Five lessons I learned while writing my memoir

If writing and publishing your life story is on your bucket list, here are five things to keep in mind as you begin your journey.

1.Consistency. Just like exercise, all it takes is thirty minutes to experience the benefits. Work. At. It. Every. Day.

2.Time. It’s gonna take much longer than you imagine, so you might as well enjoy the ride. You’ll be surprised at all the interesting scenery you missed the first time around.

3.Nix therapy. Revisiting history and capturing it on the page will exorcise the past.

4.Kill the critic. Writing the truth, without harming others, automatically resets one’s moral compass. Leave interpretation or judgement to your readers.

5.Celebrate the good, the bad, and the ugly. Everyone has a story worth telling.

Are you ready to share yours?

On the road again…

July 14, 2020. My last post before today’s update. So much has happened in the world since then. The pandemic is worse. Death tolls are climbing. Hospitals are at full capacity. Then there’s the election. Results were contested. Rioters stormed the capitol. Now, an impeachment. Friends telling friends to take a flying leap because their world views are no longer navigable.

For my family, this tumultuous time made our state’s dismal educational offerings even more glaringly obvious. As the new school year approached and the realization that nothing was going to improve, we sold our home and moved. As many of you have probably experienced, moving can be highly stressful. It ranks right up there with divorce, death, and public speaking. Thankfully, although we nearly came to blows during the move, my husband and I are still married, and so far, friends and family are still alive and kicking. As far as public speaking, well, no one’s doing much of that these days.

Although the above events are topics for a blog other than mine, it’s my explanation (and excuse) for going AWOL. There just was too much shit going on. I used to be a great multitasker but now I’m lucky if I can start, much less finish, the one thing in front of me. Something had to give.

Fortunately, the one thing I did plug away at was my book.

When my editor and I first met over Zoom in late July, she suggested I send her my manuscript. “Before we attempt to work on the proposal,” she told me, “I really need to understand what your book is about.” I emailed it to her and during August and the beginning of September, she read and edited. The day the movers arrived, I received the edited version. Page after page was marked and highlighted, showing her cuts, edits and suggestions. Now, it was my turn. I had to take the first nine scrapped chapters and insert all of the pertinent back story throughout the rest of the book. IN OTHER WORDS, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

As the movers worked around me, I wrote. Driving to our new state, I wrote. In-between cooking, cleaning, and laundry, I wrote. Trying to find a new house, I wrote. Moving into our new house, I wrote. In-between buying, wrapping, and sending Christmas gifts, I wrote. Every moment I could scrounge and claim as my own, I wrote. Finally, on December 31st, I hit the “send” button on my computer.

Who knows what’s in store for this coming year, but I hope you’ll stick it out with me. My goal, especially with this blog, has been to offer you a ride in the passenger’s seat as I drive blind-folded, careening around curves and flying over hills, in pursuit of a dream. While I can’t sway anyone to think differently about politics or religion or whatever else is on their mind, I sure hope to hell (or heaven) you enjoy the ride.

I have representation, now what?

Yeah, that’s me smiling. Happy that I wrote my book. Happy that I signed with a great agent. But completely oblivious to the work ahead. “I’m gonna sell your book on your proposal.” MY WHAT? I thought that was what you wrote BEFORE you wrote your book! Well, that’s true. I happened to do it backwards. So, in case you are thinking of sitting down and finally writing the story of your life, save yourself a lot of grief by writing a proposal first. All memoirs fall into the non-fiction category and all non-fiction is sold using a proposal. (This, btw, pertains to first-time authors and not seasoned ones who’ve proven the salability of their craft). By doing this, you will find out whether there is any interest in what you plan to write about before giving up a few years of your life staring at a computer screen, pecking at the keyboard with your permanently curled carpal-tunnel fingers.

I liken a proposal to a long, extended pitch, where you try as hard as you can to persuade publishers your book is so fabulous, unique, and on trend that they willingly hand over as much moolah as possible–in some cases engaging in frenzied bidding wars–in exchange for exclusive rights to your book. Sounds doable? Here’s the rub. They keep a death grip on their cash until they’re absolutely convinced that what you’ve written will not only give them their initial investment back but plenty more. They are in the money-making business. It’s your job to convey and convince them that your book is publish-worthy and that’s by writing the perfect proposal–distilling the gist of your story in a few paragraphs, who will buy it, how you’ll market it, comparing and contrasting similar books that have been critically and financially successful, the size and reach of your social media, why you want to write this particular story (or in my case, why I wrote this story) and your qualifications. And finally, a detailed outline of each proposed chapter. In other words, as involved as a grad paper but way more compelling. In show biz terms, your opening line better have pizzazz.

“Here’s a list of books I’m suggesting you read for your comps,” my agent said. “Got a pen and paper, ’cause I need you to write down exactly how I want you to write the proposal.” Comps, if you’re not familiar with the vernacular, are books published within the past three to five years that have sold well (made money for the publishers), fall within your genre, and offer a similar theme or story line. Not too similar, mind you, because then who’d want to buy or read the same book? But it has to be similar enough for the money-people in publishing to say, “Yeah, that will sell, cause it’s just like such and such that sold a million copies, except that now the story takes place on a submarine, or a ranch, or an iceberg.” You get the point. The same but not the same.

As soon as I hung up with my agent, I ordered my list of books from Amazon Prime and even found a few more that I thought I might be able to use. He also recommended I purchase Michael Larsen’s classic, How to Write a Book Proposal. I ordered both 4th and 5th editions. The next afternoon my books arrived. The day after, Covid-19 dominated the news. The day after that, I caught what I hoped was just a nasty bug from my teenaged daughter. Whatever it was, I was down for the count.