I’ve gone through three distinct stages in my memoir writing journey and I’ve yet to find my groove.
Stage One: Enrolling in a memoir writing course.
When I got serious about writing memoir–and when I say writing memoir, let me be clear, I mean writing a book–I decided I needed to prepare. I enrolled in a 12-week memoir writing course, and from week to week I absorbed video training and writing lessons from a bestselling memoirist.
I was so busy keeping up with the lessons and writing exercises, I expected I’d actually have more time to write after I completed the course. That was not the case. The discipline of learning and practicing new skills motivated me to write pretty much every day. Once I completed the course, my weeks were no longer structured by lessons and writing exercises.
Structure turned into wide open space.
I thought that wide open space would enable me to write more freely and frequently. However, without weekly deadlines, and no pressure to write, my daily practice began to slip. No biggie. If I didn’t get around to writing today, there was always tomorrow. I’m not a procrastinator, so it wasn’t that I was avoiding or putting it off. It’s more accurate to say I allowed daily life to take priority over daily writing. So, I very deliberately made two decisions I felt would motivate me to keep writing. Enter Stage Two.
Stage Two: Practicing my memoir writing and creative nonfiction skills.
I started this blog and joined Medium to motivate myself to write regularly–if I have an audience that expects me to produce, I can’t let them down, right? Logically I know no one is sitting around waiting for me to hit publish, but it’s a self-motivating strategy that works for me.
I also wanted to share my writing, and this decision gave me two venues. While some writers prefer to keep their writing private until they’re ready to publish, that’s not me. I wanted to share my memoir writing journey. I wanted a place to publish my stories and essays. Partly to chronicle, and memorialize the process for myself–hopefully years from now I’ll look back and see growth and improvement in my writing skills–and partly to build a following (more on that in Stage Three below).
The first few months I wrote generously.
I had trouble keeping pace with all the ideas bubbling up. I have a small notebook filled with story ideas I have yet to write. Along with a note on my phone and a document on my computer listing more potential topics. I have plenty to write about. Still, I tend to write best when I feel inspired. So opening a notebook and choosing a topic from a list isn’t always fruitful for me. I end up staring at a blank screen, or, I start writing but because I don’t feel inspired the words feels forced, the piece ends up being crap, and it never makes it onto my blog or Medium.
I still managed to continue writing fairly prolifically, but something else started happening that began to derail that practice pretty quickly. Enter Stage Three.
Stage Three: Writing to build an audience and focusing on marketing.
A few months ago I listened to a podcast interview with a branding expert for writers. Her recommendation was to start building an audience early — before, or while you’re writing your book. In her experience, writers typically don’t give any thought to marketing until after their book is done. In her opinion, that’s too late.
Well, my memoir writing instructor would disagree with that.
She said as much in several Q&A calls she hosted. However, with my marketing background, and experience writing and self-publishing four books, I realize the value in the branding expert’s advice. And, because I’ve been blogging since the mid-2000’s, I figured that was an easy way for me to start building a following.
I joined Medium because I knew I could reach a larger audience than I could reach on my blog. And for awhile, I was dedicated to publishing on both platforms. My stories were accepted and published in all of my target publications on Medium. I started writing stories in response to writing prompts in various Medium pubs. And my audience there grew.
Just as I was approaching 100 followers–the minimum required to join the Medium Partner Program, where I could earn money for my writing–I realized I’d lost my way.
The reason I started writing last fall, and the reason I enrolled in the memoir writing course–to write a book–was no longer driving my writing. I was writing for immediate results instead of working on my longer term project. I also began noticing the headlines of the stories in the Medium Daily Digest I receive each morning. They were eerily reminiscent of my internet marketing days. How sensational of a headline can I write to entice people to click and read my story?
I never wanted to persuade or manipulate people when I was marketing my business, and I certainly don’t want to use those tactics to get people to read my essays. While I understand headlines are important, I felt myself being pulled toward a line I do not want to cross. A red flag had definitely been raised.
All the focus on stats started sucking the writing life out of me.
I had zero focus on my original goal, which was to write a book about my life. Writing essays and stories is great practice, but I’ve come to the conclusion that at this point it has become a distraction. That, combined with too much focus on building a following, pretty much extinguished my memoir writing mojo.
I just returned from a two-week trip to see my grandson and celebrate his first birthday. I did not write while I was there. I did not write for an entire week after I returned home. This time away helped me clear my mind and refocus on my writing priorities.
Five months into my memoir writing journey, I am clear on two things.
- I want to write a book about my life–not just essays and stories–a book.
- While it would be a nice ego boost to have a large following on my blog or on Medium, I’m not interested in making that my primary goal.
So what now?
I’m going to start focusing on writing my book. While I have an idea of the theme, I’m not 100% clear what the book will be about. But I’m not going to let that stop me. I’m going to start writing anyway. I’ll begin with the stories from my past that are asking to be written. I’m going to follow my memoir writing instructor’s advice and write as if no one but me will ever read them. I’ll worry about publishing later.
I’ve decided to try Scrivener, a writing app that enables you to store all your writing in one place. Apparently it makes it easy to edit, organize, and rearrange content. So I can write stories as I’m inspired and figure out how, or if, they fit into my book later.
I’m hoping this does a few things for my writing practice.
- Gets me working on stories for my book vs. just practicing my skills writing random essays.
- Starts to clarify the theme and overall message of my book (I tend to figure things out and process life through my writing).
- Let’s me practice my skills while writing book content.
Will I still be publishing on my blog and Medium?
I expect the answer to this question is yes, but the more honest response at this point is, time will tell. I anticipate I will write stories or chapters that I’ll want to share, and some that I’ll want to keep private. So, my intention is to share the writing I feel inspired to share. As to how much of my writing that will be, again, time will tell.
My intention is to continue sharing my memoir writing journey with posts like this.
The last five months have been filled with surprises and aha’s, and I have no doubt that will continue. I plan to keep sharing my observations and experiences. I hope others find them interesting, but quite honestly my primary motivation is to chronicle the journey for myself.
All that said, my number one priority is to write.
Write what I feel inspired to write. Write to process my feelings. Write to make sense of events in my life. Write to understand the choices and decisions I’ve made over the years. And write with the goal that at some point it will all come together into a compelling story with a message I believe can benefit others. I’m going to work hard to resist my natural inclination to write for immediate results, be that followers, comments, applause, or a growing email list.
I’m going to focus on the writing and stop worrying about everything else.
I’ve been a marketer for nearly forty years. I left that career behind for a reason. Marketing is not my path right now. The time may come that it becomes necessary again. But that time is not now.