writing memoir


We all have a book inside us. We may even have several! If you want to write a book based on your life, are you clear on the type of book you would like to write? I have seven options for you—six nonfiction and one fiction—that might fit well with your plan to write a book.

I like to say a book is a credibility card that solidifies your brand and message. Should you write a memoir, focusing on your personal story?  Would it make more sense to write a book about what you have learned, one that features pieces of your story and a short summary of it at the beginning of the book?

Many of my clients have struggled with the question of what type of book to write to most effectively communicate their ideas and establish their brand and get their message out there. Some of my clients have pivoted with their brand, and a book has been instrumental in helping them do that. For example, one wanted to move from a more straightforward health brand to one that was more lifestyle oriented.

Other clients of mine have wanted to write their story as a book so they can inspire others but soon came to see that a memoir needs to be about a specific theme in their life that ties into their central message.

My video, How to Write a Book Based on Your Life, goes into some detail about the seven different types of books you might write. They are:

An autobiography or personal history. This type of personal project lets you tell your story to future generations. How I wish that my great-grandmother had written such a book so I could know more about how she went from having just a six-grade education to running a family business! Your great-grandchildren would surely appreciate a professionally written book telling your life story.

A memoir. Memoirs are thematic and often focus on just one aspect of a person’s life. Some authors write more than one memoir. Common themes including coming of age and the hero’s journey. Memoirs have a wider audience than an autobiography or personal history.

A life lessons book. Like a memoir, a life lessons book is thematic, but the themes are summed up with compelling statements. I love the title of the book by Starbucks founder Howard Behar, written with Janet Goldstein: It’s Not About the CoffeeWhat a great title that summarizes the book’s central message! All of his chapter titles are statements and lessons that we can learn from.

A business book. A business book can be part memoir, part life-lessons book. The key is to know your best stories and match them up with key ideas you want to put across (for example, that the Starbucks brand is NOT about the coffee!)

A self-help book. I specialize in helping people write this type of book. You may have seen my video on how to structure a self-help book. In it, I offer a structure that I have seen work time and time again. The book should take readers on a journey from here to there so that by the end of the book, they feel their life has changed and they know how to apply your ideas to their own life to make it better. There are two key elements in self-help books: the takeaway and the action plan. (You do not necessarily need an action plan, but you definitely need takeaway, as I explain in my video on How to Write a Book Based on Your Life.)

A parenting book. I cowrote an evergreen parenting book that continues to sell year after year (hence “evergreen”). In fact, it has sold over 130,000 copies. Now, I am not the expert of all time on parenting (my son would agree with me on that!). However, I did interviews and research, synthesized ideas, drew on my own experiences as a child and as a parent, and put it all together with the help of my coauthor, my son’s occupational therapist who treated him. We came up with a parenting book filled with tips and strategies I knew parents needed. I turned myself into an expert in the process. (Two book award committees and dozens of reviewers and endorsers apparently agree, because Raising a Sensory Smart Child has gotten a phenomenal response from those folks.) My coauthor, Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, provided the therapist’s perspective, which broadened the appeal of the book. You might want to consider a coauthor or at least a foreword from someone who has professional credentials who can vouch for the credibility of your parenting advice.

A novel. You can “fictionalize” your life and start writing a novel. Know whether you are going to make it a mystery, a romance, commercial women’s fiction (such as a novel about a mother and daughter who experience conflict they have to resolve), or a work of literary fiction. Know the conventions of these types of books so that you are clear on what you are writing. If you are going to write commercial women’s fiction, read some novels in that category. There’s an old saying: To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. Did you know that bestselling novelist Jeffrey Archer said he read 100 novels before starting his own? That might have been more than he needed to read, but it goes to show you really do have to familiarize yourself with the type of book you want to write.

I also talk in my video How to Write a Book Based on Your Life about using sensory detail and storytelling so that you “show, don’t tell”—another old saying in the book biz. When you write, put us in the middle of the action and the moment of the scene, even if you are just writing an anecdote in a business book so you emotionally engage us. You don’t have to go on for pages giving us exhaustive detail about a client you worked with, but give us a sense of what it was like to be in the situation that went from uncomfortable to a sense of possibility for change. Show us how you overcame your bad habit of saying “yes, of course” and instead saying, “I’ll need to get more details before I commit to doing that.” Even a nonfiction book has a narrative arc. Perhaps you will show us how you went from hating your body to feeling grateful for the healthy body you inhabit, from weighing yourself obsessively to telling your scale, “Kiss my butt, buddy,” and weighing yourself once a year, not obsessing about the number. You started at a low place and achieved success in some area of your life. People want to see how you did that, and your book can do the job of conveying your story.

