Itching to Tell Your Story?

Woman journalingDear Rachelle,

I have wanted for years to write a memoir. I endured violence all my life, first at the hands of my preacher father, then from my husband. A death threat finally got me out.

I want to write a book about these experiences and how I overcame them. Therapy is helping me understand the battered woman’s syndrome and how to overcome these character traits to become a stronger and better person. I want to use these experiences to help other people overcome their fear of abuse and rejection.

Outwardly I appear to have a successful life, with a career and a son in his 20s. Most people have no clue I have a problem, since I’m good at covering up my problems in public. Do you think this is a book idea that is worthy of pursuing? Thanks for reading my e-mail and offering advice.

Signed,

Better Now

###

Dear Better,

I’m so glad you’re out of those situations, and that you’re recovering from them. Congratulations on making those very difficult choices.

As far as writing about your experiences, I think you should do two things.

First, just start writing.

Set aside a few hours each week and get going. Just write stream of consciousness, ideas, scenes, snippets of memory, outlines, whatever. You’ve got to start writing SOMETHING or you won’t know if you even want to do this.

Second, start reading up on the craft of memoir.

It’s an extremely demanding genre in which to be published. The bar is high because you have to know fiction storytelling techniques while sticking to a true story. And you have to avoid getting bogged down in endless navel-gazing. You have to learn to write your own story in scenes, like in a novel, rather than a simple narrative of your recollections. And you’ll be competing with millions of others who have a story to tell.

Start by reading my posts on memoir, and pay special attention to the books that are recommended for those wanting to write memoir (in the resources post). Spend six months to a year in this process of studying and learning, while you’re also beginning to write.

Eventually you’ll decide if what you’re writing is a journal that will help you heal; or if you really want to pursue publication. I can’t make that decision for you, and you can’t make it either until you’ve begun this process.

All best to you!

Do you have any advice for a new writer considering a memoir?

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  • http://julienilson.wordpress.com Julie Nilson

    Excellent advice, Rachel! Once she begins writing, Better might decide she’d rather turn her story into a series of articles, or turn each aspect of the story into a different article for a different publication. She might even have some inspirational speeches in her material! But she won’t know what would be best for her and her story until she writes. And even if she chooses not to make her story public, writing it out will certainly have therapeutic value.

    Good luck to you, Better!

  • http://susannahartigan.com Susanna Hartigan

    First off, write for yourself and don’t worry about what “everyone might think”. Give yourself some credit. Writing a memoir is a therapeutic act in itself, so don’t you deserve that?

    When I wrote my memoir I was at the point of “enough is enough” and I just sat down and started typing away. Once I got it out, it felt great. In fact, many of my friends confided that they’d been through similar experiences but they were all afraid to talk about it. Think about how many people you might help by writing your memoir and revealing your story, the true you.

    • Mary Beth

      I did not know where to start so i oicked you and started typing. I live in nyc and about 4 years ago my husband of 16 years got on a plane and left the country, left me and my two children…he came back and forth a few times requesting a divorce and i was hanging by a thread…not that i loved him so much but my kids did. The entire story, down to bing threatened by the polish mafia sin e he( although harvard educated) to breKing donw in albany. New york with a car backed while taking my son to college to fi nally being diagnosed with breat cancer and lsoing my long hair,my breasts besides my family as i knew it. The details are sometimes funny and the grief sometimes so deep ….

  • Susanna Ashford

    I agree that she should certainly write her story!
    I’m sure it will not only help others in same/similar situations but I imagine it would also be instrumental in the healing process.
    The battered-wife syndrome is very hard to explain “why you put up with it.” It’s hard to believe that even after all these years of getting the word out and more shelters open, some people can’t wrap themselves around the concept. I feel the best way to convey the “living in the eye of the storm” complex (for lack of better word) is best voiced by the victim.
    Best of luck and God Bless!!

  • http://www.sankofa-me-lately.com Lauren Alissa Hunter

    I’m now reading up on your previous memoir-related posts, thank you! Obviously, I have no advice to give because I am in a similar place. Here, I’ll give advice that I find difficult to follow—Don’t be embarrassed you’re writing a memoir! HA! When people ask “what I’m writing,” I tend to be cryptic and vague because it seems kind of pretentious to assume you are interesting enough to invite others to read your insights on your own life.

