memoir


 

Often, aspiring memoir writers ask me how to get started. Do they just hire a ghostwriter and pay for phone time to start telling their stories and getting them into documents? That’s one way to begin, but it is not the only way. I think it’s important to start the writing yourself so you can begin seeing the themes and lessons that you will want to emphasize in your memoir or book of life lessons. Let me offer some writing prompts for you memoir writers who are trying to figure out how to tell your life story.

 

Writing Prompt #1: Write the inspirational story of the moment in your life when you felt the most empowered. Use sensory detail—words that evoke sounds, sensations, visual images, and so on. What did it feel like to be in your body that moment when you spoke your truth? When you walked away from a bad situation? When you felt completely at one with the universe? When you knew you were okay, for the first time in a very long time? When you knew you had achieved success? (This story may end up being at the very beginning of the book.)

 

Writing Prompt #2: Write a story of being a young child playing. What toy were you playing with, and why did you enjoy playing with it? Use sensory detail. What did it feel like to lie on the rug in your family’s living room, or sit on the linoleum in your family’s kitchen, as you played? What were you imagining? What were you feeling? (This exercise can be very effective for drawing out of your unconscious mind a story that tells us something about who you are as an adult, what you value, and what the themes of your story are.)

 

Writing Prompt #3: Tell a funny story that captures your sense of humor. It could be a recent story or an old one from your childhood. Make sure that this story reveals your vulnerability, so that the reader relates to you person to person instead of just seeing you as an expert or leader.

 

After writing these stories, read them aloud. Make any changes to the writing you feel are necessary. Edit these stories as best you can, checking spelling and grammar.

 

Begin to think about what these stories have in common. What are your strengths, weaknesses, and interests as revealed in these stories? What, if anything, do your stories say to a reader about how you overcame challenges? What do they tell people about your personality?

 

All memoirs need a narrative arc. We need to see progress in the story as it takes us from the beginning, through the middle, and to the end. We need to watch you come of age, learn to run a successful business despite humble beginnings and mistakes along the way, grow into a person who has come to peace with your past and developed wisdom and a sense of clarity and purpose, and so on. Think about how you would sum up your memoir in a sentence. How would you describe it using two paragraphs that might be found on the back of the book or on the Amazon page for the book? Look at other books for examples.

 

Once you done some of the writing and started to get a sense of what the central story of your memoir is, think about whether you want to write a memoir, a life lessons book, or a self-help book with takeaway exercises and perhaps even an action plan for developing new habits. Do you want to write a personal history for yourself, your family, and your close friends, and perhaps mine it for stories to use in another book, such as a book related to your business as a speaker and consultant, or in a memoir about one specific time in your life?

 

Whether your plan is to publish the book for yourself and your family and friends, for a larger audience that includes fans of your work as an expert in your field, begin your writing today with these writing prompts for memoir writers. Even if you end up doing a life lessons book or a self-help book, you will be glad you wrote up these stories. Doing so will help you get a better sense of how to integrate your personal anecdotes into the book you want to write. A professional developmental editor or ghostwriter can better help you if you have put some time into writing some stories and putting some thought to the central story of your memoir. You will have an easier time conveying your vision of your memoir once you have written some of the stories, so be sure to get started with these memoir writing prompts!

 

(Do you want to know more about the difference between a developmental editor and a ghostwriter? A ghostwriter actually writes drafts of chapters. A developmental editor works with written material such as rough drafts of manuscripts or chapters. You can learn more about developmental editing by watching my video on cut-and-paste editing, available on YouTube.)

 

 

memoir writing life story life lessons

Writing prompts can help you get started with your memoir or other book that features your story.

 

 

 

During the process of beginning to write your nonfiction book, you’ll want to start thinking about titles. I find that at least having a working title will allow you to stay focused on what you want in the book and what you can skip. If you have a general title such as “Surviving the Worst,” “Living Fully,” or “My Memoir of Being a Child Prodigy,” it will be easy to become lost in the writing process. You’ll write and write until you say, “Oh boy. I have no idea where I’m going with this!” Sure, start writing. See how it feels. But soon you’ll wonder, “What belongs in this book? What’s my focus?” That’s when you need to consider titling your nonfiction book with help from the Internet. It will focus and motivate you!