Need help conceptualizing your book? Stuck on the title and overarching theme? Not sure if you should go with life lessons around your parenting successes or with a funny memoir? I can help. Give me some details about where you are in your process. Think about where you see yourself going with this book (doing podcasts and public speaking? being on local TV and radio talk shows? having a blog and newsletter along with a popular Instagram account?). And let me know if you’re ready for a one-hour consultation call and perhaps some coaching as you start your writing process. Contact me at info@nancypeske.com and let’s get you firmly on the road to writing and publishing your book.

 

how to write a book 7 ways

How to write a book based on your story or work: I can help you figure out what type of book you want to write.

 

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.

 

 

Writing a memoir or nonfiction book but afraid you’re not a “real” writer with a broad enough vocabulary and an ability to create elegant metaphors? Banish that fear. I can offer you three ways to energize your writing to bring it up to the next level so that your book is compelling and your ideas and anecdotes come alive for your readers.

1. Pick strong verbs.

Avoid variations on the verb “to be” where you can because “to be” and its forms are weak, wimpy verbs. Also, turn nouns into strong verbs that make your writing and storytelling more energetic and compelling.

 

Weak: Summer is my favorite season.

“Is” is a form of the verb “to be.”

Strong: I favor summer over all the other seasons.

“Favor” is a strong verb compared to “is.”

 

Weak: My partner made an assumption that I was not ready for change.

“Was” is weak.

Strong: My partner assumed that change would overwhelm me.

“Assumed” is stronger than “made an assumption” and it’s less wordy. “Was” is weak. Also, when you begin choosing verbs that could go into that clause, you start getting more precise with your words, which gives your writing more oomph. Here, turning the noun “assumption” into a strong verb helps tighten the writing, making it more energetic.

2. Use a thesaurus to find variations on words.

Look for the overuse of certain words in your writing. Did you use “creative” in the first sentence of a paragraph, “creativity” in the second sentence, and “create” in another paragraph on the same page? Even if your book is on creativity, you want to use a variety of words to get across the concept of creativity. A thesaurus can lead you to words such as innovative, resourceful, imaginative, originality, inventive, and more. Bonus tip: If it’s hard to find a synonym you haven’t already used, maybe you need to tighten the writing so it’s less repetitive.

3. Use figurative language and wordplay.

If you keep using the same words over and over, you’re in the company of the great writer J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, who said she became frustrated trying to find new ways of saying “corridor” or “hall” when describing the movement of characters. When it seems there’s no way to avoid overusing a word that’s key to your story, work, and message, consider using figurative language and wordplay.

Weak: I created my 40-day program for people who think they’re not creative to help them develop their creativity.

We get it! But using variations on “to create” over and over will bore your reader.

Strong: I developed my 40-day program for people who think they’re not “the creative type” to help them discover their inner playground child, the self that sees the world as a playground filled with possibilities for doing something different and innovative.

Here, the writer actually is using figurative language to energize her writing and help brand herself at the same time. As a developmental editor or ghostwriter who also does book publishing consultations, I would say, “Terrific! Now Google ‘inner playground child’ to see if anyone else is using it, and consider buying the dot com URL (www.PlaygroundChild.com) to reserve it—and setting up an Inner Playground Child professional page on Facebook to help secure your brand and a clever turn-of-phrase to go with it.” Branding is key for setting your book and your work apart from others’ in the marketplace, so I would help steer you toward words, phrases, and clauses that would be unique to you.

 

Need help with writing, strategizing, branding, and envisioning your nonfiction mind/body/spirit book? Contact me today and let me know where you are with your plan for your book and what kind of help you need. (Perhaps a Vision Plan is your next step?)

 

 

energize your writing book power

 

 

 

Why should someone hire you as a coach or consultant, subscribe to your blog or newsletter, come to see you speak, or hire you as a speaker? Because, of course, you are awesome, original, and a unique expression of divine light in human form. Okay, but besides that, why should someone pay you attention or money, or give you opportunities, when there are a gazillion people who do something similar? Because truly, you are unique—and that allows you to create a brand for yourself that is different from every other brand. Branding yourself with a book is an excellent way to expertise yourself and convey to potential clients, followers, and fans who you are and what your message and work is all about. Maybe you will give away your book, maybe you will sell it, and maybe you’ll do a combination of both. Whatever you choose, figure out your brand and brand yourself with a book that serves as your credibility card.

 

For branding purposes, you don’t have to write a full-length book of 50,000 to 80,000 words (or longer—self-help books years ago were typically 100,000 words but the average length has shrunk considerably). You don’t have to get a book deal, although you might want to work with a book publisher or a book publishing coach or service to handle the technical issues involved with turning your document into an actual physical book and eBook (electronic book). Focus on the editorial questions “What is my book about, how does it help the reader, who is my reader, and how will my book help establish my credibility as an expert?” for that’s at the heart of writing a book will solidify your brand. You can give the book away or sell it when you do personal appearances and have interviewers hold it up to the camera when you do local (or national) television shows or Skype interviews that get shared on social media. A snappy title for a book will help people remember you and do an Internet search to find you. Books help you build your platform for your work (consulting, teaching, etc.) just as your work helps you build your author platform. Your work supports your book and your book supports your work.

