Thursday, January 17, 2019

If you don’t get this right, you’ll lose readers.

Reading time: 2 minutes, 32 seconds

After dismantling your scaffolding, it’s time to design a catchy opening for your memoir.

(You did remove your scaffolding, didn’t you? If not, you should! “Don’t think the reader will be patient with you until you can get around to the actual story,” writes Matilda Butler. If you need to brush up on what scaffolding is, click on Whether you’re building a castle or a memoir, the scaffolding must come down.)

Today we’re talking about leads, a term I use because of my journalism background. Sometimes the lead is called a narrative hook, or simply a hook.

The lead is the first thing people read. It catches their attention. You hook readers by making them curious and drawing them in. A well-crafted beginning motivates people to (1) buy your book and (2) read it all the way to the end.

A captivating lead is a crucial component in newspaper and magazine articles.

It is a must for blog posts, sermons, talks, and devotionals.

A top-notch lead is vital for a memoir (and for each chapter as well).

Think for a minute about your memoir. When people consider buying it, they’ll check out your opening.

Does that make you a little nervous?

If so, get used to it: Readers will compare your beginning to those of other writers.

After all, when you browse the shelves looking for a good book, before you purchase it, you open it and read the beginning, right?

Before you order a book from Amazon, you click on the “Look Inside” feature to see how it begins, right?

And if the opening doesn’t grab you, you don’t buy it, right?

It makes sense, then, that when people consider spending money on your memoir, they’ll check out how it starts. That’s why you need to craft a humdinger of a beginning.

So, let’s look at openings. But first, a word of clarification: Writing a memoir is not the same as writing a paper in Composition 101 in college.

Do you remember Comp 101?

If not, here’s a reminder of what your professor drilled into you:

Paragraph One is your introduction—a few sentences familiarizing readers with your topic. Here’s an example of a topic: How you decided to work as a nanny in Scotland.

In English Comp format, you follow the intro with the main body: Paragraphs Two, Three, and Four, each explaining one step in your decision-making process.

Then in Paragraph Five, you write your ending, your conclusion—you more or less rephrase your introduction.

But in writing your memoir, do away with the English Comp 101 format. Instead, begin by intriguing readers with your lead, your hook.

Today we’ll look at two types of leads—and in coming days we’ll study even more kinds—so be sure to come back!

The Quote Lead: Use a quote, poem, or proverb to make people curious about your story.

For example, you might use this Martin Luther King, Jr., quote: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

Here’s another example of a quote lead, this one by Elisabeth Elliot: “When you’re in a dark place, you sometimes tend to think you’ve been buried. Perhaps you’ve been planted. Bloom.”

The Scene-setting Lead: Describe your story’s setting so your reader feels she’s standing beside you, hearing, seeing, tasting, feeling, and/or smelling the place or event.

For example: “Suited up in a knee-length tuxedo jacket, 15-year-old Nathan Heintz bowed slightly to the seated girl, held out a corsage and asked, ‘May I have the next dance?’ With a fur stole flung across her shoulders and legs daintily crossed at the ankles, Lindsey Ingalls, 16, smiled and nodded her acceptance. It was enough to make Miss Manners blush with pride.

“With a rustle of gowns, tugging of gloves and twitters of laughter, dozens of teens and pre-teens gathered Thursday night for a winter ball. . . .” (by Hope Brumbach in The Spokesman-Review, January 13, 2007)

Your job is to
write a strong first sentence.
And powerful first paragraphs.
And a brawny first chapter.

Otherwise, you’ll lose readers.

Come back Thursday!
I’ll share with you more types of leads
to use in your memoir!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Tuesday Tidbit: Your memoir’s opening—like a Baked Alaska?

Reading time: 16 seconds

Has it ever occurred to you that your memoir’s opening could resemble a Baked Alaska?

Come back Thursday for specific tips
on writing an attention-grabbing opening.

If you missed the last two blog posts, click on links below:

There you have it, your Tuesday Tidbit.
See you Thursday!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Does your opening make your memoir a must-read?

Reading time: 1 minute, 43 seconds

Your memoir’s opening is the most important part to write well.

You must craft every aspect well, but your beginning could make or break your entire book—so create curiosity, draw readers in, and keep them reading.

