I want to write my memoir but I'm stuck in the middle
Getting stuck can kill your book...
Writing a book is a big project, and big projects are pretty complex beasts. There are lots of different elements you need to know how to negotiate as you work your way through.
Getting stuck while you're writing your memoir is a very common occurrence, so don't worry - you're in good company. But if you can't find your way out of your stuck place, you'll end up quitting, with no story to show for the efforts you've already put in.
So let's get you unstuck.
The first thing to do is to diagnose what is bogging you down. Only when you give your problem a name, can you figure out what steps to take to get past it.
Here are some common reasons that writers get stuck.
Your structure doesn't work
There's a romantic ideal about writing that says it's enough to just sit down, put pen to paper and see where the muse takes you.
As we Aussies say, yeah, nah. It's not enough for most people. Most of us need to lay out a basic structure for our memoir. We need to know where the story is going, and how it's going to end. We need to know which parts of the story to write about in depth, and which parts to skim over.
If you're frustrated because you don't know where you're going, focus on nutting out a structure for your memoir, and try writing to a plan.
Our Write Your Memoir course includes an entire section on structuring your memoir.
Every book on writing should come with a huge disclaimer at the front which says: Beware, writer. You will be scared. You will cower in terror. You will feel defeated by your fears.
Fear is part and parcel of the writing process. And it comes in so many forms! Just when you think you've got 'fear of wasting your time on an impossible project' under control, 'fear of not being able to express yourself properly' pops up. And then it's joined by 'fear of having nothing new to say'.
And around, and around, and around it goes, in a great big circle.
We could spend time diagnosing the individual fears, but honestly? There are more than we can possibly list.
The important thing is to be brave. Show up at your desk, even when you're scared. Write, even when you are terrified. Breathe through the feelings, and take action anyway.
Just do it. And as you do, it will become easier. We promise.
You don't have the skills
Okay, so maybe this true. You may not have the writing skills you need to do this memoir thing. But that doesn't mean you don't have a story to tell, or a desire to tell it.
The truly great thing about skills is that, given enough time and effort, they can be learned - by most people anyway. Just because you didn't learn it in school doesn't mean you can't learn it now. Adults learn new things all the time. It might take them a while, but if they want to do it, and put in the time, they succeed.
You can learn writing skills by reading books, going to courses, joining writers' critique groups, or reading a lot and taking notes.
And if you don't have the time, or the energy, or the ability to learn, you can still tell your story by working with someone else. (Check out our list of ghost writers and editors here.) Or, you can just do it to the best of your ability, and be proud of yourself.
Of course, you may well have the skills, in which case you have a fear issue. Be brave! You can do this! And even if you can't get it perfect right now, today, at this very moment, there's always a second, or third, or fourth draft that you can work on to get it up to scratch.
Lack of information or knowledge
Perhaps you're unsure of some facts you need to continue writing. Or you need to interview someone, or do some research on a topic that comes up in your memoir.
Not having the information can give you a 'stuck' feeling. Happily, though, this is often one of the easiest 'stucks' to get out of. It is, simply, a matter of taking the steps to get the information, and then using it.
(And yes, I know it isn't always that simple. Time, money, fear, skills and a host of other factors can play into this in big ways. But if you know that this is where you're getting stuck, you can make a plan to get yourself past it.)
If the information is impossible to get, perhaps you need to rethink the direction of your memoir so that you can write it without the information you want.
Perhaps you could keep writing, with a promise to yourself that you'll come back to that section. And then make a plan to do it.
Use our 'Diagnose Your Block' worksheet to figure out what's keeping you stuck, and then work out how to get through it.
thinking about it is worse than doing it
Everyone knows that the pain of procrastination is worse than doing the actual action you've been putting off. (My perfect example is cleaning my bathroom. Every time I do it, I think, 'oh, it wasn't that bad. Perhaps I should have done it before now, and not worried so much about it.')
It's important to know that feeling stuck is a more painful process than sitting down and making a plan to get yourself out of the stuck place.
Divide up your plan into steps, and make the first step the smallest and easiest to achieve. Then do it. You'll be on your way! You'll feel better. And you'll be more motivated to keep on track.
(Also, sometimes simply working with someone else is enough to help you through your stuck places. We designed our Write Your Memoir course to be supportive, personal and helpful so that even if you find yourself bogged down, you can get yourself out of the mud again pretty quickly.)