Thursday, October 20, 2016

Seven questions to answer as you write your memoir

Today we welcome Dwight Clough as our guest blogger. 
He’s a Christian editor, publishing consultant, ghostwriter, 
Dwight custom designs his services 
to meet his clients’ needs, budget, and schedule.

Seven questions you must answer as you write your memoir

(1) How do you define success for this project?
Do you simply want a beautiful book you can share with family and friends? Or do you want to inspire a new generation to embrace your faith? Or do you want to use your book to gain clients or ministry partners? Or do you need to sell a certain number of copies and make a certain amount of money? These are radically different goals and they require different strategies.

(2) Who is your reader?
If you’re writing your memoir for yourself, then you can write it almost any way you want. But if you’re writing it for someone else, then you need to get inside that person’s head and figure out how they think. What do they know? What don’t they know? What interests them? What bores them? How do you need to explain your message in way that will resonate with them?

(3) What is your message?
What exactly do you want to get across? The more focused you can be on this, the easier it will be to determine what fits, what doesn’t, and whether or not your book is complete.

(4) Why will your reader want to own and read your book?
What does your memoir do for your reader, and why does your reader care? Your story matters. Your message will make a difference in the lives of other people. But your message will have a greater impact if you prayerfully ponder this question. What are the benefits of your book? Be clear on that as you write, so you can add value to every chapter.

(5) How do you want your reader to respond?
Do you want your reader to embrace a certain set of practices? To support a ministry? To respond with awe and worship of God, the Maker of your story?

(6) How will you get your book into the hands of your reader?
How will you reach the readers you want to reach? How will you package and distribute your book so it gets into the hands of the people you want to reach?

(7) How will you achieve your goals?
How will you organize your time so this moves from fantasy to reality? What strengths and weaknesses do you bring into this project? What kind of help do you need, and where will you get that help?

I hope these questions will help you bring focus to your writing and add value to the memoir you are creating. I would love to look at what you’re writing.

Dwight co-authored and published a memoir 
by my friend and former coworker, Forrest Zander, 

For more information on the many services 
Dwight offers memoir authors, visit 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

“The great gift of memoir”

You know from experience: A story can point a person in a new direction, can lead to a much-needed turning point for a man or woman, boy or girl. Someone else’s story can bring healing and hope. Sometimes a story makes a life-and-death difference for the one hearing it.

Think back: Whose words, written or spoken, brought you to a major turning point? Gave you courage to do the right thing? Maybe revolutionized your life?

Now think of this: Your story could do the same for others. That’s kind of staggering, isn’t it? And humbling.

Always remember: Someone needs to know your story, told in the unique way only you can tell it.

Sharing our stories is an important part of our faith: “Always remember what you’ve seen God do for you, and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9).

Jesus, too, told people to tell their families stories of what God has done for them (Luke 8:39).

“Most of us can name one or two books we have read that changed our lives. These books often had their impact because they said something we had never heard said before, or because they treated a subject of great importance to us in a way that helped us think about it…. We all learn from one another’s stories, which is, perhaps, the great gift of memoir.” (Judith Barrington, Writing the Memoir)

Sharon Lippincott tells how her great-great grandmother’s story impacted her: In 1894, after twenty years of putting up with a drunken, abusive coal miner who failed to provide for his family, the woman filed for divorce. “Her determination to end the abuse by leaving was especially courageous in that era. She had backbone. I find this account…encouraging, and I’m proud to have such strong determination and persistence in my background. I’ll never encounter the specific conditions she faced, but her example of resourcefulness and finding a way to make the best of a situation is powerful…. If you write stories about overcoming adversity…perhaps they will encourage and inspire your own descendents.” (The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing)

You are the bridge God has placed between your family’s generations past and generations yet to come.

You might think you live an inconspicuous, unremarkable life but, through the generations, God has been writing stories through you and your family’s ordinary events. (Click on Your “Sacred stories of the Ordinary.”) 

Your stories are important. Write them for generations yet to come. You probably can’t imagine how God will use them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: We proofreaders need each other!

Lia London left this quote in a comment after Thursday’s post, “The most productive and transformative part of writing a book.” It was too good not to share more widely. Thanks, Lia!

Lia knows a bit about proofreading and editing—she has published a number of books. Currently I’m reading two of them, part of her Little Devotional series. The first book is Parables and Ponderings: When God speaks to us through everyday items and incidents, and the second is Miracles and Musings: Recognizing God’s love in blessings big and small.

Her third book in the series is Knocking and Knowing: When faith is hard to find.

The series includes brief personal anecdotes, reflections on what’s often overlooked yet delightful, all wrapped in ordinary daily events. They will make you smile. Be sure to click on the links above.

Lia is also the founder of Clean Indie Reads, an organization of over 2400 authors, illustrators, and marketing specialists who work in the independent publishing industry.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

“The most productive and transformative part of writing a book”

Have you ever re-read something you’ve published and found a grammatical error, misspelled word, or punctuation error? You feel embarrassed, right? If it makes you feel better, you’re not alone—we’ve all found mistakes in our published pieces.