Once you have started writing and shaping key scenes or sections of the book, you need to improve on any working title that is too general, like the ones above. Think about word combinations that capture the heart and soul of your mind-body-spirit nonfiction book. Sure, you may be writing a memoir about being a child prodigy, but why are you writing it? Because you had to learn that “Good Enough Is Good Enough” and the focus of your memoir is on letting go of perfectionism imposed upon you by your parents? Or maybe you ended up becoming a Buddhist practicing non-attachment and now, as a parent of a prodigy yourself, you want to write a short, self-published self-help book or life lessons book incorporating your stories of being a child and being a parent, offering advice to other parents. And let’s say a quick Internet search reveals no one has used that title Good Enough Is Good Enough except in one article and certainly not for a book. Yes, you have yourself a title for now. If you like, reserve the URL (www.GoodEnoughIsGoodEnough.com) and a Facebook page with that title. (By the way, that short, self-published book can later be expanded into a longer book, and you might have enough of a fan base for The Nonattached Parent or Good Enough Is Good Enough to get a book deal at that point.)

Or let’s say you want to write an inspirational self-help book and your working title is “Living Fully.” That’s much too general for a book title. Before you even do a search for it, ask yourself, “What sets my self-help book apart from the hundreds of thousands of inspirational self-help books in print? What promise do I offer that no one else does?” Perhaps the key original exercise, or practice, in your potential self-help book on living fully is a habit of expressing gratitude every day to at least one person, whether you know them well or not. That’s not a lot to build a book around, at least on first glance. But what if you blogged about the experience daily for a year and ended up with eight lessons you learned about practicing gratitude? Now you could come up with a title with the number 8 in it—Eight Ways to Become More Grateful could be your working title, or Eight Principles of Gratitude may be possibilities. Maybe you can explain in the book that you felt that to live fully, you needed to feel more grateful for the blessings of your life. Now your title isn’t “Live Fully” and your book isn’t a general book with a vague promise that doesn’t speak to anyone specific. Instead, it’s a book called The Gratitude Project: Eight Principles for Feeling Grateful and Blessed, and you have identified your audience: People who aspire to practice gratitude, and feel more positive and grateful, but need help learning how to do it. Your personal stories will flesh out a simple list that could be an article they find on the Internet, and you now are on your way to establish credibility as an expert in learning how to feel more grateful.

Of course, if an Internet search shows your title was already used for a book, play with it. Maybe your title will be The Thankfulness Project: A Year of Saying Thank You Each Day, or Everyday Thankfulness, or Everyday Gratitude, or “Today, I Say Thank You”–the possibilities begin suggesting themselves when you get more specific about what your book’s key message and idea is. Reid Tracy, CEO of Hay House, says, “A book for everyone is a book for no one.” Everyone wants to live fully–or at least, that vague promise would sound pleasant to just about anyone. But does everyone want to know about the “Thankfulness Project” or how to experience “Everyday Gratitude”? No–you have a specific audience now, with a specific problem your book addresses in a practical way: How to become more grateful or thankful through a practice or habit that is part of a larger program and message about the value of practicing gratitude daily. You can start writing stories about your original response to the standard advice to “be more grateful” and putting yourself into your book.

So yes, go ahead and skip the titling process to start writing if you’ve written nothing, or only a few pages or even just a chapter or so. But as you write more, begin to think about what your book is about, specifically, and what promise it offers to an audience with a need. Try to capture that idea in a few words. And pick up your mobile device and ask:

OK, Google, are there any memoirs on overcoming perfectionism?
Siri, how can I feel more grateful?

nonfiction title self-help book memoir just right

Your mind/body/spirit nonfiction title needs to be just right for YOU!

