Thursday, May 23, 2019

My new memoir: available for pre-order

Wow! A couple of hours ago I found out, by accident, that my new memoir is now available for pre-order! I had no idea. And I don’t know how long it’s been “out there” for others to order.

What a relief! And I am sooooo tired. I have spent years trying to get to this point. I still can’t quite believe it.

But there’s a “But. . . .”

Here’s what I’ve been telling myself for the past couple of hours: I’m not ready for it to be “out there” yet! I need to finalize several related projects before I’m ready to talk about the book to people like you.

So, I won’t tell you the name of the book yet. But I will soon.

In the meantime, 
if you’re struggling to get your memoir published, 
don’t give up! 

Keep working hard and one day it will happen!

Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Should You Hire a Ghostwriter for Your Memoir?

Does this describe you? You have a story—an important story—but it's still in your mind and heart.

Or maybe you’ve started writing your memoir, but you just can’t finish it. You’ve tucked it away in a drawer, but it’s nagging at you to finish.

Perhaps you lack time or motivation or skills, or maybe all three, yet you long to get those stories into print for your kids, grandkids, friends, and colleagues.

If any of that sounds familiar, you’ll want to read today’s guest post by Wayne Groner, a personal historian, ghostwriter, blogger, and author of A Guide to Writing Your Memoir or Life Story: Tools, Tips, Methods and Examples. You’ll find Wayne’s contact information, below.

Here's Wayne's message for you today:

Students in my memoir-writing class give various responses when I ask why they haven’t written their stories, such as:

“I don’t have time.”

“Who would be interested in reading it?”

“What if my family disagrees with what I remember?”

“I’m not a writer.”

“I don’t know about spelling, grammar, and punctuation.”

“How do I start?”

These are legitimate concerns and precisely why they come to my class. You may have those same concerns. If so, you might want to consider hiring a ghostwriter.

A ghostwriter will finish the job, and most of the work can be done by telephone and email. Your ghostwriter will set a specific time—often once a week—to interview you in person or by telephone, record the interview, transcribe and edit it for your approval, and present you with a completed manuscript you can take to any printer or publisher. I give my clients a manuscript on compact disk so a printer or publisher can easily format it.

Each interview could become one chapter in your book. Even though the interview may have several stories, your ghostwriter will weave the stories into a theme for that chapter. After I finish editing an interview, I email the written version to the client to check for accuracy, flow, and a voice that sounds like the client. Then I make the required changes and email it again for the client to take another look.

We may do this several times by email or talk about the changes by phone or in person. This is the client’s memoir, not mine. My job is to help the client be real, so when people the read book they can say, “That sounds just like her,” or “Yeah, that’s something he would do.”

Your interviews are likely the smallest part of your project. Your ghostwriter will edit, rewrite, research, fact-check some of your remembrances for accuracy and credibility and may clean up photos and indicate on which pages they should appear. Be sure you own rights to the photos or have written permission from the owners to publish them in your memoir.

Your ghostwriter may engage the services of other professionals to proofread your manuscript and design the interior and cover of your book. A finished manuscript of approximately 200-300 pages could take eight months to a year.

What can you expect to pay a ghostwriter? There is no industry standard fee. It could be as low as $5,000 and as high as $100,000. The more experienced and successful ghostwriters charge more. Ghostwriters who do it for a living often are in the $20,000 to $50,000 range and are working on several projects at the same time. Some charge by the hour and some by the project.

Usually—unless you negotiate otherwise—the ghostwriter’s name does not appear on the cover of your book. You are the author and your ghostwriter is the invisible writer.

