Writing Your Memoir? Five courses for first time writers

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First time writer? Writing your memoir is possible.

Yes, it is possible — even if you don’t have a ‘proper’ education. Even if you’ve never written anything before. Even if you’re not sure about where all the punctuation goes in a sentence.

There are so many things we think could stop us writing our story. The truth is, we can do almost anything when we find the right tools, the right teacher, and the right encouragement and support.

Sometimes I get requests from people who want to tell their stories, but they don’t feel able to do it themselves. They think they should get someone else to do the writing part for them, so they ask me to do it.

“Can you ghostwrite my story for me?” they ask.

The question makes me sad. Because I firmly believe that you are the very best person to tell your own story.

When you do the writing, it’s your life. It’s your voice. It’s you, on the page.

Plus, you get the emotional and personal rewards that come from doing it. And don’t doubt — those rewards are considerable.

You need the right tools

You need to know how to start thinking about your story: what it is, and what it isn’t. You need to know the things that every memoir needs, and the things you can leave out.

You need some basics on planning your story out, what to put where, and what goes in each chapter.

You need to know what to put into your sentences so that people will want to read them. You’ll need to know how to write dialogue, and what kind of dialogue to write.

You need the right teacher

We humans are a funny old bunch. We do better when there’s someone on our team, cheering us on. We need to know that we can ask them questions and not feel stupid. We want to know that someone has our back, for when we feel discouraged.

To write your memoir, you’ll need someone who’s done it before you and who knows the process.

You’ll need someone who can put it into simple language and make it obvious to even the least ‘writerish’ kind of person.

A Write Your Memoir course makes it possible

You could go to the library and check out a book on how to write Your memoir, but if you’re really going to commit to doing the work and telling your story, my best suggestion is to do a course.

Having course materials to work through gives you all of the tools you need - step by step planning tools, writing skills, and time management tips.

Having a teacher there in front of you in a classroom, or, if it’s an online course, at the end of an email or on Facebook lets you ask all the questions you need. You’ll know you’re on the right track, and you can get your worries sorted out very quickly.

What course is best?

The great wide world of the internet will take you to a variety of Write Your Memoir courses. To make your decision, you’ll need to look at:

Price — what’s affordable for you, given your situation and how much you want to invest in your writing? Is it good value for what you get?

Location is the course near you, if it’s an on-location course. Do the dates suit? Otherwise you may need to consider an online course, where you can work at your own pace, contacting your teacher via email and social media.

Personality — Do you like the instructor? They might have a voice that grates, or they might not smile enough… or too much. It’s important to feel an affinity with the teacher, and to ‘get’ them, and feel that they ‘get’ you. Do you ‘vibe’ with the teacher?

Complexity — Are you looking for a course that covers a great deal of material in depth, or are you more interested in learning exactly what you need to know without extra fluff?

Results — Are there happy customers who are willing to talk about their experiences in the course? Does it rate well? Have people finished their memoirs after going through the course?

Support — What extra support does the course offer? Could you meet up with course participants, or meet on a facebook page for example?

Which course?

When you’re making your decision, here are some courses to consider:

Writers Digest University: Memoir 101 — A good basics course from a reputable site.

Write Your Memoir in Six Months — Promises to deliver within a time frame, which may be useful if you’re keen to get the project over and done with.

Write Your Memoir in Paris — super fun if you can afford it.

Memoir with Marion Roach Smith — Great teaching here, but it becomes more costly as you move through.

Write Your Memoir: Pay What You Can — designed for people who’ve never written before: it gives you everything you need to know and nothing you dont… and it’s immensely affordable at ‘Pay What You Can Afford’.

 
 

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The emotional benefits of writing your memoir

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Memoir writers have a few different motivations.

“I want to share my story with other people in the same situation.”

“I want to give hope to women.”

“I want to make people laugh. (Or cry… or both.)”

Something that we memoir writers sometimes think, but don’t often say, is that we may want to write our stories to make ourselves feel better.

