how do I write a 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.

how do I write a memoir


 

“What’s in it for me?” That’s a key question on the mind of a potential follower/book buyer who is interested in mind/body/spirit nonfiction, the type of book I work on. (Editors, like ghostwriters, specialize in certain genres.) Whatever you are writing, it should sit firmly in that sweet spot where you and your work meet up with someone else’s need or desire to become informed, amused,  inspired  invigorated, etc. When you conceptualize a memoir or self-help book based on your story of overcoming challenges, you need to remember the needs of your potential reader. She wants to learn how she, too, could be like you, and do what you have done. She wants to feel a bond with you. If you want to write a story about a series of terrible situations you survived, do that because it has meaning for you and because it can be a valuable step in your healing process. But don’t assume people want to share in your trauma. They have their own traumas to process. If you want to write mind/body/spirit nonfiction that inspires and educates others, you have to step back from your story and imagine what your reader wants to read. She wants to share in your recovery from abuse, low self-esteem, addiction, and so on. The story of your trauma should be just a small piece of the book you are writing for her.

 

self-help book or memoir

The story of your trauma should be just a small piece of the book you are writing for a reader of mind/body/spirit nonfiction.

 

I hear daily from would-be authors who want to write their story of trauma, and I tell them that if they want to write and inspire others, they need to focus on how they overcame the trauma. As a reader, I always want to know the answer to “What’s in it for me?” I hope the answer is, “An engrossing story that educates me on how I can overcome trauma in my own life.”

 

Karin Volo’s memoir, 1,352 Days, tells an absolutely harrowing tale of how she survived nearly four years of being locked up in a county jail fighting extradition to a foreign country where you’re presumed guilty, not innocent. When I worked with her as a developmental editor to tell the story in an inspiring way, I encouraged her to maintain riveting details about her painful experiences, including the shock and fear she felt when hauled away from an airport gate in handcuffs or locked into a cell with strangers who could have committed a horrific crime for all she knew. However, the story that resonated for me, and that I knew would resonate for readers, was the story of how she got through those years in which she was separated from her young daughters and family, how she kept sane and optimistic, and how she came to forgive herself and her ex-husband for their roles in bringing about this frightening series of events. The book is a memoir, but as a reader, you  will feel it’s about you and what you can do to own your role in bringing about difficulties in your life, and what you can do to change your habits of mind and behavior and let go of anger, resentment, and shame. It’s her memoir, but in essence, it’s about… YOU.

 

Other nonfiction books I’ve worked on are in the self-help vein, and have practical strategies, tips, exercises, and action plans for transforming your life. They incorporate stories and anecdotes, but those stories don’t go on page after page in exhaustive detail. I took my own story about discovering my son had sensory processing disorder, and learning how to help him, and wove it in my book Raising a Sensory Smart Child, but I kept the stories short. I deliberately tried to paint the scenes emotionally so other parents could relate to my experience. I made myself vulnerable on the page, because it’s always easier to take advice from an author who admits to her own failings. In short, in telling those stories, I was always aware of how my reader would feel reading them.
Here’s a trick for making sure your stories are as much about your reader as they are about you. Watch how often you write “I” compared to how often you write “you” or “we.” My general rules are as follows:

 

Consider using “we” to create a bond with your audience: “We parents know what it’s like…” “We all try and fail at times…” Consider using “you” to give advice or create an intimate conversation with the reader. “You can consult with an occupational therapist…” “You might want to look at how you approach your child when he’s totally absorbed in what he’s doing…” “You, too, might be feeling overwhelmed by all the choices…” If you use too much “we” language, it can start to sound as if you’re pontificating, so be cautious. In self-help, I favor “you” but will often switch from “you” to “we” when I’m concerned that the author might take offense at the assumptions I’m making about her.  Rather than write, “You play a role in your child’s inability to control his temper”–ouch!–I would write, “If our children are unable to control their tempers, we parents need to know that we play a role in that” or “We might hate to admit it, but we parents always play at least some role in our children’s inability…” I might stick with “you” language and write something like, “You may not realize it, but you could be playing a role in your child’s inability to control his temper.” People don’t like to read about their failings, and they don’t want you to be the expert on high telling them what they are doing wrong and never admitting you screw up, too, so make sure that your language reflects their need to feel connected to you instead of judged by you.

 

Never forget that you are writing for a reader, not just for yourself, and your writing will be much more engaging, and much more likely to attract followers to your work.

(P.S. Want more helpful advice on getting started writing and publishing your book? Sign up for my email newsletter!)

how do I write a memoir


 

Many aspiring authors contact me about help with writing a book based on what they’ve learned as a result of their experiences. They want to help others by sharing their story, wisdom, and advice in a book but don’t know how to start to write a memoir, novelization, or self-help book based on their experiences.

