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Five Memoir Writing Tips

I have been writing and coaching writers such as yourself for quite some time now.  In fact, it’s hard to believe but it’s been 10 years since I founded the National Association of Memoir Writers… 10 years?!  We’ll be celebrating that anniversary soon.

Over the years, I’ve learned that the best way to get started as a new writer is just to do.   And maybe we’ll borrow that famous sports brand’s phrase along the way – #JustDoIt.  Catchy, but that’s easier said than done, and it’s not the most actionable guidance for budding memoir writers.  The following is my quick and easy five steps to getting started and keeping it going, when you’ve decided to write your memoir.

Five Tips for Writing Your Memoir—and Persisting to Get it Done!

  • Keep a writing journal. This journal will help you to track the progress of your memoir. All kinds of famous writers, from Virginia Woolf to John Steinbeck kept journals that helped them have an ongoing relationship with their writing. You don’t have to write every day, and you probably won’t, but with your journal, you stay engaged with your story.  Be sure to list the date and your goals for your writing session—how long you will write—how much time you spend, and your word count if you wish. Later that day, reflect on your progress. Think about your goals for the next day.
  • Find a writing buddy. That person ideally would be writing memoir like you, but it can be a fiction writer with whom you have a good relationship and who understands the journey of memoir. You can meet in person—I do this with a group I’ve been with for 15 years—but you can also meet through Skype, video conferencing, or on the phone. You can meet in group emails. There are so many ways to connect now.  For more ideas, check out this list.
  • Write down why you DON’T want to write your memoir, all the excuses and reasons. It’s important to get those niggling voices out of your head.  They may sound like this:

You’re writing a memoir? Stop airing the family laundry!
Why are you doing this to us?
Don’t you dare write any of that while we’re alive!
I’m too self-involved.
What difference does it make if I write this story or not?
Maybe I’m making all this up.
I don’t have an MFA degree; I don’t know how to write.
No one cares about my story.
I’ll never get published.
Memoir is for the famous.
Everyone asks me why I can’t just get over the past already.

Once you get these on the page, and also share them with your writing buddy and writing group, the enormity of these great dark shadows starts to fade, at least for a while. There are ways to deal with these voices: dialogue with them, get the voices out of your head in your journal. Share them. Sharing allows the shame to disappear. Hearing how others receive your piece helps too.

  • Reward yourself for writing. We all like rewards—they come on all the credit cards lately, and with online purchases. So set up a reward system for yourself as you write.

Pay yourself for your writing time!

Treat yourself with a meaningful bracelet or earrings or fun shirt after you log in some hours.

Put money aside for a bigger reward!

After you write your first draft, reward yourself with a small vacation or special dinner. It’s something to celebrate!

List all the ways you want to be rewarded for your efforts. Talk it over with your writing buddy and writing group!

  • Create solitude and silence. Turn off your Internet, email, and phone while you are writing. Write in places where you will not be tempted to scrub the floor, do the laundry, or answer emails. Forget about the dog for a few minutes. And that to-do list on the frig. Go into the zone, get in your time machine and work on your turning point moments, your lists of dark and light stories, and create a scene that you have been meaning to write. Again, keep track in your writing journal.

Many writers find having a community for support and guidance – on top of these self-motivating tips – is very useful.  And, with all the free time we have during the long summer months, what better time to focus on our passions and writing endeavors?  That’s why I’m offering NAMW memberships at a discounted rate this summer.

If you have an interest in joining a community of fellow budding memoir writers and receiving support as you document your life’s story, consider joining us today!

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