    At the same time though, I love memoirs. Sure, some of them are jaw-droppingly bizarre (hello Augusten Burroughs) or situations you’ll likely never face (Lucy Grealy) but then you have Alice Sebold and Dave Eggers who both write beautifully about experiences that are, unfortunately, common.

    So, I say write on!

  • http://terripatrick.wordpress.com/ terri patrick

    This is a timely post for me as I’ve already written my memoir of my parents and childhood – which is more a “being raised by saints than wolves” story. It was very productive to me to read through all your previous posts and comments because it affirms I’ve done it all right but just haven’t gotten into the final stage. Memoir is an exercise in opening a vein and bleeding all over the keyboard.

    I could continue with the excuses and such as to why my memoir is not currently in the hands of high school family studies teachers (and students) or the dozens of romance novelists and writers who want my memoir in their hot little hands. But the truth is, I understand what taking my memoir to the next level entails. I just haven’t been motivated to do the work, or feel that it was time.

    But then I read a recommendation by one of your readers about “God Never Blinks” by Regina Brett. Regina did the obit feature on my dad in 2005 for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. My mom’s story was huge and inspiring but Daddy died three months later and was the star of the story of my early life, the romantic hero.

    So I have to say THANK YOU to you and all those who have commented on your posts about memoirs. I’ve already read half the memoirs suggested, and a few celebrity memoirs, and I have dozens of friends who are novelists in a variety of genres.

    In my opinion, the primary goal of a professional writer is the connection to the audience. Memoir is the trickiest genre for an author. All life stories should take advantage of the latest crafts and products to put family histories on paper, in color, for the generations of our future.

    Memoirs worthy of publication need a global market and a universal message. They are rare stories and the voice is unique.

    As an avid reader across many genres I will add my two cents, been there-done that. (Cancer, abuse, abandonment.) Like you, I had no interest in these stories unless I faced them and needed advice, solutions, and encouragement to create a new story. Give me a reason to want to read YOUR story.

    My story will always be more important than anything you can preach.

  • Neil Ansell

    I am the author of a successful memoir myself, and found it easier than writing fiction – the plot had been provided for me, by life. But it does need to be an unusual story to stand out from the crowd – things that are hugely important personally may not always seem so out of the ordinary to others. An example would be the ‘overcoming cancer’ memoir, which would need to be very well written indeed to bring something new to the table.
    Remember that memoir is not autobiography..autobiography starts at birth and works steadily through someone’s life, and is only of interest if you have a prior interest in the author’s life. You have to be more creative than that, and find a voice which is just right for the themes you are exploring. It’s not easy, but get it right and it can be a thing of wonder. Read Bad Blood by Lorna Sage – a fantastic evocation of violence being handed down within a church family. This is the gold standard to aim towards. good luck.

  • http://4broadminds.blogspot.com/ carol brill

    I’ve found a helpful way to get started with Rachels’s first suggestion “to just start writing”is to write “I REMEMBER” on top of the page.
    You may be surprised what those two simple words bring to the surface. Write whatever comes up, it doesn’t have to be pretty or in order, just write.
    good luck

  • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

    I’ve never attempted to write memoir and I read very little of it, but from my experience with other books I’ll say that I doubt the people going through a similar situation will be the ones reading the book. When For the Love of a Devil came out, however long ago that was, when one man who had gone through a similar situation of his wife leaving him and spending her time with other men, he put the book aside and said, “too close to home.” And yet, it is a favorite among people who have not gone through that situation.

    My theory is that people read memoirs and novels to learn about situations they have not experienced rather than to learn how to handle a situation they are in. If they want to know how to handle their own situation, they’ll turn to the learned experts who write how-to books. So ask yourself, what is it that I want people who have never experienced this to understand?

    • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

      Good point, Timothy.

      But, what about someone in a similar situation, who has not yet found the strength to get out, or who is still working thru the emotional healing?

      Mightn’t someone else’s similar story be a source of strength and encouragement, to them?

      • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

        I won’t say there aren’t people like, but I would expect it to be the exception rather than the rule.