 

Now, take a look at the top links that come up. How can you compete with those articles or books to get people’s attention? What’s different about your experiences and what you have to say that will make people interested in the topic check you out? How will you get people to discover your book (and buy it!) rather than gravitate toward someone else’s website, blog, social media account, or book page? Keep in mind that when it comes to memoir and self-help, people will often buy more than one book on a topic, so don’t worry too much if your book isn’t the most original book on the face of the planet. Even so, you have to be a part of your book, sharing your story and your voice. And you have to be reflected in the title you pick. It has to feel right for you.

Try out your titles on your friends and family, and anyone who knows your work in this area. Listen thoughtfully to their feedback. And keep trying for that “just right” title that fits your book, your message, and your stories. Then, use the Internet to see if it’s original enough to work for your book. If it is, plant your flag in the ground by saving the website address (which costs about ten dollars) and/or a Facebook page in that name.

Now that you have your title, you’re ready to start writing an article of 600 to 800 words on that topic. Your article can be posted on your blog and shared on social media. Congratulations! You have a title you’re happy with. You can always change your title later, but this step in the titling process can be extremely motivating and helpful for solidifying your title. And Siri, Google, and the Internet were helpful companions, weren’t they?

As always, feel free to ask me any questions or leave a comment! And if you’re interested in getting my help with your book, check out my services page. I am doing vision plans right now, helping authors who have a book proposal to maximize its potential for getting a book deal or for guiding them in writing and marketing their own self-published mind/body/spirit nonfiction book.

 

 

 

Thinking of writing a memoir? Are there stories from your life that led you to learn important lessons you want to share with others? Maybe you are eager to write a self-help book or a book of lessons about life drawn from your own experiences, but you don’t know where to start. I have worked with many authors on weaving their personal stories into memoirs or self-help books. A ghostwriter or developmental editor can really help you to focus in on your best stories and turn them into a legacy memoir.

Let me share some ideas on how you can begin to turn your story into a book.

Start with the most important stories. Choose to tell the stories you feel are the most important. If you could only tell three stories of your life, what would they be? If you tell stories to illustrate points to people you wish to persuade, teach, or entertain as part of your work (paid or volunteer), what are the top three anecdotes you like to use? Begin there. Get your top, key stories onto the page.

Tell your story in your voice. Your voice in the final draft of your book won’t be the same as the voice you use when telling your story to someone else, or to a device that records you speaking. Try telling your stories on paper and telling them again by dictating them into software that transcribes your words. (Or, you can record yourself telling your stories and use a transcription service such as Transcription Hub to turn them into words.) Even if you end up working with a ghostwriter or developmental editor, that professional will want to hear your voice in her ear when she’s writing a sentence or shaping a paragraph for you.

Put the reader in the moment. There’s an old saying in book publishing: “Show, don’t tell.” There is a big difference between telling your reader “The birth of my son was uneventful, so I was not expecting to discover that he had a condition called sensory processing disorder” and showing her that “On a lovely spring day, after a two-and-a-half-hour induced, epidural-eased labor that was so painless and spiritually uplifting that I was practically communing with my ancestors on the astral plane, I got the thumbs-up from the doctor: I’d given birth to my first child, a healthy little boy. . . “ Don’t just record the dry facts. Use sensory details about sounds, sights, smells, and feelings to describe time and place. Use words that convey emotion. Be sentimental as you hone in on a detail such as your grandmother’s hands kneading dough or the smell of that vinyl playhouse for your dolls that filled the air as you ripped away the wrapping paper on your birthday gift that year you turned seven. Use humor as you tell about the first time you tried to seem professional to a new client and goofed up big time.

Don’t worry about the writing for now. Great storytellers don’t necessarily use fancy language—Ernest Hemingway is proof of that. Your inner critic can be quite a nuisance, so when you first record your stories, tell him to take a hike because you are busy!

