Post #92 – Memoir Writing Tips – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler
5 Tips for Finishing Your Memoir (or Novel) in 2013
By Pamela Jane Bell
Regular guest blogger, children’s book author and coach. Pamela is currently writing her memoir. Pamela’s first book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties will be out in 2013. Please visit her website at http://www.austencats.com
Betsy Ray, the main character in the well-loved Betsy-Tacy children’s series, loves making lists. Betsy is a budding author, and what author doesn’t like to make lists, especially a list of New Year resolutions? A brand-new year offers a deliciously blank page to make sweeping plans, project massive character transformations, and map out writing goals. And what more worthy goal than resolving to finish your memoir?
But of course, it’s one thing to make an ambitious and well-organized list, and another to follow through on it. Sometimes I can’t even get through New Year’s day without slipping. (No kidding. I just ate a half a jar of blueberry jam and I’ve sworn off sugar.)
My friend, Debbie, teases me about all the self-help books I read. I do read quite a few, and although the majority are probably not all that helpful, every so often I find a jewel of a book, or an exceptional technique to add to my treasure chest of self-help strategies. (Someone should write a self-help digest so I wouldn’t have to wade through so many books.) Genuine self-help, however, comes from closely observing yourself and paying attention to your failures and successes so that you can distill and integrate the best techniques, and make them your own.
Below are 5 tips to help your finish your memoir (or novel) this year. These strategies have helped me work through the final draft of my own memoir, and I hope they will help to you as well.
#1 Hold Hands with Your Story
This is a way of saying keep in touch with your story throughout the days and weeks of the year, even when you’re distracted or otherwise employed. Perhaps because I’m a children’s book author, I visualize this concept as two little girls holding hands. The idea is not to lose contact with your story. During hectic times, you can stay in touch by organizing your research papers, or exploring some aspect of your memoir in your journal. Whatever you do, don’t let go of your best friend’s hand!
#2 Float past Unwelcome suggestions
I wish I could take credit for this brilliant tip, but I owe it the late Dr. Claire Weekes (http://www.claireweekes.com.au/). I have discussed “floating not fighting” in previous posts, but this is a specific suggestion to float past unwelcome suggestions (made by self!) Float right past “This memoir is a piece of $%^&!” or “The market is so crowded – what if I can’t get my book published?” When you float, Dr. Weekes explains, you can either imagine yourself floating past the unwelcome suggestion, or visualize it floating past you. Such suggestions may sound authoritative and powerful, but they fade quickly when you learn to float past them.
#3 Take up the Slack
I think of this as having someone holding one end of a rope by encouraging you to keep going or helping you stick to a deadline, while you hang on to the other. By doing this, the other person keeps the rope pleasantly taut, tugging a bit when it goes limp from your end. It can be difficult to finish a book when you’re accountable only to yourself. You may write consistently, but without a deadline the work has a devious tendency to expand to fill all the available time you have, indefinitely. If you are lucky enough to have an editor or agent for your memoir, she will hold the other end of the rope. If you don’t have such a person, you can enlist a writing group, or a friend. It’s comforting as well as efficacious to have someone else on the other end of the rope – or the telephone line.
#4 Make use of small pockets of time
A pocket is cozy and portable at the same time, which makes it an appealing concept. When writing a rhyming children’s book, for instance, it’s easy for me to use small pockets of time to work out a difficult rhyme or rhythm pattern. But it’s harder to make use of fifteen minutes or even half an hour when you are trying to develop a theme in your memoir or recreate a scene from the past, especially one that is highly charged emotionally. But it’s not impossible! You can use small nuggets of time to plan your next chapter, or talk to someone about a problem you’re having with your story. It’s another way of holding hands with your memoir.
#5 Tell the story aloud.
I’ve written about how important storytelling is for developing your natural writer’s voice. Often, in my writing group, someone will explain in vivid detail an episode or idea that was left out or undeveloped in her manuscript. We relax when talking informally, allowing for a fuller, deeper narrative.
Recently I was talking to my friend, Paula, about how confused I was as a young adult in the 1960s trying to figure out how to become a published writer. I had no idea how or where to begin, not only within a story, but within a tradition. That much I had written in my memoir. But when talking to Paula, I went on to explain, “I imagined writing a book that would combine lots of different elements – the novels of George Eliot, feminist Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics, the Oz books, and Aretha Franklin’s soul music. You know what I mean,” I went on, “something brilliantly perceptive, uncompromisingly feminist, yet with a naïve childlike-quality and a touch of the blues, all woven together with the beauty and warmth of a country quilt.” (No wonder I was confused!) What I told Paula in a casual telephone conversation was richer and more illustrative than what I had written.
I hope these 5 tips help you complete your memoir in 2013. But wait – one last tip! Don’t forget to play with your story. The concept of playing is crucial in creating, no matter what the tone or content of your work.
Happy working and playing in 2013! Please drop by and tell us how you’re doing.
Pamela Jane has published twenty-seven children’s books with Houghton Mifflin, Simon & Schuster, Penguin-Putnam, Harper, and others.
Pamela’s upcoming book, Little Elfie One, illustrated by NY Times best-selling illustrator, Jane Manning, will be out in 2014 (Harper). For more information visit http://www.pamelajane.com.
Pamela’s first book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic with co-author Deborah Guyol, will be out this April. Finally, chick lit meets kit lit! Filled with funny cat photos in authentic Regency settings, this hilarious mash-up spins a fresh, quirky take on two of the things we just can’t get enough of: the enduring novelist and the endearing feline. Pride and Prejudice and Kitties is a book for cat-lovers, Austen-lovers, and people who love to laugh—in other words, just about everyone! Visit http://www.austencats.com – new website coming soon!