Dear Rachelle, People are always telling me, “You should write a book!” For years I have been ignoring them, but more and more people are telling me that I shouldn’t let my experiences be wasted, that I need to share them because they are not only inspirational, they will make people laugh, make them cry, and entertain them. I’ve finally decided I need to bite the bullet, so I’m starting with you. Can you help me? Signed, Hopeful Memoirist
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I get several query letters each month that begin with some variation of: “For years, all my friends have been telling me I should write a book.” Maybe it’s because of an amazing incident or an inspiring life journey. Maybe you’re funny or have a way with words. Whatever it is… it causes otherwise totally rational people to begin chanting “You should write a book!”
Even though most people don’t know anything about publishing, it sure is flattering when they say, “You should write a book!” We tend to want to believe them. If we hear it often enough, we start to take it seriously.
The way I see it, the whole “you should write a book” thing makes about as much sense as watching your friend shoot hoops in the driveway, seeing them sink five in a row, and exclaiming, “You should play for the NBA!” In reality, you know nothing about what it takes to play in the NBA. And five baskets does not a Kobe Bryant make.
Since most people have no idea what they’re talking about when saying you should write a book, you’ve come to the right place for information. You asked me for help, so I’m going to tell you exactly what I think you should do. Forgive me if you’ve already taken any of these steps, but here is what I believe you should be doing:
1. Do not pursue publishing. Completely put the idea of “getting published” out of your mind. For now, that’s not your goal. Instead, your goal is to TELL YOUR STORY.
2. Seriously, don’t pursue publishing. This means that for the time being you shouldn’t read books, blogs or websites about getting published. You don’t need to contact industry professionals about getting published, because that’s not your goal — your goal is to tell your story.
3. Read my posts about writing memoir. Here they are: Posts about Memoir.
4. Begin immediately writing down your story. Don’t try to start at the beginning. Simply write down what comes to you, perhaps in “episodes” as you remember them. Try to write something every single day. Write down the stories from your life.
5. Meanwhile, create a reading plan for yourself. Set a goal for the next year or so of reading at least 20 good memoirs and 5 books about writing memoir. I have a blog post in which I said exactly that, and also gave plenty of recommendations for books to read. The post is a couple of years old, so you’ll be able to find many books that are more recent. But here’s the post: Resources for Writing Memoir.
6. Begin to craft your book. After you’ve spent months (or years) writing down the stories of your life and learning about the craft of memoir, you’ll be ready to start putting those stories together and creating a cohesive manuscript — your memoir. That may take many more months. You’ll want to get feedback on it from some readers, perhaps join a critique group, and do as many revisions as necessary to make your memoir shine.
7. NOW think about publishing! When you feel you have a complete and compelling memoir, then begin the process of pursuing publication, which you can learn about from hundreds of books and blogs. Here’s my post that gives a good overview: How to Get Published.
If this sounds like a lot of work and a lot of years — you’re right, it is. If that’s not what you had in mind, then just tell all those people who are saying you should write a book: “Thanks for the idea, but I’ve decided I’d rather keep LIVING my life rather than spending a bunch of time writing about it.”
Hope that helps!
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Have you ever wanted to write a memoir?
Are you a writer partly because others told you that you should be?
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