By Jenny Zimmer
Thinking of penning your life story?
Excellent decision! But before you dive headfirst into the ordeal, are you sure you know the do’s and don’ts of writing one? I’m certain just the thought of your life enclosed in the pages of a bestseller is exciting, but don’t rush into the process just yet.
There’s a lot to learn, and you’ve luckily stumbled upon the right article. Let’s start then!
1. Read More Memoirs:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
—Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
This cannot be emphasized enough. Every great writer ever born, was born a reader. It’s essential to have command over the language you prefer to pen in, and in order to have that, you need to read a lot.
Before I wrote The Man in the Mirror and Other Strangers, my memoir on becoming an impromptu caregiver for my Alzheimer-stricken husband Al, I made sure to read both autobiographies of caregivers and educational books on Alzheimer’s.
Writing your life story is not a piece of cake. So it’s preferable that you pick up memoirs or autobiographies and live through their pages first before writing yours.
2. Know Your Direction:
Most autobiographies and memoirs that fall flat do so because they lack clarity over where they are headed. If it affects your plot, add as many diverse scenes as you want. But if it’s drifting your readers’ focus from the book’s main idea, don’t incorporate those details.
The planning stage of the book helps with filtering those redundancies – so utilize that time to carefully evaluate the events that enhance the core concept of your memoir.
3. Contrast Your Book With Catharsis:
While writing a book may be therapeutic for the writer, there should be a clear distinction between a diary, in which you recount the events of your day, and a memoir.
Memoirists must understand that readers want to read neither a psychotherapy journal nor a longwinded ramble. Instead, try to consciously provide them insight into a world they have never seen or imagined. Include the most pertinent, gripping, and original events in your manuscript.
4. Target a Small Percentage:
Memoirs and autobiographies don’t have that big an outreach when it comes to the general public. No matter how tragic or severe the experiences you’re penning may be, there is a possibility that they won’t appeal to everybody.
Instead of expecting a large readership, communicate your memoir to a more specified audience. When the publishing is done, marketing ensures your book reaches their attention and receives proper recognition.
5. Hone Your Focus:
While staying true to your story is preferable, you shouldn’t overshare too many details just because ‘they happened’. Stick with the characters and events that impact your tale. Your memoir should be engaging for a reader; you can’t achieve that if you overwhelm them with every minute fact that occurred.
The one condition you must follow is to stay honest about your events. But only include them in the book if they’re crucial to your narrative. If they’re not, make sure they’re really interesting and add a new layer to your story or your character. Also, it goes without saying, never make information up.
6. Keep Editing
When you’re done penning your manuscript – my suggestion to you – just let it sit. For a couple of days, weeks, even months. And then, come back to review your finished product from a reader’s perspective. You’re going to find a ton of mistakes on the first try. But don’t stop even then.
Your draft can never be too perfect. Keep editing until you can no longer find any room for improvement. As the jolly quote goes:
“Edit your manuscript until your fingers bleed and you have memorized every last word. Then, when you are certain you are on the verge of insanity… edit one more time!”
— CK Webb
7. Consider Independent Publishers
If this is your first time publishing a work, you should definitely go for a local publisher. One of the significant pros of considering small press publishers is the direct line of communication between you and your agent, and more personalized and focused work.
However efficient, traditional publishing won’t assure you complete creative control over your work. There will be lower royalty rates, the publication process will be exaggerated, and then come the never-ending contracts. And you don’t want to deal with those burdens when you’re just starting out.
Plus, with an independent publisher, there’s no gatekeeping on the content and you have the final say in the end!
8. Don’t Lose Heart
Like I said before – memoirs don’t have that big a following. It’s important that you don’t lose heart should you not get your desired response.
It is definitely a reason to celebrate if your book hits the bestseller shelves. But even if it doesn’t, it’s a huge achievement that you completed a book by yourself.
You should be proud and appreciate the fact that you sent your message out into the world!
To sum up, you should:
- Read more often.
- Include only those events that are true to your memoir.
- Differentiate your book from psychotherapy or a ramble.
- Target a specific audience.
- Be mindful of when your memoir/autobiography is ready; utilize that time to keep improving your manuscript.
- Approach small press publishers for your book.
- Keep an open mind once your book is published. And don’t lose hope.
I am glad I could bestow you with beneficial tips for writing, formatting, and then sending your life story out into the world.
Good luck! And for more queries, feel free to contact me.
The aspiring author of A Carpet of Violets and Clover, Jenny Zimmer is an artist, a writer and a book lover! She spends most of her time doing the things that fuel her creative spirit. Her sensitive and caring personality shines bright in her short stories. Her latest book, The Man in the Mirror and Other Strangers, is a memoir in which she paints a picture of her days as an impromptu caregiver for her dearest husband. This personal account of her life is an emotional read, peppered with her signature warmth and benignity. All of Jenny’s books are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.