hire A Ghostwriter, But Don’t Have Any Money…

I really enjoy talking to people about their book concepts. After all, I’ve worked with dozens of clients over the last sixteen years and have had the privilege of writing their books with them. It is wonderfully rewarding!

Some prospective clients have very good ideas and just need help. However, occasionally there are those calls which frustrate me beyond belief. One occurred the other day…

I was right in the middle of the last chapter of a memoir I was ghostwriting for a client when the phone rang. Normally, I don’t like to be interrupted while writing as it breaks my creative flow, but I worried that it might be a writer with a question, so I picked up (I also coach budding writers from time to time).

“Hello?” I asked.

“Is this Laura Sherman?” the young woman asked, her voice slightly demanding.

Oh my… It wasn’t a good start. I was brought up to identify myself on the phone and dislike it when people don’t bother to give their name before asking me for mine.

“Yes, it is,” I said, with a sigh. I wasn’t in the mood to correct her. At least the woman didn’t seem like a telephone solicitor.

“I want to hire a ghostwriter to write my book, because I just don’t have the time to write it myself.”

“That makes sense,” I said. She had voiced a common plea. Most of my clients are busy executives, with very little extra time. “And to whom am I speaking?” (hint hint)

She paused for a moment, probably weighing the pros and cons of telling me her name. “Joyce.” (Okay, that wasn’t really her name, but I’m a ghostwriter, so I can embellish.)

“Hello, Joyce,” I said. “What’s your book about?”

“My life story,” was all she offered. “What are the steps involved with hiring someone to write my book.”

I gave her a brief overview of how the process works, letting her know it would probably require a couple dozen interviews, spread out over a ten month period. I explained how it takes a ghostwriter hundreds of hours to write a book. She asked a few more questions then got to the big one.

“So, how much will it cost?”

“How long will your book be?”

“About two hundred pages,” she said.

“I charge a dollar per word,” I said. “So, I’d charge $50,000. What’s your budget?”

“I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of money to spend.”

Just what every ghostwriter wants to hear. “Well, how much did you want to spend?”

“I don’t know, maybe a thousand dollars? I know that probably isn’t enough, right?”

“No, it isn’t,” I agreed. No one can charge a thousand dollars for ten months work, not even starving ghostwriters. However, I always like to try to help everyone who contacts me.  “Look, I know a few editors who are looking to branch out into writing. If you’re interested in writing a short, one-hundred page book, I could talk to one of them about maybe coming down to ten thousand dollars. That’s low, but possible.”

“I don’t have that kind of money.”

“Then you’ll probably need to write the book yourself,” I said. “If you did manage to find someone willing to write your book for a thousand dollars, it probably wouldn’t come out well. Then you’d be stuck hiring someone else to rewrite it.”

She then asked me what would happen after the book was written and I gave her a rundown on what an author needs to do to sell a book, such as creating and maintaining marketing websites.

“I’m not good with computers, so I can’t do any of that,” she said.

“You’ll need to learn,” I said. My bluntness sometimes gets me into trouble, but I find it’s better to be upfront than beat around the bush. “Even if you get a publisher, you’ll need to do your own marketing.”

“So, how can I find a ghostwriter?”

“As I said, if you’re able to scrape together ten thousand dollars, I can ask around for you.”

“But that would be for a good writer,” she replied. “What if I just wanted to find a writer who will do it for one thousand dollars?”

I have to admit I was speechless for a moment. Finally, I tried to repeat that anyone willing to write a book for a thousand dollars wasn’t someone she’d want to hire, but she cut me off and said, “OK, thank you!” and hung up.

Moral of the story: If you’re serious about writing a book, you will find a way. Either by hiring a good, qualified ghostwriter or by making the time to write it yourself.

Now, if you’ve read this article and you are interested in hiring a ghostwriter, I would love to hear from you. I charge $50,000 for a 200-page (50,000 word) book. Am I within your budget?

Seven Tips For Writing A Memoir

Using my crystal ball, I predict that a number of you are thinking about a book you’ve been wanting to write. Perhaps it’s writing a memoir. If so, here are some tips you consider:

It takes time

Writing a book isn’t an overnight process. Although it might be possible to complete a book in a month or two, or even if you have nothing else on your plate and you’re an experienced writer, there is no need to rush things. Give yourself six to eight months, setting daily targets. Your book will be better for it.

