Is it really possible to draft your memoir in months, rather than years…? I do think it’s possible, but here’s a few things that you need. The first is motivation, because writing a memoir is not an easy or lighthearted task! So how do you find motivation to write something that requires such deep diving?
There’s three things you need to have to write your memoir draft in months rather than years, and I’m going to explore them here and tell you my memoir drafting experience.
1: CLARITY ON YOUR MOTIVATION
2: CONSISTENCY WITH YOUR WRITING ROUTINE
3: AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE CHRONOLOGY OF STORY
- CLARITY ON YOUR MOTIVATIONWhere do you find motivation to draft a memoir? It’s such a big task, such a psychological deep dive, you don’t just get it done in a week or a month without a strong motivation.
Toni Morrison once wrote:
“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”
This was how I got motivated to write my first memoir.
I’d spent over a year travelling outback Australia with my comedian boyfriend. The trip made no sense to anyone but me – and it completely changed my life.
You see, I’d learned so much and changed so much and had so many eye-opening experiences, it felt like if i only left one book on this earth, it would need to be that one. It was the story that I actually yearned to read, because I couldn’t find any memoirs by a woman who’d explored Australia as a sort of career ‘coming-of-age’ journey… and all that I’d learnt (and unlearnt) in the process…
Most of them went to Italy or Paris or New York for that!
When I got the idea for this bizarre travel memoir, I had no real clue how I could write it.
But soon, I started to get ‘triggered’ every time I read something that reminded me of the story I wanted to read. I loved to read travel memoirs, but I was slightly annoyed that everyone in Australia had to go out of our beautiful country to find themselves. Why were there no dusty outback female road tripping protagonists?
GETTING MYSTICAL WITH YOUR MOTIVATION
I had to write this book that I couldn’t find. But how? Some poets and mystics say that stories want to be told…brought to life somewhere 3 dimensional… that currently they exist somewhere incorporeal, and if we’re lucky, they approach us, looking for a channel…. YOUR job (if you want to be a writer – or artist of any kind) is to empty yourself of all the blocks to being that channel.
I don’t know if this is true… but I DO know that for my first memoir, it pulled and tugged at me until I just had to write it. Floating around the ether, tugging and nudging me with random thoughts and more and more frequent yearnings. It was almost like I had no choice.
Because what stopped me from sitting down and letting the words flow was the fact that I’d never written a book before. I wasn’t even sure where memoir fit in terms of nonfiction.
How do you even begin to turn your personal experience into a story – let alone a book-length work with a compelling beginning, middle and an end?
BEING BAD AT WRITING TO GET THE FIRST DRAFT DOWN
When the Muse harassment got too much I sat down and gave it a go. This is the hardest part of the creative process, I think – being awful at something, so you can get better.
2: CONSISTENCY WITH YOUR WRITING ROUTINE
I started with a massive sprint. I thought I could just write non-stop, Jack Kerouac-style, fuelled by coffee and ambition in my teeny-tiny apartment. I’d wait until everyone else had gone to sleep before I started to write, it felt less showy that way (or something).
I pencilled out a fortnight patch I knew I had free before I started a full-time contract editing a bridal magazine, and I think I got somewhere between 25 000 and 30 000 words down.
But those words were a mess. Not even a story. They were a stream-of-consciousness mess which was mostly irrelevant back story, as every time i tried to attack this book project (that the Muses had so ferociously bestowed upon me!) I had no idea what went into the start, middle or end of the story.
I just wanted someone to give me the steps, and I would do it – I was motivated, I loved to write, but i didn’t know what to put where. I didn’t want to workshop anything, or pay someone to read my ramble, I literally wanted a step-by-step process to turn my experience into a structured and compelling story that could be published.
Because where do you even begin to write a book about a love affair – and a journey – that has changed your life?
I started the full-time job and got lost in a sea of more important (paid) deadlines and bus timetables. On the weekends, I opened up my (godawful) 30 000 word draft from time-to-time but the more I left it, and the longer I’d spent ‘out’ of the story, the harder it was to go back.
You see, it’s unglamorous but true: to write your first draft, and to get it down in a few months (rather than a few years or never!) you need to work consistently.
CONSISTENCY MATTERS MORE THAN WILD SPRINTS
Studies show that recording our efforts somewhere we can see them every day (habits tracker ‘sprints’ I think James Clear calls them!) helps us stay motivated enough to continue. Other studies show it takes AT LEAST three weeks of doing something every day before it can become a habit. So my 25 000 word sprint would have had a much better chance of becoming a full 80 000 – 100 000 word draft if i’d worked less, not more, but shown up more consistently!
With your first draft, you’re much better off setting a smaller goal, doing it every single day, and packing up your work for the day with some fuel ‘left in the tank’ so-to-speak, so that you’re excited to get writing the next day!
And don’t get me started on having clarity on the focus of your story…
I really created 90 Day Memoir to turn all that I’d searched for and couldn’t find as I made every mistake with my first memoir, into what I wanted: A step-by-step program that focuses on MASTERY of the genre, and a complete, polished manuscript.
As Toni Morrison had directed me to write the book I couldn’t find, I created the program I couldn’t find.
I’ve teamed productivity tools with literary craft and story structure, as well as editing and revision trainings and archetypes and character masterclasses.
The reason I put a whole module about habits and process into Prep School inside 90 Day Memoir [it’s the masterclass called When & Where You’ll Write, and has lots of templates to find more time and cement a routine] is because it’s SUPER important to get you clear and organised before you go all Jack Kerouac (like I did) and do your body and mind a disservice by trying to write the whole book in two weeks (!).
In 90 Day Memoir you also get a super simple method to find your story focus so that you don’t make the mistake of wasting months drafting 30 000 words of irrelevant back story, too….
3: AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE CHRONOLOGY OF STORY
To write a memoir draft in months, you can’t be stuck just filling pages with no idea whether or not those words are actually a compelling story. What I didn’t know at all while I was writing my first book was about the 3 Act Story Structure or the Hero’s Journey Framework. I studied other memoirs that I liked, and how they began, but i didn’t actually understand my own story from that objective viewpoint. Gosh, if i’d had a memoir map that had steps and sequences so that all I needed to do was write about an experience with a prompt or question for that piece of the story, I would have moved so much quicker!
Aside from the 3 Act Story Structure and the 12 Stage Hero’s Journey, I needed to understand motivation, midpoint reversals, the memoir genre, turning points, chapter sequencing, and so much more. I dove headfirst into that book draft and found my understanding through lots of confusion. Getting published was another Hero’s Journey with a brutal rejection which made me realise I had put one vital piece in the wrong spot. Moving one part of the story changed the book entirely. So structure is a really important piece of drafting a memoir in months, rather than years!
I used my method to redraft Love & Other U-Turns in six weeks after that awful rejection, and it was contracted within a week of a cold pitch when I sent it later that year. I used the same plan to draft A Letter From Paris. Both drafts were over 100 000 words, and I can honestly tell you that even though the process was challenging, I was also hit by that sense of ‘flow’ and ‘ease’ on a daily basis that you get when you KNOW you’re doing something the right way, and that you’re SUPPOSED to be doing! It was like every time I opened up my laptop and tap-danced across the keyboard, the Muses cheered me on!
Download my 90 Day Memoir guidebook if you, too, have a muse tapping you (or harassing you!) to be a conduit for a story that needs to be told….
Let me show you the way. It starts with CLARITY, and CONSISTENCY, and knowing the sequence in which to tell the story – CHRONOLOGY. I teach you this entire process using bestselling examples in my memoir program.
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