What to Write in a Memoir (Part 2)

what not to write in a memoir
image of open photo album with graphic: what to write in a memoir part 2

 

In my last blog post, What to Write in a Memoir (Part 1), I touched on some of the mistakes memoir writers make, as well as what to include in your life story to make it compelling and valuable.

In this post, I am going to share what to EXCLUDE in a book about your life. After all, there is a lot at risk – your reputation, your relationships, and even your livelihood should you be sued.

What NOT to Write in Your Memoir

The most common mistakes I see in memoir include:

Assumptions

Telling stories about others that the writer may not have permission to share. There is a saying that there are three sides to every story: Person 1’s perspective, Person 2’s perspective, and the truth.

You can only speak for yourself. Don’t assume or read into other people’s thoughts, beliefs, emotions or motivations. Tell the story from your perspective and own it. Share your own feelings, and don’t assume you know what other’s feelings are.

Slander

Talking about people, places, or things in slanderous or inaccurate ways can get you into hot water. State facts and show examples rather than name calling or assuming information. Don’t be sloppy – do your research. Not telling the truth destroys your credibility.

The positive side of doing research and getting facts is that it builds rapport and credibility with your reader, and also helps them understand the setting or scene in a more compelling way. And, you won’t get hit with a slander lawsuit.

Overshare

Sometimes we feel compelled to share more information than we need to. Often this comes in the form of an “information dump” at the beginning of the story. This isn’t needed, nor appropriate. Good story tellers weave this information in and let it be discovered. Sometimes oversharing is a problem when information comes into the story when appropriate context hasn’t been built. Again, don’t be sloppy – build your story rather than dump information.

Oversharing can also include giving the reader too much detail or sharing information that is confusing or unnecessary for moving the story forward.

Undershare

On the flip side of oversharing is the opposite – not giving the reader enough background information or context. Sometimes this involves skipping over huge gaps of time without explanation, or being in a setting or scene that doesn’t make sense. Usually just a few sentences can fix this.

Another way this can show up in your writing is when you leave out how you feel or perceive a situation. Doing this assumes the reader thinks or feels the same way as you do, and that is not always the case. Connect the dots for the reader. Here are two examples to illustrate my point:

She walked into the room wearing red stilettos! I shook my head.

Did you shake your head in dismay or approval? Did you smirk or sigh at her boldness? Explain why you shook your head – there are too many things we can interpret here. Quick fix: …stilettos! I shook my head in disbelief that she’d show up so brass knowing the wrong she had done.

 

“Umm, boiled meat.”

Umm as in yum? Or umm as in disapproval? Share more about the beliefs behind this statement and what it means to you – don’t make assumptions that your reader know or believes the same as you. Quick fix: …meat. She snarled, curling up her vegetarian lips to me as though it was a bunny in the pot and not roast beef.

 

There are some unique techniques and “rules” specific to writing memoir. Knowing them and following the suggested actions makes the difference between a memoir that is compelling and well received, and a memoir that is bashed and trashed.

If you are considering writing a memoir, or a book with memoir components and feel you could use some help, schedule a free session with me to learn more about how I can help.

What to Write in a Memoir (Part 1)

what to write in a memoir

One of the most frequent questions I am asked in regarding to writing a memoir is what to include and what to exclude. I love getting this question, because often when I review a memoir manuscript where this wasn’t asked, I find some serious problems.

These problems include:

  • Telling stories about others that the writer may not have permission to share
  • Talking about people, places, or things in slanderous or inaccurate ways
  • Oversharing information that could cause more harm than good
  • Trying to tell too much that doesn’t move the story forward
  • Giving too much detail when it isn’t needed
  • Not giving enough information or background/context
  • Recounting information factually, rather than telling a compelling story
  • Leaving out feelings, or assuming the reader thinks and feels the same way the writer does

Why do any of these matter? Well, include the wrong thing and you open yourself up to a lot of potential pain: emotionally, if your friends or family are hurt by what you said; legally if you break confidentiality agreements or commit slander; and professionally, if you share something overly vulnerable. Bottom line, I have your backside and won’t let you expose your ass.

What To Write in Your Memoir

Remember than no one can write their entire life story. You likely don’t remember your birth and very early years, and while you can get that information from interviews, it isn’t always needed.

For example, I had one client who became blind during his birth due to an accident. This was critical for the story, so we shared it.

Another client was sharing about her adventures in her adult life, so writing about her birth had really no value. We briefly recapped some highlights of her childhood home life, but otherwise went right into her story.

Overall, consider what you want the reader to learn and walk away with.

