If your dream is to be browsing your favourite bookstore in 2021 and stumbling upon your own book perched in prime position up there on the new release shelf (perhaps with a Bestseller sticker on it!) – this post is for you.
I’m going to take you through three key things I’ve found in my twenty-something year writing career that have helped me to achieve my biggest writing dreams. The biggest of these was to write and publish a book, and then get that coveted gold ‘bestseller’ sticker.
I can show you how to do that, too.
In this post I covered the number one reason most manuscripts are rejected (or met with stone cold silence). Hopefully this clarified the importance of sharp beginnings in your memoir.
Your memoir needs to begin in the thick of the action, the inciting incident, with a key scene that sets up the central journey or challenge of the story. And – your memoir needs to be about one key thing, and this needs to be clear from the absolute beginning of your book.
Next, I covered a submission checklist of four things every memoir needs before you can confidently send it out on proposal.
The key here is finding your universal theme.
You always need to bring the personal back to the universal.
If you can – step back from your story and assess every scene and chapter under the flashlight of: who or what group of people can relate to this scene or action, and how does it advance the key driving desire of the story?
WRITING TIP: Readers get overwhelmed when there’s too many character names or dates to remember. Keep it simple and focus on crafting scenes via the five senses.
A memoir ready for submission in 6-12 months
This final epic blog post (!) is going to cover the three things you must have in place, to get a memoir manuscript ready for submission within 6 -12 months. This was my big dream, and this is how I did it.
I hear you scoffing that it’s not possible. I’m sorry to disappoint you (!) and that old chestnut, self-doubt (which has you captive in his ugly claws) but I know first-hand that it’s possible and I’ll show you how.
Memoir isn’t easy, but it can be simple
It’s not easy, but it can be simple. I mentioned in the last masterclass that when I sat down to write A Letter From Paris, I couldn’t find a book that presented the story in a similar way: history / biography / memoir blend. This really bugged me, because (I love psychology) I knew that the quickest way to do something you’ve never done before is to find a model.
By trial and error, I developed a process to find books in similar categories I could study for structure and narrative pointers, but I still had to sit down to do the actual writing. Every day I doubted that I could, indeed, pull off a complete submittable draft by November 1st.
While writing a book, fear and doubt is your biggest enemy. And this all comes from the untruth: just because you’ve never done something before, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
I started writing A Letter From Paris in May 2017 and I submitted my manuscript to Scribe by November. It was in this (intensely hard but hugely educational!) process that I learned three things every writer needs, to meet such a crazy deadline.
Don’t let doubt tell you finishing your book is impossible
If you’re thinking that my experience of writing A Letter From Paris in six months was just ‘lucky’ or because I’m incredibly disciplined and motivated, that’s just not true.
Every single day I battled massive self-doubt, which is where the 3 things came into play
1: The first thing you need is to Marie Kondo your life
What does this mean? I mean you have to set up your life in a way that finishing your book is the number one priority for the next 6 months – and your lifestyle and schedule is set up to support this goal. No grand trips abroad, no big new jobs that require interstate travel, no going off on wild tangents of distraction such as taking up trumpet lessons and twice daily Swahili practice / hooking up with a toxic ex who eats up all your time and energy / training for a marathon.
A book is a marathon enough. Focus on the end goal and set up your life in a way that supports all the feelings and routines you need, to get to that goal.
If you’ve watched the Marie Kondo series on Netflix, you’ll see that she focusses on the power of objects to bring forth emotions. By removing anything from your life that doesn’t support or assist you in meeting this big goal of writing your memoir, it’s like you’re getting rid of the traffic on the freeway so you can get to your destination quicker.
Remove unnecessary time-wasters (excess TV, daily shopping trips when you could order weekly online and get another hour of writing time) and clear out your schedule so that you have AT LEAST 3 hours a week to focus on this dearly-held dream.
Otherwise, you’ll be in exactly the same spot with your writing in 6 months that you’re at, today. You need to master your mindset BEFORE you do the writing, or otherwise you’ll never do the writing. You need to start by thinking as IF you already are at the end – and carve your life and daily habits around that end goal.
2: The second thing you need is accountability to an expert who knows more than you
If I hadn’t been accountable to an editor / publisher (who had already paid me an advance) there’s no way I would have pushed myself to keep going when the doubts got really wild (and FYI this happened daily, hourly).
Deadlines induce accountability. This is why journalists rarely get writer’s block – if they don’t submit the story on time they’ll lose their job or not be paid.
Pay yourself to write the book.
You can do this by investing in a writing program that created by an expert in the memoir genre (A-Hem!). This ‘skin in the game’ makes you accountable.
Accountability (to someone who understands your capabilities and knows the game) is truly the BIGGEST thing that will spur you into action to overcome your doubts.
You need weekly deadlines, bite-sized steps and regular check-in points with someone who KNOWS THE FEAR ISN’T TRUE and more than that, you need a roadmap with all the answers to the questions that come up along the way.