A written piece’s opening will probably be the hardest to create, whether you’re composing a book, vignette, newspaper or magazine article, blog post, inspirational talk, or sermon.

Brian Clark drives home that point:

“Master copywriter Gene Schwartz often spent an entire week on the first 50 words. . . . Those 50 words are the most important part of any persuasive writing, and writing them takes time. Even for the masters.”

Read that again: “ . . . writing them takes time. Even for the masters.”

How are you doing on crafting your memoir’s beginning?

Here are a few tips:

Remove your scaffolding. (Don’t miss that link!) Your first few paragraphs must be the correct ones.

Be sure your beginning doesn’t give away the ending. This might seem like a no-brainer, but too many people goof on that.

Prolific author and New York Times bestselling author Cecil Murphey says, “I once read more than one hundred of the entries for Christmas Miracles, a compilation book. The major flaw in at least a third of them was that they told us the ending before they told us the story.” Cecil gave this example: “The worst Christmas of my life became the best Christmas ever.”

Instead of giving away the ending, intrigue your readers. Entice them to keep reading so they’ll discover how your memoir ends.

When I teach memoir classes, I encourage people to do what I did when I was a journalism student (and still do today): Study openings written by pros.

Be an eager student: Go to the library, browse around a book store, look through your own stack of books, and look inside memoirs on Amazon—but only those written by pros. Study how they do it.

Scrutinize the start of everything you come across—newspaper articles, magazine articles, literary journals, fiction—anything written by pros, and study how they do it.

Once you’ve acquainted yourself with professionally composed openings, look at how non-pros write them, whether memoirs, fiction, articles, or blog posts. (Most blogs I follow have weak beginnings, sad to say.)

By studying beginnings penned by both pros and beginners, you’ll recognize what works and what doesn’t. And you’ll become more skilled at creating your own memoir’s opening.

Remember: Plan to take plenty of time 
to create just the right beginning.

The first part of your memoir can make or break the whole book.

An effective start can motivate a person to keep reading,
but a weak one could persuade him to close your memoir and walk away.

Put in the hard work needed to make your opening zing.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Tuesday Tidbit: Does your memoir’s beginning pass the test?

Reading time: 20 seconds

After you’ve drafted your memoir’s beginning, set it aside for a couple of weeks—or longer, if you can.

Then look at it again. Ask yourself: 
  • Will it grab my readers?
  • Will it surprise them? Stir up curiosity?
  • Make them laugh? Or make them cry?
  • Will it intrigue them? Charm them?
  • Most important: Will it motivate them to keep reading?

If not, rewrite your beginning.

And please don’t feel bad about that.

Everyone revises their beginnings.

Stay tuned. 
In a few days, we'll take an in-depth look
at crafting good beginnings.

There you have it, your Tuesday Tidbit.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

“The legacy you leave hinges on your decision to start.”

Reading time: 1 minute 30 seconds

Have you started writing your memoir yet?

No? Are you still waiting for just the right motivation?  

Since, traditionally, January is a time to start new projects, here are thoughts to spur you on:

“Planning to write is not writing,” said E.L. Doctorow. “Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing—none of that is writing. Writing is writing.

Writing is like driving at night in the fog,” he said. “You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I love that, don’t you? “You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

You can do this!

Don’t underestimate the value of your stories.

Think back: When did a sentence or chapter or book turn your life around?

I still cling to a single sentence I read almost half a century ago. It altered my perspective and the way I’ve lived all these years. How I thank God for inspiring that woman to write her book!

And I can never thank God enough for leading a man to write his book—because one chapter rescued me and healed me and revolutionized my relationship with God.

Your book could do that for readers, too.

Believe it!

You might never meet that special reader who needs your story—I’ve not met the authors of those two books—but God used and continues to use their words. The same can be true for your memoir.

Jeff Goins adds more incentive to those who haven’t begun writing:

“I hate to tell you this, but there are no ‘Best Intentions’ awards at the end of your life. It’s now or never. . . . Not in a month. Right now.

“If it’s worth the effort, you shouldn’t wait.

“If it’s not, then simply tell the truth: I don’t want that badly enough. . . .