 

To start conceptualizing a book that fits into your brand, take your personal story of how you became interested in the work you do. After all, that is the very foundation of your brand and what sets you apart from others who do similar work. You have to be present in your brand, and your followers will want to know about you and your life. I give parenting advice and my brand is the Sensory Smart Parent, which derives from my coauthored book Raising a Sensory Smart Child. My expertise is in raising a child with sensory processing disorder who has “sensory smarts”: that is, he understands his sensory processing differences and can meet his sensory needs and self-advocate in a socially acceptable away. You, too, will want to be able to sum up your brand in a few words that capture what kind of parent, teacher, entrepreneur, healer, or speaker you are that sets you apart. You’ll want to be able to quickly describe your expertise. My other brand is Cinematherapy, which is the title of a book I coauthored with my cousin Bev West. Like so many women, we find that movies are more than just entertainment, they’re self-medication that can cure anything from a bad hair day to the dumped-and-out-for-blood blues. (That’s a carefully crafted pitch we used everywhere in promotion.) Bev and I learned the art of Cinematherapy from our mothers and mutual grandmother who made time to watch movies as part of self-care, which for them meant letting themselves feel their emotions fully. Notice that we’re not film experts or therapists, yet we have an identifiable brand we can describe briefly and that is captured in the book’s title. Our story gives our spin on talking about movies a personal touch. And now you know the story behind the brand!

 

So let’s start with your story of how you came to have the idea for your work, whether it’s paid work or volunteer work, volunteering or coaching, healing or teaching, or whatever it is.

 

Know how to pitch your story. Everyone has a life about which a story can be told, says my client Carl Greer, PhD, PsyD, a Jungian analyst, clinical psychologist, shamanic practitioner, and author of Change Your Story, Change Your Life. But if you had to summarize your story of how you developed your message or came to do the work you do, what is your story? Take a look at short author biographies on the back of books you admire that are in your genre (for example, inspirational self-help or memoirs centered around life lessons the author learned). Take a look at what authors write in the introduction of their books. They don’t go on for many pages, but they do succinctly tie in what happened to them with how they became interested in their topic and developed expertise.

 

branding book author self-help life lessons

A book can serve as a credibility card. Figure out your brand based on your story and start thinking about a book tied into your brand.

Know what is universal about your story. Your personal story is absolutely key to your brand. Your unique perspective is shared by no one else, yet what you do can’t be so very personal that people who hear about you have no idea what you have to offer that they can use. They have to make a connection and say “I can relate to that person’s story! He seems like someone who would understand my situation and could help me.” Your message has to be clear, and people have to know what they are getting from you that will help them with their problems and challenges. Your services may be nutritional coaching, helping mothers of babies to find time for self-care, or training professionals to be better at creating YouTube videos that help sell their products and services. Those are common services with universal appeal. A story such as “I came to be a nutritionist because I grew up eating poorly and after becoming very sick, I taught myself about nutrition” is universal. That’s a good start to branding yourself because it’s rooted in your story, but you need to go further, so read on.

Know what is compelling about your story. Perhaps there is a startling, dramatic detail to your story, such as that you nearly forgot your baby in your car because you didn’t take time for self-care and that woke you up to the urgency of this common, universal problem of new mothers not taking care of themselves. Perhaps your own YouTube videos got such devastating bad reviews saying that you seemed stiff and authentic that you vowed to learn how to overcome your stilted performances and now you teach and coach others into creating awesome videos that sell their products and services. Think about emotional extremes–what would make someone go, “Wow, that’s devastating/hilarious/amazing!” when hearing your story. Strong emotions strengthen brands, so find the emotionally compelling aspects of your story.

Find what is different in your approach or voice. Maybe your business model is different from others’ because your approach is different: You coach people with check-ins every week, or you send them daily reminders through mobile devices to keep them on track. Maybe your gentle, warm, kind approach sets you apart from others who coach people who are used to a “boot camp” approach. Ask your clients, fans, followers, and friends what they find different about your approach if you aren’t quite sure what makes you different. And really ponder what’s different in your approach or voice. Close your eyes, meditate for a moment, and pose the question, “What makes my approach unique?” See if an insight doesn’t appear.

What makes you different is key to your brand and to branding yourself with a book. Now I hope you are closer to figuring out your brand and a book that will establish that brand.

Questions? Comments? As always, I’m here to help you!

 

 

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.

 

 

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