Now, I am all for writing your book solely for the sake of catharsis and self-expression. I think more people who are in a healing process should write about their experiences, as an act of self-empowerment. That said, writing for an audience that has its own needs is different from writing for yourself. Don’t confuse the two. Your needs and desires have value, but they are not always the same as a reader’s needs and desires.

Maybe you already are certain that you want to write a self-help book and weave your story, and other stories, into the book and use it as a sort of credibility card for your work but also as a key tool for your clients and followers. Maybe you feel strongly that a memoir is the best way to get your story out there and inspire and educate others.  If you’d rather not use real names, or you would like to explore what might have happened instead of just what did happen, you can think about turning your story into a novel. You can also consider writing a book of life lessons, with advice based on your story, and don’t offer any specific advice to readers.

If you’re struggling to conceptualize your book, here is how to get started.

* Write. Notice I didn’t say “write your book.” Some people free write until they reach hundreds of pages of material and there’s nothing wrong with doing that, but it’s easy to get attached to what you’ve written, and what’s on the page may not work as the basis of your book. Start small. Write a blog piece, a scene, or a chapter. Play around with it: Write it in first person, then second, then third. Write it as fiction or as a memoir, or as an anecdote illustrating a point, like you would find in a self-help book. Explore your story and your message from various angles to get a feel for how you want to tell it.

* Look at your goals. What audience would you like to reach, and why? What other types of books are they reading? Where do they hear about those books? Do they buy books based on advertisements, word-of-mouth recommendations, Facebook posts, bookstore displays–what is the main way of reaching them? Why do they trust the authors of those books? Are they drawn in by the power of the author’s personal story? Are they impressed by the author’s work as a therapist or coach? These are the kinds of questions that will help you to put yourself in the shoes of your potential reader and know how to write for that individual and how to get him or her to know about your book. You’ve thought about what you want to write. Now think about who wants to read it.

* Look at comparative books. Know what other books and information are out there. What is your fresh idea, take, or spin? If you know you want to write a self-help book on a particular topic, be aware that your idea probably isn’t completely unique but that’s okay. Give it your own take.

* Check in with your gut. Does it feel right to do a memoir, or even a novelization, of your story? Do you want to share life lessons, or give advice? Do you want to create exercises that will help the reader to learn what you learned, only in a more pleasant way? Get in touch with your instincts about the book you are meant to write–and think about whether you might be meant to write more than one book!

 

How do you get started writing your story?

* Consider collaborating or procuring a foreword. I knew I wanted to write a practical guide for parents whose children had sensory processing disorder because it was incredibly difficult to access that information back when my son who has SPD was two years old and newly diagnosed. There were NO practical books that could help me figure out how to brush his teeth or calm him when he was having a sudden tantrum. I teamed up with my son’s occupational therapist, who was not only treating him for SPD but who had also done some writing herself, to create Raising a Sensory Smart Child, a book that offered two valuable perspectives and appealed to parents and professionals. If you’re thinking you don’t have the right credentials to write your self-help book, find someone to team up with as a collaborator, or ask this person to write a valuable foreword for your book. I ended up with both a collaborator and a foreword writer with an important name in the special needs community (Temple Grandin).

* Start your outreach now. Begin building your author platform. Get a Facebook page and a blog if you’re going to create a memoir or a nonfiction book. If you want to write a novel, start writing regularly and working with a writer’s group to receive and give feedback and support (your fellow writers may well become your loyal readers!). If you’re blogging or on Facebook, ask your followers for feedback. Ask them questions to get them involved in a conversation, and respond to their answers. Encourage them to subscribe to your blog, like your page, and give you their email addresses so you can contact them in the future (you should offer a free gift, or a just a promise to send them information but never to sell their email address to anyone). Think about building a community of followers who talk among themselves and to you about your topic. These followers will not only buy your book when it’s ready, but they will also spread the word about the book or any other products or services you want to promote–not because you pay them but because they believe in you and your work and message. You can learn more details about starting to build your author platform on Facebook in my new eBook 25 Powerful Ways to Get Engagement on Facebook.

* Make a habit of learning a little more every week. Notice I didn’t say make this a goal: I said make this a habit! Every week, schedule time to learn more about your topic and your audience and more about using social media, creating webinars and teleseminars, marketing, doing workshops and lectures, and getting the word out about your work and your message. If you don’t make time to do it, you will become overwhelmed by all there is to learn once your book is actually written. Set some boundaries so you don’t get sucked in to using social media so often that you don’t get any writing done–it can be addictive!

* Talk to a book publishing consultant or developmental editor early on in the process. It can be invaluable to toss ideas around with a knowledgeable publishing insider. It’s energizing to have a clear picture of your overall strategy and clarity about what you can do write now to get started creating your book. If you are going to contact me, do give me some details about your book project and whether you’re leaning toward self-publishing or building your platform then aiming to get a book deal. We can schedule a brainstorming session and focus in on your brand, your plan, and your action steps for getting closer to your goal right now. Email me at Nancy at nancypeske dot com and check out the services page on my website, www.nancypeske.com.