 Include:

  • Stories that drive interest and help us understand the journey you are taking us on
  • Stories that show us certain traits or attributes about you as a person that come into play later in the book
  • Stories that introduce us to valuable characters and relevant settings
  • Stories that share your thoughts, feelings, beliefs

Your memoir isn’t just a chronological listing of events in your life. In fact, I often coach my clients to look to their outline for inspiration, but not follow a chronological path.

For most people, following themes makes more sense – but not always. It comes back to your end goal and what you want your audience to leave feeling and knowing after reading your book.

 

In the next blog, What to Write in a Memoir (Part 2), I will share about what to exclude or not talk about in your memoir, including examples of what I’ve seen in the past and why it is ineffective.

If you are considering writing a memoir, or a book with memoir components, and feel you could use some help, schedule a free session with me to learn more about how I can help.

The Pros and Cons of Critique Groups

critique groups

Critique groups have somewhat dissolved over the years as online formats for sharing writing have become more accessible. However, they still play an important role in the process of writing for publication. Sadly, some can cause more harm than good – here are the pro’s and con’s to consider before joining one. 

What are Critique Groups? 

A critique group is a group of writers who are looking for peer support through the constructive criticism of their written pieces. There are often guidelines and/or procedures for participating in a critique group that may include having already been published, limited work to a specific genre(s), page count limits (including the font type, size, margins, etc.), and frequency of sharing and/or critiques. It is important to remember that any valid critique group will follow guidelines allowing for true constructive criticisms. Critiques are not about shaming or degrading authors.  

The Pros and Cons of Critique Groups 

Pro: Critique groups often are made up of people from many different backgrounds, creating a mini cross-section of society. This diversity brings more insight into what you have written. Without the critique group, you may have not had access to such diversity. You never know who may be helping you become a better writer with their insight. Someone who understands a particular character’s struggle first hand, ethnic sensitivities, you may even have a previously published writer reviewing your manuscript. 

Con: This may also mean that you have inexperienced writers reviewing your work who won’t catch errors. The diverse group may also include someone really doesn’t like or understand your style or genre. Lack of understanding and/or the dislike of a specific writing style tends to make one too harsh to offer value, or they may even be completely ineffective as a reader. 

Pro: Critique groups are generally inexpensive to join. Often times a free group can be found quite easily. 

Con: Attendance can be irregular at best. What this means for you the writer is someone who took your submission at the last meeting may not be at the next meeting to give feedback. Allowing the manuscript to be read at the meeting is a way some groups have squelched this problem. I, however, don’t feel this gives the reader enough time with the work to really dive in. I found hearing someone read their work made it harder for me to critique. This is probably the case for anyone who is a visual, as opposed to an auditory, learner. This lack of attendance can also mean a reader may only be seeing your chapters out of order, only creating more chaos. 

Con: In regards to online critique groups, I find many readers don’t fulfill their requirements. This leads to an imbalance as you, the reader, end up doing more critiques than you yourself are receiving. Then, of the feedback you do receive, you often find readers who are unhelpful in their feedback and/or the process takes so long at times you question if it’s worth it. 

So, What’s the Solution? 

There is no cut and dry answer to this. The solution depends on your desired outcome. If you are wanting a critique group, as yourself why. Make a list of what you want to get out of it and then look specifically for those things – you’d be surprised what you find online when you are really clear. It may mean working with a professional, attending a workshop or signing up for a class. There are also online forums, but again, make sure they match your desired outcome and don’t have you spending all your time critiquing other’s work rather than working on your own project. 

Because I have found some writing groups to be more harm than good, I decided to put together a writing group that takes all the best components of a critique group and leaves out the harsh and ineffective feedback process. Contact me HERE to learn more. 

Do I Need Ghostwriting or a Writing Coach?

ghostwriting

Often when I receive a referral, the potential client is looking for a ghostwriter, but upon speaking further, they decide on coaching instead. Because of this, I wanted to explain the difference between coaching and ghostwriting, and when either is best applied.

What is a ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter writes content FOR you. This means they take content you have already created, such as videos, presentations, blogs, webinars, podcasts, course materials, and/or interviews, and compile it. In the case of my clients, this often means a book. Once I compile the content, the client and I review my work. The client offers feedback, such as filling in holes I’ve missed, giving me a better understanding of their product/service/belief etc.