I think of my favourite Dr Seuss book, I Had Trouble In Getting To Solla Sollew, when he arms himself with a big bat and says “now my troubles are going to have trouble with me!” Having an accountability coach and a deadline forces you to face these fears and say: you aren’t true! because you have a MODEL for someone having done it before. And they show you how!
This is what my agent and my editor did for me – the idea that they believed in me formed my internal ‘bat’ when the doubts came in.
I’ve created a way to give this to you, too – whether you have a publishing deal (yet) or not.
3: The third thing you need is the support of other writers who ‘get it’
Something that came up again and again as I was working on A Letter From Paris, was the need to converse with other writers at key moments in the crazy 6-month journey of the draft.
Sure, I had close friends, but the ones who weren’t writers, too, really didn’t really understand what I was dealing with.
I remember one phone call particularly well with a memoirist who’s book had also been about her dad. We would have spoken for ten minutes, maximum. But that sense that she totally ‘got’ me, that it was perfectly understandable that I feel so tired and emotionally exhausted and unsure where the whole book was going (even though I’d been working on it for 3 months by then).
She energized me with the most basic tips: walk, practice better self-care than usual, watch a comedy on Netflix after working on really hard scenes. I listened to her advice because she’d been there, too! But just having that acknowledgement that I was doing fine, that it was all normal what i was going through, that it would all be worth it, was like a shot of adrenaline that saw me returning to the page with fresh confidence.
Another writer friend met me at the end of the first draft just to acknowledge the magnitude of my finishing the draft and submitting it. She valued and understood what an achievement it was (because she’d met similar crazy hard deadlines), in a way that my non-writing friends did not.
Memoir is unique
Memoir is unique, because it’s your true story and it’s so personal. You’re almost going down a mineshaft to sift through your memories, it takes guts and fortitude and you’re going to battle a lot of emotional fears that don’t come up (or certainly not to the same extent) with fiction.
You don’t just need writer friends to support you, you need people who have published or are working on their own true stories.
Unlike your accountability partner, your support network can be a bit softer with you. They’re there for just that – support when you’re feeling wobbly. And it doesn’t take much. A short call, an email… A chicken parmigiana on a Tuesday night and a ‘cheers!’ to your achievement of finishing the first (awful) draft. Other writers know how big this is. Non-writers just see you schlepping around in the same t-shirt for weeks on end, your eyes always off somewhere else, and wonder if you’re going round the twist!
Yes, you can probably do it alone, but why would you want to? Having a community and the support of other writers who get what you’re doing makes everything easier.
The enemy in this battle of the first draft is doubt – other writers are the only ones who can pick up the bat with you and share solutions, information and inspiration to knock that doubt out of the house (for one more night, at least!)
You don’t need to do it alone.
This brings me Memoir Academy. I’ve been working on this course for over a year, since submitting the final draft of A Letter From Paris and wanting to create something that provided everything I had to hunt and fish and collate together to fully support me as I wrote my book.
Make this the year you get your memoir ready for submission.
It doesn’t need to be complicated.
Is this your dream?
Picture yourself in 6-12 months popping the champagne because you’ve just had your first full request from a literary agent. Or perhaps it’s Christmas 2021, and you’ve just walked past a bookstore, only to see your book in the window, with a sticker from the owner saying it’s a staff pick?
Don’t put your hard work to the side any longer, simply because you have doubts and are unsure of next steps.
How do you write a manuscript that’s ready for submission within 6-12 months?
- I’ll show you how to get rid of boring back story.
- I’ll show you how to structure a rambling narrative
- I’ll give you the questions you need to ask yourself to solidly assess whether or not you’ve included every ingredient for a rollicking memoir that a publisher – and readers – will love
This course includes everything that i learned about memoir structure during the process of getting A Letter From Paris ready for submission – and of course, the external 3 things I outlined above.
Remember the four things every memoir needs that I covered in the second memoir masterclass?
By simply holding your manuscript up under the light of my questions, you’re going to bust through your blocks and get this beautiful book of yours written!
A clear path, accountability and support
Let it be simple… Save yourself time, confusion, doubt.
Let YOUR book be the one up there on the new release cabinet of your favourite bookshop with STAFF PICS next to it!
Let YOUR story educate, grip, enlighten and inspire people you’ve never met so that as they walk up to get you to sign it at an event, you see the recognition in their eyes and the gratitude that YOU wrote something that connected with them in just the right way they needed, at this moment in their lives.
Writing is indeed a magical art – being published just means you can connect with more people. It’s very, very special. And SO worth it.
Let YOUR story be your beautiful legacy that shows you just what you’re capable of when you give yourself the gift of focus and attention for six months.
You don’t need endless literary credentials and connections to get your memoir published. Memoir is unique — but it’s uniquely sellable, too.
Pain is temporary – film is forever
Leonardo de Caprio
I’d argue that books are forever, too.