Why don’t we catch those errors before we hit “publish” and send it out into the world?

“Gestalt psychologists were the first to discover that our minds tend to see things not as they are, but as our minds think they should be,” writes Debra Hart May in Proofreading Plain and Simple. “The implications of this phenomenon for proofreading are enormous. Artist and author Carolyn Bloomer, in her book, Principles of Visual Perception, tells us, …‘Your mental “correcting” tends to tune out the very errors you are looking for….’”

A writer can find lots of help in editing and proofreading—from books, blogs, classes, writing workshops, critique partners. (There’s a difference between editing and proofreading. Learn more at Leah McClellan’s post, What’s the difference between editing and proofreading?)

Melissa Donovan at Writing Forward offers 21 tips in Do-It-Yourself Proofreading and Editing Tips. Each one is important but let me call your attention to her point 16: “Start building a collection of grammar books and writing resources so when you do run into questions (and you will), you have access to reliable and credible answers.” I say Amen! to that.

Related to that is Melissa’s point 21: “Make it your business to develop good grammar skills. Read up on grammar or subscribe to a blog that publishes grammar posts (like this one) to stay up to date on proper grammar.” Amen! to that, too.

Ask other writers which books they recommend for editing, proofreading, and grammar. I have the following on my bookshelf: Proofreading Plain and Simple, Keys for Writers, Correcting Common Errors in Writing, Woe Is I, and others.

Melissa’s is one of the most comprehensive lists I’ve seen recently so click over there to take in this rich resource. I printed it so I’d have it as a handy reference, and perhaps you’ll want do so, too.

But I want to add to Melissa’s list. Here are my tips:

  • Take a break. Don’t think about your manuscript. If possible, wait a week or two before you set eyes on it again.
  • Print your manuscript. Eyes see mistakes on a printed page that they miss on a computer screen.
  • Move away from your writing area to read your document—a different room of your house or office, in the back yard, a coffee shop, the beach, the library, or a park.

Here are more tips from Debra Hart May’s Proofreading Plain and Simple:

  • Print a portrait (…vertically-oriented) document in landscape (or horizontal) mode.
  • Print in a larger or less familiar font. (But choose a serif font… [because] they are easier to read.)
  • Work in small time increments—15-20 minutes at a time.
  • Take regular breaks to stretch, rest your eyes, and mentally engage from the task.

Editing and proofreading can be tedious tasks, but they are an important part of writing and publishing. If you edit and proofread well (and hire experts if necessary), you can publish a quality book.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Do you want to write powerful stuff?

Mick Silva works with inspirational memoirists and novelists to structure, rewrite and refine their books, present to publishers, and establish themselves as writers. He’s a frequent conference speaker, blogger, and co-author with Emily Wieringa of How to Write Inspirational Memoir.

If you missed Mick’s recent guest blog post, click on Good words from Mick Silva, professional writing coach, editor, and encourager.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

On wordiness and “little timidities”

When you finish the first draft of your memoir, you might feel like celebrating—and you should! Go ahead and celebrate!

But don’t think you’ll be publishing that memoir soon. First you have a lot of editing and revising to do, and part of that process is having critique partners give you feedback. They can help you notice and correct many boo-boos. (Click on Critiques Make Your Writing Better.)

But before you involve critique partners, do everything you can to make your manuscript as perfect as possible.  Part of that includes fixing all types of wordiness:

Henry was overweight at that point in time.

I took a boat to get me to the open-air market.

I drove to the hardware to buy some nails.

She  managed to call called the salon and made an appointment.

She headed into the market to try and buy some chicken to eat for supper.

He packed up the car.

His beat included some of the nearby neighborhoods.

She worried about the dogs that came and barked at her toddler.

Grandma tried to calm her down so the rest of us could settle down for the night.

He wanted to spend some time learning learn about the Clallam Indian culture.

It involved negotiation on several different levels.

Professor Smith will make a decision decide Friday about Ken’s oral exam.

Often (but not always) you can cut “that” from a sentence. Here’s an example: “I know that you are busy but I think that this is information that you need to know.” Here’s another example: “He was afraid that I’d spoil his birthday surprise.”

William Zinsser offers this advice: “Prune out all the small words that qualify how you feel and how you think and what you saw: ‘a bit,’ ‘a little,’ ‘sort of,’ ‘kind of,’ ‘rather,’ ‘quite,’ ‘very,’ ‘too,’ ‘pretty much,’ ‘in a sense,’ and dozens more. They dilute both your style and your persuasiveness.

“Don’t say you were a bit confused,” Zinsser continues, “and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be confused. Be tired. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don’t hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident.” (On Writing Well)

This type of Editing can be tedious, 
but think of it as polishing and perfecting a gem. 
Invest time in making your memoir sparkle.