Ways to find a ghostwriter:
  1. Ask members of local writers’ groups. If you are unaware of such groups, check with your librarian.
  2. Contact the English Department of nearby colleges and universities for teachers who also are professional writers. Teachers may refer you to writers not associated with their schools.
  3. Search your computer’s browser for ghostwriters, memoir writers, and personal historians. It’s okay to shop around. Besides individuals, there are companies that hire freelancers or staff to work with you. Because companies keep part of the fee, they tend to be more expensive than individuals, and companies have rules that may be difficult for you to go along with.
What to look for in choosing a ghostwriter:
  1. Be sure you can talk with your ghostwriter by phone or in person. Either of you could set limits as to days and times. This oral contact can clear up a lot of confusion and help you have a happier writing experience.
  2. Select someone with experience you can trust, rather than a first-timer. It will cost you more, but you will get a better result.
  3. Since you are paying for a service, you need to be satisfied; your ghostwriter should be willing to make revisions until you are.
  4. Get a written agreement you both sign that includes a firm fee, how you will pay it, approximately how long your project will take, and what happens when one of you wants to quit. Your ghostwriter should be willing for your attorney to review the agreement before signing.
  5. Your ghostwriter should provide references from satisfied and dissatisfied clients.
Because you are the author, you have full control over the contents of your memoir. Your ghostwriter works for you. Even though your ghostwriter gives you her or his professional opinion on how your stories should look and feel, you have every right to insist the stories appear as you want them.

On the other hand, the two of you should be compatible and understand before your project begins just how your personalities may clash. If you expect clashes, both should be willing to work them out for the best result of your memoir.

Wayne E. Groner is a personal historian and author of A Guide to Writing Your Memoir or Life Story: Tools, Tips, Methods and Examples, available in paperback and Kindle at He blogs at

You may contact him at

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Learn from a Holocaust survivor: Describe your memoir’s characters by going beyond physical details

Reading time: 2 minutes, 12 seconds

Last Thursday we looked at developing your memoir’s key characters by writing about their physical attributes. One way is to include sensory details: Describe what a character sounded like, smelled like, looked, felt, and maybe even tasted like. (If you missed last Thursday’s post, click on Are your memoir’s main characters real enough?)

But there’s more! You need to let readers know enough to get acquainted with a character, enough to grasp what’s most important about him or her, enough to know what’s inside.

So, today we’ll look at developing a multi-dimensional person by going beyond a physical, sensory description:
  • What was endearing about her?
  • What was annoying about him?
  • What was comical, scary, heroic?
  • What did she obsess over? And was that a good or bad obsession?
  • What did other people say or think about that person?
  • What moral character did he display?
  • What courage, what integrity did she demonstrate?
  • What passion, what commitment did he possess?

Peel back layers:
Readers need to know what was happening
beyond the sensory details.
What was happening
between the lines in your character’s life?
What was going on inside?
What were that person’s thoughts?
What do readers need to know about the character’s history,
beliefs, goals, faith, fears, experiences, successes,
quirks, failures, dreams, or values?
And don’t forget about heartaches.

Here’s an example—gripping, unforgettable—from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night. Note how he includes sensory details, but so much more:

Heavy snow continued to fall over the corpses. 
The door of the shed opened. An old man appeared. His moustache was covered with ice, his lips were blue. It was Rabbi Eliahu who had headed a small congregation in Poland. A very kind man, beloved by everyone in the camp, even by the Kapos and the Blockälteste. Despite the ordeals and deprivations, his face continued to radiate his innocence. He was the only rabbi whom nobody ever failed to address as “Rabbi” in Buna. He looked like one of those prophets of old, always in the midst of his people when they needed to be consoled. And, strangely, his words never provoked anyone. They did bring peace. 
As he entered the shed, his eyes, brighter than ever, seemed to be searching for someone.
“Perhaps someone here has seen my son?”
He had lost his son in the commotion. He had searched for him among the dying, to no avail. Then he had dug through the snow to find his body. In vain.
For three years, they had stayed close to one another. Side by side, they had endured the suffering, the blows; they had waited for their ration of bread and they had prayed. Three years, from camp to camp, from selection to selection. And now—when the end seemed near—fate had separated them.
When he came near me, Rabbi Eliahu whispered, “It happened on the road. We lost sight of one another during the journey. I fell behind a little at the rear of the column. I didn’t have the strength to run anymore. And my son didn’t notice. That’s all I know. Where has he disappeared? Where can I find him? Perhaps you’ve seen him somewhere?”
“No, Rabbi Eliahu, I haven’t seen him.” (from Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night) (Read our recent post about Elie Wiesel by clicking on There must never be a time when we fail to protest.)
I don’t know about you, but that description sent the Rabbi straight to my heart. I’ll never forget that passage.