The clients who are best served with ghostwriting often have one or more of these traits:

  • they have a body of work, but it’s scattered
  • they want to compile their visual or audio stories or presentations into a written format
  • they want to create a workbook to accompany their visual collateral
  • they don’t feel they are strong writers – they likely articulate themselves well, but when it comes to putting it on paper, feel less than confident or capable
  • they recognize writing is not their strong suit, but value having their work in that format
  • English is not their first or primary language
  • they have a brain injury, learning disability, or other situation that makes writing difficult or impossible
  • they just don’t have the time or interest in writing

Why a writing coach?

A writing coach works WITH you, and supports your writing efforts. This means they take content you have created, or will create, and provide a framework, accountability, industry knowledge, and coaching tools to bring your written project to life. Typical sessions include me reviewing my clients work, and then meeting with them over the phone or computer to answer questions, suggest changes, and work through concerns.

The clients best served by this have one or more of these traits:

  • They have an idea but are stuck- they don’t know where to start, or don’t know what to do next
  • They have a body of work and need guidance on compiling it and creating something new
  • They know they can get their project done if they have some support and accountability
  • They have a very distinct voice that is important to capture in their story telling
  • They are fairly comfortable writing, or consider themselves writers already
  • Writing isn’t a struggle naturally, but organizing, finishing, or starting writing is
  • They are motivated and ready

 

The Biggest Differences

After reading those descriptions, you may very easily see the differences, and identify what you need most. Overall, the primary differences are 1) done for you vs. done with you, and 2) price.

Ghostwriting is more labor intensive than coaching, and therefore comes at a higher premium. You will expect your ghostwriter to spend at least as much time writing your book as you would, because while they may be faster and more skilled, they don’t know your subject matter the way you do. Coaching, on the other hand, puts the ball in your court. Because you are doing the bulk of the work, the engagements with your coach will be focused to keep you moving forward with success.

 

If I can help you with your writing project, or you have questions about which options are best for you, contact me. Let’s make your dream of authorship a reality this year!

Are You Giving Your Clients Onions or Parfaits?

(c) fanpop.com

As a writing coach, I have the distinct opportunity to wax poetic about all things writing and editing, but I also delve into related topics of personal development, marketing, business, philosophy… basically anything that tickles my creativity bone. Today, I talk marketing, reputation, credibility, and things with layers.

Things with Layers

Do you know that Shrek was released in April of 2001? It seems so long ago! If you are reading this, it is likely you saw it. I had the joy of seeing my daughter’s high school drama department put it on as a play last year, reminding me of its humor. One scene I remember is when Donkey and Shrek have a conversation about how complicated Shrek is as he describes himself like an onion, with layers. Donkey reminds Shrek that parfaits also have layers, and are much more enjoyable.

It got me thinking, as my creative mind does, how life is complicated, and how we see it, our perspective, is everything. In business, our perspective isn’t the only one to consider, however. Our clients really should be our primary focus, which means we need to consider them even before ourselves.

Excuse me while I offend some folks

I’m going to be really honest here and it might hurt some feelings, and that isn’t my intention. Rather, I intend to speak freely, as a writing coach. I have found some business owners were more excited about adding the title of “author” to their resume, than to focus on providing an excellent product to their clients.

Do crappy books sell? Yes, but do they endure? No.

Do poorly written pieces still add value? Yes, we can all learn from different people and perspectives, but when we treat our readers poorly because we don’t give them our best, we are playing small and tell our readers that mediocre is ok for us.

Now, I don’t know the intentions or inner workings of anyone, and certainly not these authors, but when I see people discredit themselves by providing onions, rather than parfaits, it hurts my heart.

What’s the point of having a book with your name on it, if it doesn’t bring you long-lasting results? What is the reason behind spending resources (we are talking time, more time, and money), to create a great marketing piece to not get customers?

Here are some examples I’ve seen as a writing coach:

Onion: A speaker with a great presence when speaking can’t get gigs because she uses poor grammar in her written communications. She wanted to speak to educated women, but didn’t give the impression that she was one.

Parfait: A business coach with a college degree knows she’s not a good writer, so uses other professionals to write a book and coaching program that excels her business.

Onion: An author gets a news interview, but not subsequent ones because his book is poorly written even though his presentation skills are high.

Parfait: An insurance salesman hires a ghostwriter to create a book targeting his ideal client base, focusing on growing his business while his manuscript is done for him, creating a marketing tool to give away, an additional income stream, and increased credibility as an industry leader.

If you have considered writing a book to grow your business and/or speaking career, be sure you are building a parfait, not an onion. Leverage professionals, such as a writing coach, editor, layout, professional cover designer (and more) to help you create a product that adds value and builds your credibility.

Dreaming of leaving your legacy? It’s my honor to help you write your book, but first read about my values before you decide if I’m your writing coach.