What I’ve Learned as an Editor Writing My Memoir

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I’ve been working with authors for almost six years now, full-time, helping them write, edit, and revise their books. A lot of what I’ve worked on with them are autobiographies and memoir. The question I get from almost every author is: “Have you ever written a book?”

No. No one would want to read what I have to say, was usually my answer.

And that may be true. But, the more I thought about it, the more I thought: maybe I should do it because going through this experience myself will make me that much better for my future authors. While I’ve always been a writer—at least since I was old enough to write—the idea of writing a book never crossed my mind as something I’d do. Mainly, because most of what I wrote when I was younger was for myself, and therefore, no one could, or should read it. And writing something fictional—well, imagination is not my strong suit.

But what if I turned what I had written for myself into a book? One with a theme, with a premise, with a takeaway for readers who may be similar to me in one area of my life?

I decided to do it. About a year ago, I started on my memoir and I’ve been revising it and adding to it ever since. (And to be honest: It’s terrible being in my head as an editor, trying to write my own book.)

And what I’ve learned has been emotional, real, and hopefully helpful to my fellow memoir writers, and even more beneficial to my clients.

3 Things I’ve Learned While Writing My Memoir:

  1. Once you’ve found a theme, stick to it.

I knew my theme pretty quickly when writing my memoir, but sticking to that theme and only adding details that will drive that theme forward and keep its momentum was often difficult. It was easy to get caught in the moment, adding scenes and descriptions that, in the end, mean nothing to the story. The details should always drive the story, and if they don’t, they’re probably not relevant to the story and therefore do not belong.

2. Expect a lot of buried emotions and feelings to come to the surface while writing.

This was a big one for me. I’ve always used writing as a way to express myself and work through my issues. So, I thought, basically writing this memoir would be rewriting what I’ve already written. But this was not the case. It was difficult for me to recall painful memories, even though I had written them down before. And to recall them in such a way that conveys emotion and feeling to the reader is more than simply telling the story scraping off the top layer. I had to go deeper and find the meaning and purpose of some of the painful things I went through. It’s so easy—and almost human nature, I think—to want to give up and keep those feelings suppressed, but once you get to the real emotion, the emotion you allow yourself to feel and experience again, it makes the writing that much stronger in the end.

3. The revision process can feel never-ending, but so worth it.

I had my first “draft” done within a few weeks, after writing for a few hours a day, every day (even weekends). Now it’s been almost a year since completing that first draft and I’m still revising. And that’s okay.

Never, ever expect to publish your first draft. It cannot and will not happen unless you type something up and publish it immediately without even reading through it once (yes, this does happen). If I had published that initial first draft of my memoir, I would have, by now, been so embarrassed by what was initially on the page that I would have yanked it from the shelves.

I’ll talk more about my revision process in the next post, but know this: you will likely spend more time revising and editing than you did initially writing.