Telling your story is a cathartic experience. It changes things in your heart. It focuses your mind. It resolves stuff.

Sometimes, it helps you clarify your present, understand your relationships, get a hold of your motivations.

Overall, it acts as a stage curtain, sweeping across one ‘act’ of your life. “This is finished now,” it says, in a dramatic way. “You can move on.”

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The physical act of writing your memoir has an effect on you that you can’t understand, and you can’t quantify until you’ve done it. Somehow, in the thinking, and the writing, and the reliving of the old experiences, you’re able to make peace with yourself.

And then, the changes happen. I’ve seen people write their stories and grow in confidence and purpose. They’re able to move forward and break new ground.

I experienced this myself several years ago. After the diagnosis of my son with a chronic condition that brought trauma to our family life for over five years, I felt like I was swirling. Things had improved, but I was still stuck in what I’d lived through.

I decided that writing my story was something I needed to do – for myself, and my own peace of mind. It did help, in remarkable ways. Even as a writer, I was surprised by the effect it had on me. Where there was mostly grief and crisis, now there was mostly peace and acceptance.

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Not everyone has a story of trauma and grief to tell. But if you’re read this, it’s likely you’ve got some kind of story itching in your heart, waiting to get out.

Maybe you’re scared of revisiting old feelings. Maybe you feel guilty for putting so much time into something that doesn’t seem that important to anyone but yourself.

But be encouraged: the simple act of writing your story is going to be powerful and transformative in your life. The more you allow yourself to go along with the process, the more you can gain from the huge emotional benefits of memoir writing.

 

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How long does it take to write a memoir?

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How long does it take to write a memoir? Both longer, and shorter than you’d think.

Many famous memoir writers had their stories swirling in their heads for years, before they even began writing.

A career full of stories

James Herriot, author of the classic veterinary stories from Northern England bored his wife for years over lunch with stories about incidents from his work as a vet. ‘I’ll put that in my book one day,’ he said, constantly.

‘You’ve been saying that for 25 years,’ she said one day. ‘If you were going to write a book, you’d have done it by now.’

Herriot took the challenge, bought some paper, and began almost immediately to write.

A life of memories

Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes, a Pulitzer prize-winning memoir had thought about writing down his childhood memories for years, but his biggest fear, was that no one would think his life was interesting. When his high school writing students showed interest in his stories, however, his past ‘began to assemble itself’ in his head.

Finding his writing voice was a challenge; it wasn’t something that emerged for years, until once Frank had retired. But he always had the material, ‘circling around my head and lying there in my notebooks waiting to be tapped.’

Trial and error

The Glass Castle author, Jeanette Walls wrote version after version of her memoir over 25 years, always throwing away the pages afterwards. Finally, when she felt she was truly ready, she created a new version in about six weeks. Similarly, Mary Karr says that she threw twelve hundred pages of her memoir Lit in the garbage, and broke her delete key doing constant rewriting.

The writing process

After Jim Herriot purchased his paper, he would click clack the keys of his Olivetti typewriter in half hour bursts in front of the TV in the evenings after work.

Jeanette Walls put her hard work in on the weekends, about 11 hours a day, when she was creating her draft of The Glass Castle. She then spent five years polishing the draft before submitting it for publication. Walls writing advice is simple: “Just sit down and write. Tell the story from beginning to end. Read it out loud. It takes a lot of work to seem spontaneous.”

Acclaimed author of Eat, Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert makes a ‘two hour’ rule when she’s starting a book. For two hours every day she must not stand up: the idea is to sit in the chair and write. Whether or not she gets words on the page, she can’t move from the chair until the two hours is done.

Commitment

Every writer has a different way of getting their words on the page. The thing all successful writers have in common, however, is persistence, doggedness, and making their writing a priority.

Your memoir isn’t going to write itself. You’re going to have to put every single word of it in there on your own. What time are you committing to the writing process?

 
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Writing a memoir, but you're not sure how to begin, or what to include? Grab our Red Lounge for Writers FREE Memoir mini-course for some answers.