    • Mandy

      “I doubt the people going through a similar situation will be the ones reading the book.”

      Timothy,I have to say I disagree with you. Hoping to tell my story one day, I read every memoir I can get my hands on. They validate my experience, and give me strength to tell my story. Most of the Self Help books are like text books–written by the college-book-learned-experts. The real experts are the memoir authors.

      • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

        Mandy,

        There is room and a place for both. I’m just saying that those “college-book-learned-experts” are more likely to read a memoir than someone who has painful memories of the situation.

        But while we’re on the subject, if the author of a how-to/self-help book is basing what he has to say solely on what he has gleaned from reading college textbooks, he isn’t qualified to write the book. What we would like to see is an author who has done the research and has observed people going through the situation, but is able to maintain enough detachment that he is able to encourage those in need of help to do those necessary things that someone in the situation would find difficult or painful.

    • http://www.gracesabarus.org Grace Sabarus

      Your question thrills me to ponder. Thanks Tim. On top of all the reasons I want to write a memoir is that I have something to inherit my offspring with. I want them to know the price that has been paid for them to enjoy the freedom they are in. Let them know that it is a brave decision of their grand grandma to stand up, choose life and be whole rather than inheriting her offspring a repeated broken life generation to generation.

  • http://mardilink.typepad.com/mardis_link/ Mardi Link

    Tell the story you refuse to be silent about any longer. In thinking about the memoirs I love — Glass Castle, Blue Nights, Lit — the sections that are most compelling for me as a reader were probably the most difficult for the writers to write. Be brave.

    • http://www.hayfarris.com Hayley Farris

      Can I just say “Yes and Yes and Yes and Yes and Yes. Yes to infinity and beyond?” “Refuse to be silent. Be brave.” The bravest writing is the writing pulled from the deep places that only you and God know about. People want to read your truth. Write whatever your truth is. Truth is compelling.

  • http://kathrynmagendie.wordpress.com kathryn magendie

    You will have anger surface and it may surprise you in its intensity – so get that out – write the rage and confusion and disappointment and all the swirling chaotic messiness of your experiences . . . then go back in and start hitting “delete” to be rid of your venting and to start on the Story.

    If you leave it all in, it will read as an angry vent, and that will distance yourself from your readers, but if you work with it, it will tell your story with control that your readers will relate to or sympathize with – and after all, isn’t having control over you, and your words, the best feeling ever?

  • http://www.girlsinwhitedresses.wordpress.com Susan

    I just published my memoir a month ago, and I agree with Terri – you need to find your audience. Mine was about growing up in a small town, in a Baptist church. It’s sold well online, but I’ve sold dozens and dozens through my childhood church. Turns out everyone wants to relive the “good old days” of the 1970s :) I’d disagree a bit about people not wanting to read about memoirs similar to their own lives. My favorite memoirs to read are those that mirror my own struggles. I find I can learn from how others have dealt with the same situations I have.

    • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

      You have a somewhat different situation. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be reminded of what it is like to grow up in a small town Baptist church? I know I have plenty of fond memories. But the would be memoirist Rachelle mentioned isn’t talking about fried chicken, dinner on the ground, great preaching, trips to the outhouse, baptisms in the river, and everything else that made small Baptist churches in the 1970s great. Instead, she’s talking about being in abusive relationships. I don’t envision many battered women going out and saying, “I want a book that reminds me what I went through.” Whereas, I can see plenty of people enjoying stories about a church similar to their own.

      • Mandy

        Again, Timothy, I have no idea how you can even have the opinion that the abused, battered, tortured, etc, would never want to read stories of others with those experiences. Now, if you said YOU had had that experience and didn’t want to read that, I could understand. I have. I’ve been in many groups of others who have, and we ALL get strength from those sharing their stories. PLEASE stop commenting on this subject when you appear to have a uneducated opinion.

        • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

          Mandy,

          If you have a different opinion, that is certainly your right, but there really is no reason for you to be upset with me because I disagree with your opinion. It would seem that neither of us are qualified to give a definitive answer. We all have had things that have happened during our lives that caused us a great deal of emotional distress. I was never abused, but as is the case of the man I mentioned earlier and of other people I have encountered, there are wounds that I would just as soon let be, rather than picking at the scab. But though all of the example I can think of agree, the sample size is so small that it is quite possible that I am wrong. I simply do not believe that to be the case.

