The Memoir Writing Process

I have been writing a memoir. I’m asked often when my book is coming out, so I thought I would run through the process for you in case you are thinking of asking me or anyone else about their memoir writing exploits.

  1. Live the memoir. I spent a year living the adventures included in the book, but a lifetime before that of getting messed up enough to have the adventures.
  2. Journal about the memoir. While I was living it, I wrote about my days. It served as a reminder of what I learned and was thinking.
  3. Ignore everything in step one and two. This is the ‘overthinking’ stage of writing a memoir. The whole thing is right in front of you but you put the ideas on index cards, group and regroup them, and reorder them until you decide that your idea was crap to begin with.
  4. Wallow.
  5. Repeat phase 3.
  6. Wallow.
  7. Repeat phase 3.
  8. Decide you need some time on your own. Take a few days to write in the sunshine while someone else cooks for you at a writing/yoga studio (optional, but so nice).
  9. Write a lot of words and stare a lot at the grass.
  10. Start reading every book about writing a memoir. 
  11. Read a lot of memoirs and see what other people learned from their life. Make notes and see if you could learn anything from your year.
  12. Have an epiphany that, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
  13. Go back to your original journal entries and see if you can make sense of it all. 
  14. It makes no sense.
  15. Repeat phases 4-7.
  16. Repeat phases 9-11.
  17. Shout Eureka! when you feel you figured out what you learned.
  18. Write words.
  19. Map the story as it stands. Use post-its, then excel, then a blank page in your journal, then Scrivener. Decide the back of a receipt works best.
  20. Look at the story map and see if your journal entries fit into the map. Some do, but there are gaping holes in the story. Fill the holes with your Eureka notes.
  21. Write until you finally get to a word count that resembles a manuscript (mine was 85K). 
  22. Ignore the file for at least six weeks. This step is crucial.
  23. After six weeks, print your manuscript and hold it like a baby and take a photo for Instagram (optional, but recommended).
  24. Edit. This is way easier if you haven’t just written it. I deleted 27K words on my first edit. Most of the time saying, “What the fuck was I thinking?” as I took my red pen to the paper. Season with some of step 4 to taste.
  25. Make all your edits in the digital file, fill in the holes created by deleting.
  26. Print.
  27. Wait for a few days and write other stuff like lists on your memoir writing process.
  28. Begin edit #2. 
  29. Repeat process 24-25.

And that is where I am. It has taken me 1334 days since I voiced the idea of my manuscript. I have answered the question, “How’s your book coming?” Exactly 1333 times since then. I’m glad my friends are excited, but I likely have another 350 days before I’ll have anything new to report. Keep asking, but don’t expect a different answer… at least for a while. Trust me, when I have news, you will hear about it. <3

One Comment

  • Arionis

    This is hilarious and true at the same time. I just published a memoir on just a few years out of my life when I was in my 20’s. Know how long it took me to get it done? Right around 20 years! Here’s hoping your 350 days don’t multiply. And I know you’ve heard it before, but I can’t wait to read it!

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