Character flaws are key

It’s tempting to embellish your life story and write your book from the perspective of a superhero, without any non-optimum personality traits. The problem is the rest of us, who have flaws, will never be able to relate. So, include the mistakes, the error in judgments, along with your amazing feats and your story will be more relatable and inspiring.

Humor goes a long way

Adding humor to your story can make it more enjoyable and memorable to 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 be times when you can delve into an absurd moment and expand on it, shining a spotlight on certain aspects 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. Most writers write daily. Although it isn’t a requirement, it does help keep the ideas flowing.

Feel free to embellish details

It isn’t realistic to expect that you’ll remember every single little detail of your life perfectly. For example, what did you have 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. Dialogue is similar. If there is an important conversation, you would probably remember the gist of what was said, but not the exact words. And even if you did remember the exact words, you might want to change it up a bit to improve the flow. Having said that, don’t put unflattering words into the mouth of someone 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 and be objective. This might mean that you don’t come out the winner of every argument, and, please don’t hit me for saying so, but you might be wrong on occasion. Be truthful about all of it. It’s possible that your reader might learn a lesson and avoid making the same mistakes you did.

Read other memoirs

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.

If you want to write your memoir, start writing and continue writing until your first draft is completed. Don’t edit, just write. Enjoy the experience. Writing memoirs is one of my favorite projects! It’s so rewarding. I get to meet new people and help them share their life stories with others.

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?

Working With A Ghostwriter – What Steps Should You Take?

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

How To Write An Autobiography

If you are trying to figure out how to write an autobiography, you have probably long since passed the step of deciding whether or not your life is worth writing about. You know you have a story to tell. You know it’s worth telling. And, whether you are doing it for your family and children or for the public at large, you are interested in sharing it.

So the next question is, “Where do I start?” The easiest answer would be at the beginning.  But the beginning isn’t always so simple to identify—your life is a story, whether you realize it or not, and to write your autobiography, you have to do a little work on discovering that story.  Here are some exercises that will help:

1. Familiarize yourself with other autobiographies. Read the autobiography of someone you admire, one of your heroes, preferably one that has been broadly published, so that you get a feel for how it reads.

2. Research your own life. Your life isn’t just about what you remember. Find out about your family’s history, events leading up to your birth, and the circumstances of your family and the world around you as a child. You may find information you never knew before and make interesting connections about why you are the way you are. Digging into the past has a way of jogging your memories loose and bringing more data to the surface.

3. Organize. Make a timeline of your memories so you have them organized by date, and leave ample space to fill in the blanks.

4. Outline. Make an outline of how you want your story to go, where you want to start, if you want to write it chronologically or skip around on your timeline.

5. Identify your theme or message. It may be very clear to you or it might take some digging, but every story needs a good strong message. What is it that you want your reader to learn? What should they walk away with after reading your book? Maybe your theme revolves around resisting corruption, overcoming a handicap, or persisting through obstacles. It is also possible that this overriding idea won’t be apparent at first. Through your research and organization, you will start to see what your story is about—and the answer may surprise you. If you need a little help, please email me. This is one of my fortes!

6. Write. Okay, this can be one of the hardest steps, particularly if you don’t have much experience with writing. When I’m coaching a writer I always tell my client to just start writing. Even if you don’t love the way it sounds, even if you feel like it’s no good at all, just get words down on paper. Don’t ever let perfectionism stop you from getting things done. Know that you’ll probably edit and re-write this book several times; that’s just part of the writing process. But if you never get anything down in the first place, it’s awfully hard to edit!  So my advice is always, “Write, right now!”

7. Ask for help. Whether you are a novice writer or an experienced professional, writing your own story can be difficult because it’s entirely through your eyes. Consult a friend, an editor, or a writing coach to give you a fresh viewpoint and get you through those sticky spots when you run out of ideas entirely. I offer writing coaching at an hourly rate, which has really helped other writers get through their personal blocks.

8. If you find that you’re not up to the task, hire a professional. Professional writers are well trained in storytelling and research and can help you fill in the gaps in your story. Their level of assistance can range from minor assistance with re-writes and research, to doing all the writing themselves under your name (ghost writing). You will always keep the rights to your story. If you’re not an experienced writer, this may be the best solution for you. And if you’re writing your book with the idea of selling it, you’ll definitely need a skilled writer to help craft your story so that it’s marketable.

So now you have a few tips on how to write an autobiography. Enjoy the process! And remember – Write, right now!

Additional articles you might find helpful:

Do you need help writing a book?

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

Should you hire a local ghostwriter?

Working with a Ghostwriter – What steps should you take?