By Rachelle Indra
So you want to write your memoir but don’t know where to start.
This is the complaint I hear most when I tell someone I’m currently pitching my memoir to agents. People look at me with this deflated smile, wishing they had finally written their story.
Or occasionally, desperately trying to hide the “Yeah, right, best of LUCK to you” that wants to roll off their tongue.
But I figure, those people just need some ice cream and a back rub. Because come on, people, if you have to judge someone going for their dream, you need one of your own.
Mainly, though, it’s the wanting to write their own. Which you totally can do.
The thing about memoirs is that they are often written by people who have never written a book before, and therefore the task feels overwhelming.
I once dated a high school math teacher. Don’t worry, he wasn’t my math teacher. And yes, this is going somewhere, I swear.
He told me: “All math can be done easily if you break it up into tiny bite-sized pieces.”
I never took him up on that because, well, math is gross,* and I have an iPhone with an app for that. BUT his words of wisdom do apply when it comes to writing your memoir.
You need to break the work into chunks: the brainstorming, the writing, the editing, the polishing. Do that, and your life will be much, much simpler.
Think of your book less like a novel, and more like a collection of essays or short stories. Nevertheless, you do need a focus. Too many people write memories that detail Every Single Life Event Ever, but that’s not going to work for an audience. You need to pick ONE aspect of your life, and stick to it.
Will your memoir primarily focus on your childhood living in the country? Is it about all the men you dated in NYC from the time you were old enough to drive till the day you got married (and once again after your divorce)? Or is the book going to span all ninety-seven years of your life so far?
This is important, so spend some time on it. Otherwise that story about your grandma’s apple cake and your alcohol-soaked 20s are going to clash quite a bit.
Think of all the short stories you want to tell, and give them a quick title to remember them by, then write them down.
Don’t censor yourself or try to order them perfectly; that will come later.
(If you need a little help outlining and figuring out your voice during this process, we can help. Check out our outlining checklist, as well as all the other free resources. Grab it right there below!)
Then try to narrow that group of stories down to about forty. If you don’t have that many, then each story needs to be fairly long. If you have too many and don’t feel like you can cut them down, then each story needs to just be a few pages. Forty is a good number to shoot for in the beginning.
Once you have all your titles down, put them into chronological order, or whatever order makes sense to you.
And once you do that, start writing. You don’t need to do them all at once. You can take as long as you need to write them. When you are ready to work on one, pull out your list of titles, and chose the one that strikes you at that moment.
You don’t have to go in order; in fact, it might be best if you don’t. Sometimes stories make more sense when you follow the progression of important moments, which aren’t necessarily in chronological order.
Once you finish the rough draft of one story, move onto the next. Don’t stop to make the first one perfect – you just need a rough draft off all of them first, then you can go back and tweak.
See? This way you’ve chopped your memoir all up into bite size pieces. When you’re done with all the short stories, you can go back and cut out the ones you don’t like, or find the gaps and add a few stories in that you missed.
When you finalize your rough draft, you can then proceed to work on the second draft as a whole. And sooner than you think, you’ll have it: a full book.
See, bite size pieces make everything easier. Apparently even math, not that I’ll ever know that for sure. Because, ew.
If you want help with more writing-related (and NOT math-related) stuff, we invite you to check out the Free Resource Library by clicking that handy little image below. In it, you’ll find checklists for business development, email newsletter strategies, humor writing tips, guides to creating a genuine true-to-you voice, and more. You’ll also find a guide to outlining, which can be invaluable for any intimidating project. So go ahead, get that dream going!
* Sarah popping in here to disagree. Math is amazing! Shut up, Rachelle!
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