    • Tammi T.

      It could depend on the amount of time that has passed since the “trial”, whatever that “trial” might be. I’m a mother of a child with a congenital heart defect. I’ve read some books about the subject that I wouldn’t have been able to read about five years ago because a lot of the pain was still fresh. Now he has been doing well and though the books are still difficult to read at times; they don’t cause the discomfort that they would have if read a few years ago.

  • http://www.mining4diamonds@blogspot.com Kimberly

    Thank you for this post! I am preparing for writing a memoir by blogging my story. It’s therapeutic for me and I’m slowly building an audience. My story is compelling enough (I think) that I know it will pique interest, but my writing? Not so much. Right now I’m in that “just do it” mode, and later on I’ll polish it. I believe in the story enough, and God’s call to tell it, that I’m not too concerned about publishing, right now I’m just being obedient by beginning to share, and trusting Him for the rest. I know you are not a big fan of “God has called me to write this book”, but I figure that if God has really called me to do it, it will bear fruit in my obedience to step out, and I am not worried if it will ever be picked up by a big publisher or what have you.

  • http://thoughtsthatmove.blogspot.com/ Wendy

    To touch upon what Neil wrote in his second paragraph, I think it’s imperative to find a thread, or a rope as it may be, that you take hold of (or unravel) as you craft your memoir.
    I happen to gravitate toward reading memoirs and I’ve found the best ones have an identifiable thread woven throughout the work.
    ~ Wendy

  • http://www.heathermarsten.wordpress.com Heather Marsten

    I am working on my memoir and learning as I go. We need to write our stories down. I am not worrying about editing until the whole story is down. One group that helped me is Critique Circle, a site recommended by Writer’s Digest. It is a free site where you can get a chapter critiqued by others. You earn credits by critiquing others. The critiques I’ve received have helped me to improve my writing.

    I also recommend reading memoirs of others to see how they are written.

    I wish you well on your writing journey.
    Heather

  • http://www.cgblake.wordpress.com CG Blake

    I would add this to Rachelle’s sound advice: read other stories about battered wives. Then try to write yours in a way that is unique and true to yourself. Best wishes on this project.

  • http://livingthebodyofchrist.blogspot.com/ Connie Almony

    This … is why I love your blog. You give good sound advice about the business of writing with a personal touch. As a counselor who’s worked with victims of abuse (by so called “pillars of the church”)I know how important it is to “get the story out.” That’s what this person needs to do. And God will show her what to do once it’s there. You’ve given her the beginning tools if God tells her to publish. Praying for her!

  • http://www.katemeadows.wordpress.com Kate Meadows

    One of my goals for the New Year is to start helping people write their own life stories. I have written mine – it will hopefully be published this year by a small traditional press – and I can’t tell you how many people I’ve come across who have their own stories to tell. Rachel’s advice about just writing – getting it all down and exploring whatever comes to your head – is so true. It can be a liberating experience, but it can also be scary. If you want an accountability partner or a hand-holder through it, please, get in touch. I would be honored.
    scribbler_kate@yahoo.com
    Best of luck to you, and God bless.

  • Sharon Craven

    The thread is really encouraging. I have just started to ‘tell’ my story. Over the last two years I have being making notes on my experiences as the thoughts and inspiration came into my head. I did this in a simple note book using a pen, not a PC. This way seems to give me so much freedom in just jotting lines here and there as opposed to programmed episodes. A couple of weeks ago I started to tell the story to a dictaphone, a fantastic friend is helping with the typing as it’s not my strong point. Telling my story has been an intense roller coaster rise so far, and in itself has already been an amazing process.

    I am reluctant to read other Biographies/Memoires. In cognitive psychology terms, your orignal memories can be influenced and changed during the process of reading others. Which can interfere with the ‘uniqueness’ of your story, although I agree that the theory on how to write memoires will be wholly beneficial, thanks for the tip.

  • http://www.twitter.com/josephjoebaran Joseph Baran

    Do men write their own memoirs these days or is it just the women? I mean everyday men. Unspoken and overlooked men who moved mountains in the lives of others and not just their own.