Be emotionally honest about your experience. Emotional experiences connect us as fellow humans sharing the planet. If someone relates an emotional experience we have never had, we are naturally curious. We want to experience it through reading or listening to someone else’s story so that we feel a connection. Don’t tell us “My father walked out on our family when I was ten years old and I never saw him again.” Paint the scene. What do you remember? How did you react? Did you bury your head in a pillow and cry, go outside and run through the woods, play a sad record and sing along? When you first began to pursue your passion as a career or a calling, were you overwhelmed to realize you had taken on a project that was far bigger than you felt you could handle? Let yourself be vulnerable. It’s what makes you human and what will draw people to your story.

Remember, YOU are the storyteller. You don’t have to tell the story the way anyone else would tell it. This is your story, and your truth matters. If you remember that when you were a child, you told your mother you wanted to be a dancer when you grew up and her response was curt and dismissive, that story is true for you. Later, you can get her side of the story, or talk to others who were there, but start with the story that is true to what you remember.

Focus on the emotions not the lessons. Lessons are important, but being emotionally honest on the page even more so. Many people wish to write a memoir about their lives or a section or aspect of their life so that they can share with others not only their story but the lessons they learned along the way. Because it feels safer emotionally to write about ideas and what you learned than to be vulnerable in telling the story, you can end up telling the reader what happened instead of showing them. The emotional distance between you and your story that you merely “tell” becomes emotional distance between your reader and you. Bring people into your experiences, express emotion when storytelling, and readers will care much more deeply about the lessons and insights you wish to share. You need to be present in any book of advice to others, and readers need to see you as strong and wise but vulnerable too so you’re relatable.

Let a photograph inspire you. If you’re stuck on how to write a story, pull out a photograph—perhaps from a time in your life when you had yet to learn an important lesson, or from a time when you were new to your work or an experience you want to write about (parenting, teaching, cooking, whatever it is.) Let the photo bring you back to that time and place. Share the story of the day that photo was taken and the moment the camera captured. Pay attention to what you were wearing, your body language, your facial expression, what’s in the background, anyone or anything else in the photo with you—and what was missing. Remember who you were at that instant in time. What did you know? What had you yet to learn?

 

turn your story into a book ghostwriter

Are you ready to turn your story into a book?

 

Write at least one story of when you turned a page, having found courage and inspiration. If you want your story of suffering or struggle to inspire others, you must allow them to experience that powerful moment when it all changed and you found your voice, you walked out of a bad situation or you walked into the unknown open to the possibilities yet to be seen. You must let us feel that triumph so we are pulled into wanting to read more about what you’ve experienced and what you know.

Writing some of your stories can help you conceptualize the book you want to write and get a feel for whether you will be comfortable opening up emotionally and letting yourself be vulnerable to your readers. Get started with the writing. Get the stories down on the page.

When you have written several stories from your life, you can step back and observe how you feel about being truthful on the page and sharing moments that don’t necessarily put you in the best light, or sharing personal moments that make you feel exposed. Are you writing self-help or a book of life lessons? Then you can start to observe the threads that connect the stories, and you can begin to record the ideas they convey. My story of my son’s birth was meant to help readers understand my joy, hope, and excitement that would soon give way to confusion as I noticed he was not developing like the books and my friends and family said babies do. That story opened the introduction to my coauthored book Raising a Sensory Smart Child. Every story has to have a point, whether you are writing a memoir or a book of life lessons, so sit with your stories and ponder what someone else might learn from them or experience as a result of reading them. Maybe they will inspire your reader, or teach them, persuade them, or entertain them—or a combination of all of these.

Editing and shaping the stories you tell and how you tell them is important and will come next, but don’t get ahead of yourself if you are just beginning. Focus on getting those stories recorded and again, let that inner critic go on a long walk while you’re busy writing.

Have a few stories down? Ready to write your memoir or self-help or life-lessons book based on your experiences? Contact me to see how I can help you as a developmental editor, ghostwriter, coach, and consultant to get your book finished and ready to be produced and sold!