As a book coach and ghostwriter who focuses on memoirs, I have two firm beliefs. One is that a strong foundation means a strong finish. Two, when someone works on turning their life’s messiest moments into a meaningful memoir it not only offers a little bit of healing for the author but it has a way of doing the same for its readers.
A book has the power to heal
Memoirs have the power to heal the world because they focus on the elements, intricacies, and complexities of the human experience. This allows us to connect on the things that many of us experience in some way—trauma, grief, love, belonging, safety…Memoir focuses on one human’s (the author’s) transformational journey but in that, we see the universal piece of their experience. In other words, we see ourselves in their story. As such, memoir celebrates our sameness, brings us together, and shows us how much we have in common. This equates to us feeling less alone and more seen. A world of people who are more seen and less alone is a healthier, happier, and more healed world.
Strong foundation, strong finish
However, to get those powerful and emotionally compelling memoirs that are going to light up our world, we need to approach the writing and development of those memoirs intentionally. It’s not enough to sit down, open up a blank document, and start writing down every mundane memory beginning as far back as our memory will go. We’ll end up with a much too-long manuscript that is full of details and tedium and sounds more like a long biographical diatribe that doesn’t relate to or resonate with the reader. This is where having a strong foundation comes into play.
A strong foundation comes down to knowing the five steps to writing and finishing a memoir. I like to think of this as a trail through the woods. You see the opening of the trail, but you don’t see the other side through the trees. You have to walk the path first. Still, you want to have an understanding of where the trail leads and what color markers to pay attention to, so you know you’re on the right track and haven’t veered off course.
Here are the five steps.
Step 1 – Catch the right spark
Your book isn’t about every life experience you’ve had. It’s about something deeper. Determine the story you’re trying to tell. That’s the universal piece of the human experience that the reader will care about and relate to. It’s about what you now know as a result of your journey. Once you know the story, then curate the life experiences that will best illustrate the point you’re trying to make. Only those that elevate or support the story get included.
Step 2 – Stack the wood
Once you know the spark, create the base. Plot your main points along the story arc and map your book’s chapters. Memoir reads much like fiction and can be structured in a variety of ways but the main plot points of a story arc are still present. Be sure to know what those main plot points are and how your story includes them.
Step 3 – Ignite the fire
Begin writing. This step is about tilling the soil and cultivating a rich story. Dig in and get dirty. Drafting is messy as you work to make meaning. This is not the time for perfection or refinement. It’s also not the time to concern yourself with lawsuits or people being angry. Drafting is to get words onto the page and to cleanse your own mind, soul, and spirit. The first draft is for your eyes only. This first draft is for you. So say all the things. Get it down on the page.
Step 4 – Stoke the flames
With the first draft done, you keep shaping and sharpening the manuscript. Review and revise. When the major stuff is in place, work polishing the small stuff, like precise lines and perfect word choice. This is the time you are making cuts and decisions about what is too much, what is too irrelevant, what’s too emotional, and less objective (and vice versa). This is the time to think about how to adjust the material so that you’re not unduly upsetting anyone or risking legal action.
Step 5 – Light up the world
At this point on the path, you’ve reached the summit so to speak. You’re hitting the publishing and promotional side of things. The manuscript is finished and now the next leg of the journey begins. This is when you’re sharing your story and upcoming book. You should also be celebrating how far you’ve come. Recognize your empowerment and liberation in honoring your story and helping someone else see theirs differently.
Memoirs give one author the ability to say the things that someone else doesn’t have the power, time, or privilege to say themselves. But in order for readers to see their own words, stories, and truth in ours, we must write our memoirs with intention. We must begin with a strong foundation so that we can write and eventually publish the powerful and impactful book that will light up the world.
A.Y. Berthiaume (often known as Ally) is the award-winning author of Dear Universe, I Get it Now: Letters on the Art and Journey of Being Brave and Being Me and co-author of the forthcoming book, Do Not Write a Book…Until You Read This One (coming out in January 2024). She’s also the founder/CEO and sole writing guide at The Write Place, Right Time where she serves entrepreneurs, leaders, and visionaries internationally to bring their books to the world via her book coaching and ghostwriting services. Visit thewriteplacerighttime.com, https://www.linkedin.com/in/ayberthiaume/, and https://www.youtube.com/@thewriteplacerighttime/about for more information.