    • http://terripatrick.wordpress.com/ terri patrick

      The Everyday Man who builds and moves mountains for others DO NOT WRITE MEMOIRS. They’ve got more important things to do. However, their children may become writers because they saw mountains moved and cathedrals built.

      It is the Everyday Man who is the hero of the stories written in later generations. :D

    • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

      I agree with Terri, though I’m not sure it is an issue of time as much as it is an issue of humility. Humble men don’t do things and then sit down and tell people how great they are, but yes, their children might.

      • http://www.twitter.com/josephjoebaran Joseph Baran

        What about if this particular man has no kids or any family?

        • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

          He would die an unsung hero. But that’s okay, the Lord has promised that the righteous will receive their reward at the final judgement. And it appears that the reward will be greater for those who did not receive recognition for their work here on earth.

  • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

    I have not written a memoir, so my advice is limited.

    However, I have written a book about God’s heart toward His children who have been through divorce. Both the motivation for the book and the biblical perspective presented were born out of my own experiences, and The Holy Spirit ministering to me as I experienced the devastation of a failed marriage.

    I found the writing to not only be therapeutic for me, but also to greatly aid in better defining my new perspective on the topic, and more clearly explaining it from a biblical perspective.

    The book has not made any best-seller lists, and likely never will. However, of those few who have read it, many have contacted me to tell me how much the book meant to them, and how God had used it to change their perspective on a specific point (sometimes a point they hadn’t even realized they were struggling with).

    I’m glad I wrote the book.

    Since Better feels God is leading her toward writing of her experiences, she should write. The purpose of the writing, the sharpness of the message, the specific message to the specific intended audience will likely become more clear as she writes; as she edits and rewrites; as she asks for reviews and feedback; as she verbally shares the same core message with a Sunday School class or other small group, etc.

    Or, at least, that has been my experience…

  • http://angiemizzell.com Angie Mizzell

    I love the method and madness of writing. Looking back, I can see my memoir resulted from many years of journal writing (madness). As you advised, writing for ourselves first helps us crack through layers and layers of “stuff” that needs to be processed. When it was time to focus on the method, the books Your Life as Story and Shimmering Images were very helpful, in addition to various articles about how to identify the main conflict and create a story arc.

    I had to accept that I was NOT writing a self-help book. My goal was not to dispense advice, but to take readers along on my journey and share what I learned in the process. I had to identify the universal themes that most people can identify with, even though they haven’t walked in my shoes.

    Finally, if the story is burning inside her, I agree she should pursue it and see where it leads. It’s challenging. But NOT doing it is harder (I think).

  • http://www.AnyShinyThing.com Lynne Spreen

    Ditto what Connie said. It was refreshing to see that you didn’t inflate her expectations of getting published. Christina Katz http://christinakatz.com/
    taught me that you have to know what your objective is, and if Better seeks, for her own healing, to get the word out and help others in similar situations, “publication” can be as immediate as starting a free blog on WordPress.com. She will get almost immediate feedback. She may in a sense be able to start a community for that niche, and will be found by other bloggers who may share their strength with her. Writing a book with the intent of selling it may be a far distant goal and not half as satisfying, by comparison.
    Better, I wish you peace.

  • http://enterthewriterslair.blogspot.com Mary Ruth Pursselley

    Whatever you do, don’t whine. If you need to get some whining out of your system, that’s perfectly alright, just make sure you eliminate it from the draft before submitting it. Whining offers no benefit to the reader, and trust me – there’s nothing the copy editor hates worse than having to edit pages of nothing but self-piteous moaning.

  • http://krpooler.com Kathleen Pooler

    Dear Rachelle,

    Excellent advice!

    I have been studying the art and craft of memoir writing for the past two years. Here’s what I’ve learned(much of which has been from you and a long list of memoir teachers):

    1. Be clear on your purpose for writing- journaling pain, leaving legacy, publishing? Never use the story to disparage anyone or seek revenge. You need to be far enough away from the story to write from a position of strength; to reveal lessons learned from your life events.

