Ten Steps to Writing Your Memoir in 2011

You all dream of writing a story about your life and getting it published. Make that dream come true than now. You've examined your life. You've vowed to change it. Writing your story will do that.
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You all dream of writing a story about your life and getting it published. I know you do. So what better time to make that dream come true than now, the start of the new year. You've examined your life. You've vowed to change it. Writing your story will do that.


Because writing memoir is all about change; it is an act of transformation. When you look at your past and write a story about those events, you change your future. There's no way around it. Every writer I've worked with comes to understand at some point that the process of narrative, the actual making of a story line from little pieces of memory, assigns meaning to memory. That meaning becomes your truth about the past, and it affects everything you do in the future. It changes the future.

As for publishing, it's true the book industry is rumbling through an earthquake of change these days. The dream of securing a contract with a big house in New York is just that. But take heart! The opportunities for publishing your memoir have never been more multitudinous. For one, Amazon's CreateSpace has opened the door to anyone for publication and distribution of creative work.

So get started this month.

Here are ten steps for writing your memoir in 2011:

1) Understand the difference between memoir and autobiography: Memoir deals with a slim slice of your life, something intense that changed your life. Autobiography is a chronological record of your life to date.

2) Choose three, five, or seven vivid memory moments from a short, intense period in your life -- the months your mother battled cancer, or the last summer you visited your Dad. These memories will come into your mind quickly when you read this sentence.

3) One after the other, stare at the memories in your mind and using first person -- "I" -- write what you see and feel. Use paper or a computer file to record each memory. Include smells and sounds like the reedy quality of your mother's voice calling from the bedroom; the rhythmic beep of a monitor echoing down a hospital hallway; the scent of the earth through the first opened window of spring; the discordant thrum of traffic below the balcony of your Dad's apartment; crushed oregano from your mother's kitchen garden.

4) Be kind with yourself and others in your writing. Good memoir embraces the complexities of life.

5) But don't pull punches. Good memoir also pulses with authentic truth.

6) When you have three, five, or seven memory moments written (or as many as you choose), line them up one after the other, in the order in which they happened -- or whatever order feels right to you -- on paper or in a computer file, dividing each with a few lines of extra space.

7) Write transitions between stories if you think you need them.

8) Edit for typos.

9) Share your story with one trusted friend who will speak truth if you are playing the victim or blaming others. Listen to that trusted friend and revise, if necessary.

10) Print copies from your computer, or make copies if you write by hand, distribute to friends and family. Or, if you've written enough to constitute a book, investigate companies that will help you enlarge the playing field. Here are three of the dozens now available: About Books, Dog Ear Publishing, Lulu.

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