Starting is hard,” Jeff says. “It requires courage and perseverance and all kinds of gumption. That’s why most people just talk about it, but never do it. But starting is necessary. It’s crucial to making your mark and leaving a legacy.

No matter how long it takes, write your memoir!

And while you write,
pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

If you missed the New Year’s Day post,

May you find God’s encouragement and enabling
as you write!

If you’re just beginning to compose your memoir, 
leave a comment below 
We want to cheer you on!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A writer’s prayer for YOU

Lord, thanks for this new year and the fresh opportunities you offer us to write our memoirs.

Remind us that you’ve given each of us life and therefore you’ve given each of us a story—a story to share with others.

Help us believe that writing our stories is not a hobby—it’s a ministry! You’ve told us to always remember what we’ve seen You do and to tell our children and grandchildren (Deuteronomy 4:9). And Jesus said, “Go back to your family and tell them all that God has done for you” (Luke 8:39).

Convince us that we should not look down on small beginnings—and that You, O God, delight to see our work begin (Zechariah 4:10). Lord, give us courage to begin.

Ignite a fire in our hearts to work as disciplined, intentional writers, committed to finishing our memoirs.

Take away our fears, Lord, and help us compose our stories with confidence, knowing you will use our efforts to point readers to You and Your love and Your goodness.

Motivate us to make time to reflect—to think back and ponder and examine—and to search for Your holy fingerprints, footprints, and heartprints. Enlighten us so we connect the dots and notice connections we overlooked in the past.

Enable us to see Your big picture, to recognize what you were doing to bring about Your best for us—often not the easiest, but the best.

You have entrusted our stories to us. You want us to tell others so they can see how You fought our battles alongside us, You brought healing and hopenot because of who we are, but because of who You are! Not because we are so great, but because You, God, are so great.

You have called us to a sacred task so inspire us, dear Lord. Place in us a desire to learn to write well, with clarity and grace, and to persevere through the rewriting and polishing and editing and publishing and marketing. Bring good people alongside us to accomplish all that.

Help us recognize that while we’ll be full of joy when we publish our memoirs, we can and must find joy in the process of writing, of retelling our “God-and-Me” stories. Give us the ability to embrace fulfillment and purpose and satisfaction in doing what You’ve called us to do.

Lord, You can do far more than anything we can request or imagine (Ephesians 3:20) so we humbly ask: Please equip us to write the stories You’ve given us. And once they’re in print, use them to accomplish Your good purposes.

Help us remember

All of this is not because we’re so great, 
but because, God, You are so great!

Not because of who we are, 
but because of who You are!

May our memoirs and lives 
bring honor to You, our glorious God.

I encourage you to follow Write to Worship with Xochitl E. Dixon on Facebook. She writes lovely, deep prayers for writers.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

In the noise and happy messiness of Christmas, “Remember Me”

Whew! I don’t know about you but, for me, the past few days have been busy, busy, busy! And fun. And full of laughter. And love.

When the dust began to settle, I saw award-winning singer Rory Feek sing “Remember Me”—both he and his song were new to me—which cut through the noise and happy messiness of the Christmas season.

The words go something like this:

When you’re tearing open Christmas gifts, “Remember Me.”

When you’re enjoying your favorite Christmas meals and snacks, “Remember Me.”

When you’re putting up your sparkly lights, “Remember Me.”

And He sang about the birth of Jesus and all he did—through his life, ministry, death, forgiveness, and the hope for the future.

It was a powerful experience for me to sit quietly and listen to the song, to take in the message, to readjust my focus on the real reason for our Christmas celebrations.

And the song made me think of you and your memoir. It’s fine and good to write about the fun of Christmas decorations and gatherings and gifts and caroling and food—but within those stories, include messages about what Christmas is really about. “Remember Me,” he said. 

Write charming stories, funny stories, sentimental stories, surprising stories, quirky stories, just "Remember Me," too.

For inspiration, take three minutes to listen to Rory Feek sing his song, "Remember Me."

You don’t know who will read your memoir—
maybe years from now,
maybe after you no longer walk the earth—
but your message about the real Christmas
could significantly impact your readers,
maybe for eternity.

Don’t miss this great opportunity!
Your story is important!