    2. Journaling can help sort out the details,emotions and overall theme of the story.

    3.Commit to studying memoir writing (the stickiest of genres I’ve learned) and keep writing.

    4. Everyone has a story to tell but it will all be in the telling of it that will make the difference. Memoir writers need to apply fiction rules to their writing (narrative arc, plot, character development, scenic details,etc) A memoir needs to read like a novel.

    After two years of studying and writing,I am at the point of shaping my story. My goal for 2012 is to finish my first draft and begin the query process.

    My blog,Memoir Writer’s Journey http://krpooler.com is dedicated to my journey and all I am learning along the way. I hope anyone who is interested will stop by and join in the conversation.

    Memoir writing,for me,has been challenging,grueling,healing and rewarding. When I decided to dig deep to uncover my own truths even if only in a journal for myself,pathways to healing opened up.

    “Better Now” certainly has compelling life events that she thankfully is on the other side of. As a reader,I want to hear the story of how she got through it. As a writer ,she will have to craft it into a page-turner. It’ll all be in the telling.

    Thanks for a great post,Rachelle. You really got me going!

    Kathy

  • http://www.sacredoysters.blogspot.com Susan Anderson

    I’m in the same place. Journal writing has been helpful, and cathartic. I thought writing and publishing was the starting point, now I’m wondering if writing was the tool for my healing. I am polishing skills and learning to show rather than tell. I have a blog and have been submitting personal essays for publication.
    Navel gazing is boring. I do enjoy other’s stories. I am a true voyeour.
    Thanks Rachelle, for a great post!

  • http://girlseeksplace.wordpress.com Brianna

    Keep a journal. I wish I had kept better journals over the years – so many details of things I want to write about are lost because my short term memory is terrible and I didn’t write things down like I should have.

  • Janet

    Even when one has a rather unique story to tell and the writing skills an imagination to relate it well, it isn’t easy to get agents and publishers interested in a memoir. From the research I’ve done, many are self-published, just to get them out.

    I embarked on writing “Normal Is So Overrated” primarily because I felt that by offering my experience I might make the recovery journey easier for other ruptured brain aneurysm survivosr. My secondary goals were to raise general awareness of the condition (it happens much more frequently than one might think) and to generate funding for the Brain Aneurysm Foundation to further patient support and research. I wasn’t interested in re-living the process. I put that behind me a long time ago and would have preferred leaving it alone. However, it became apparent to me that that it was my calling to do this project – and I answere when I’m called.

    I completely understand agents’ and publishers’ reluctance because it isn’t easy to market a memoir unless the author is already famous or at least published in other genres. You MUST know who your target audience is and how to reach them if telling your story is going to be therapeutic or helpful to anybody besides yourself.

    Regardless whether her book is ever published or not, I definitely think the person who asked the question should write it. That writer may not know what her purpose is until later.

  • http://www.brockheasley.com Brock Heasley

    Solid advice. I started writing my memoir blind. Didn’t seek out any instruction or advice. Just started doing it and relied on my inherent knowledge of storytelling to guide me. It worked out in the end and I now have a great book, but it’s possible I could have done it in double time had I done a bit of homework!

  • http://www.melissacrandall.com Melissa Crandall

    I recommend Natalie Goldberg’s book “Old Friend from Far Away” as a jumping-off place to writing memoir. Good luck!

  • http://moonbridgebooks.com Linda Austin

    Rachel, you do have some great previous posts on writing memoir. Publishing for the public is a different dog than writing for family and if you’re thinking about that at all, the earlier in the drafts you can incorporate what you learn about the craft of writing and memoir and sellability, the more time and effort you will save. Publishing is all about creating a product that will sell, and I do hope this lady makes it to that point because her experience and message is very pertinent and may save lives.

  • http://aboutracewriter.blogspot.com/ Dianne Liuzzi Hagan

    Memoir is a challenge. I did what I called “verbal puking.” I just needed to get all the stories down (and it took a couple of years), then after I did that, I chose a structure for my book and chose those stories that fit the specific thing I wanted to share about my life in that particular book. Memoir is not about one’s total life from birth till when ever, it is specific phases or recurring topics written in a literary style. I also write memoir essays. As you write you might be asking yourself why your story is important to tell. That’s humility and will also inspire you to reach for what is unique about your story. Everyone has one and they are all worth telling if told the way in which the story is meant to be told.

    Still waiting to be published but I haven’t given up.

    Dianne
    http://aboutracewriter.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.hayfarris.com Hayley Farris

    I agree wholeheartedly with Mardi Link. I understand your desire to write your truth Bitter! Rachelle, I enjoy how you involve others (nobodys I guess you could call us…or rather soontobe somebodys :-) and I enjoy your advice. I feel as if my life may be on track for a memoir, and WHAT a timely post. I came to your site to peruse your blog for info on memoirs. I already knew from visiting before that you will take on memoirs and you also have a Christian slant, so I figured your blog would be a great place to poke the top layers of memoir writing from afar, with a very long stick. I’m still very young, so the thought of a memoir only lightly floats through my mind, but I know my few stories already bring hope to many people. I think I will bookmark these posts, give life and writing a few more years, and then fall down the hole of memoir research. Thanks for your advice, Rachelle. And, Bitter, go after your dreams! You deserve it and you can do it.

  • http://www.elizabethbyleryounts.com Elizabeth Byler Younts

    I just published a memoir that is doing very well & what readers tell me that they loved about it was THE VOICE and AUTHENTICITY.

    so I’d encourage you to definitely journal a lot & as you read through them (maybe even years later) you may notice that you’ve captured your voice. Keep it authentic & keep it real.

    My book was not a true memoir b/c I wrote my sweet Amish grandma’s memoir…but it was really the voice that captures people and the gripping authenticity of her situation.

  • http://spirituality.peterdehaan.name/ Peter DeHaan

    I once informally pitched several ideas to an agent to she which ones sparked her attention. When I got to “memoir” she interrupted, saying that if being published was my goal, memoirs were a futile effort.

    I gave her the log line anyway. “That’s not a memoir,” she exclaimed, “that a ‘spiritual journey’!”

    …so, if I ever send her a query, it will be for my “spiritual journey” concept and not a memoir!

  • Mary Jo

    I think a memoir needs a unique hook, angle to succeed. The author must take the reader into account–is this a good read or is it therapy for the writer? (the latter isn’t necessrily a good read but, of course, is extremely valuable to the writer). Does the topic of the memoir connect to larger issues? For example, a memoir about a woman who was battered in unusual circumstances would interest me(say, hidden Amish domestic abuse or something like that).

    • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

      I have no doubt that a book like that would sell, but I have the feeling that that would be relishing the mistreatment of others.

  • http://neuroticworkaholic.blogspot.com Neurotic Workaholic

    I particularly appreciated your advice about avoiding navel-gazing. I’ve read memoirs where the authors thought their own experiences were so fascinating that they did not think it was necessary to make their experiences sound interesting. Like you said, they made the mistake of just recording what happened. In cases like that I’ll sometimes skip a few pages ahead, as if I’m fast-forwarding through the less-than-interesting stuff.

  • http://www.noveltravelers.com Ginger Marcinkowski

    This post hit me as I was an incest victim, a secret I carried quietly for years. During my MFA, I completed my first manuscript, a story that evidently was the story I “had” to tell. It started out as a humorous memoir about my mother, but ended up as a dark story about my lifelong struggle to rid myself of anger. The story was to be a memoir but I found myself changing it to fiction, a change that allowed me to view my past as someone else’s story that I had intimate details about. My writing mentor had given me that suggestion and I have a much better story because of it. It worked for me and the anger and pain of it all has all but gone away. God has a way of helping us rid ourselves of such baggage. Good luck and do what Rachel suggests….just start writing. The story will find you!

  • http://www.thehahnhuntinglodge.com Nikole Hahn

    Read the legal stuff on memoirs. But write with courage.

  • http://www.gillianmarchenko.com/ Gillian Marchenko

    You all have some great suggestions! I would also encourage someone interested in memoir to find a class or a writing group. I have grown a lot as a writer in my memoir class. Collaboration is powerful, especially with stories that make up our lives.

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  • Mirriam

    U will never know up until u get, and u have to pass it, being hurt by my sisters and im growing everyday and learning every hour, and life goes on, and i will keep them in my prayer s,

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