Look over your manuscript and examine
the way you’ve developed your main characters.
What can you do to make them multi-dimensional?
Find words to make them into real beings.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A prayer for you as you write your memoir

Here's a special prayer for you, the writer of your memoir:

"Sovereign Father . . . I lift up my voice in confessing total dependence on You. I believe that You are the author of my life and destiny. I know that the work You began when You called me to follow You will continue to develop to fruition. Help me move forward in keeping with Your vision. . . . Think Your thoughts through me, speak Your truth through my words, and enable Your best for others through what You lead me to do." (Lloyd John Ogilvie, Quiet Moments with God)

I love that, don't you? I especially cherish this part: "Enable Your best for others through what You lead me to do."

What a privilege He has given us to serve Him and bless others through our stories!

There you have it, your little Tuesday Tidbit.

Come back Thursday 
when I'll have a special treat for you: 
 a poignant passage that will help you write your memoir.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Are your memoir’s main characters real enough?

As a reader, you know what it’s like to give up on a book, right?

In one way or another, the author failed to interest you in his story and you aren't willing to waste more time on it. You close the book, toss it in the car, and return it to the library.

Here's the point: We can't force people to read our memoirs.

Like dear Cecil Murphey says, "We have to persuade people to read us and assure them that the time they spend with us will be rewarding."

One way to write a user-friendly memoir is to create realistic main characters.

Think about one of your main characters. Have you included significant physical features and mannerisms?

Include sensory details—details pertaining to the five senses: What was it like to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see him or her?

Today I offer you charming, intriguing examples of details describing people. Settle in, enjoy these jewels, and learn from them. 

The first is an excerpt from Gordon Braun's soon-to-be-published memoir, Paperboy: Dispatches From A Town That Isn't Even A Town. Here, Gorden, age twelve and starting a new job as a paperboy, is impressed with an older boy and his responsibilities:

Finally it’s my turn to get my papers from Mike, the shack manager, a fifteen-year-old sophomore at Shoreline High School with a paper route of his own, a key to the padlock of the shack door and the additional responsibility of carefully counting out and recording the number of papers given to each boy. Mike is a red-headed, gap-toothed, cheerful type who reminds me of a cross between Howdy Doody and a sincere version of wise-cracking Alfred E. Newman from Mad Magazine

“Hi Gordon, how many today?” he asks. I like that he knows my name. In fact, he knows everyone’s name and everyone likes that about him.

This next example is also from Gordon’s memoir:

Jan . . . is one of Mom’s best friends. She used to live next door but still comes by for frequent visits. A short, stout woman, Jan is a devout Catholic with a generous heart and an infectious laugh. As the two of them sit at the dining room table drinking Folgers coffee and smoking cigarettes, Mom’s friend entertains us all as she tells stories about being marooned in France by the stock market crash while visiting her wicked aunt in 1929. Or about salmon fishing with her husband Burt off the Washington coast near Westport. Or her bowling league at the Polynesian-themed Leilani Lanes. Or her children and their piece-of-work Boston Terrier named Barney. Or about Rusty and Lori, the two women who own the dry-cleaning business where she runs a steam press and who live together under suspicious circumstances. 

She smokes unfiltered Pall Malls out of a red pack while Mom smokes filtered Tareytons as they share their time together. There’s something appealing about the way Jan tamps down the tobacco by repeatedly tapping the cigarette against her left wrist before she lights up. Every now and then she’ll stop talking and tilt her head back to delicately remove a bit of tobacco from the tip of her tongue. In these brief instances she looks wistful to me. But I’m twelve, so what do I know? The interlude is momentary and easy to miss because she’s promptly on to another story. (Gordon Braun, Paperboy: Dispatches From a Town That Isn’t Even a Town)

Here's an excerpt from Frederick Buechner’s Wishful Thinking: “The faraway look in his eyes is partly the beer and partly that he’s really far away.”

Here’s another from Frederick Buechner’s Now and Then:

He [James Muilenberg] was an angular man with thinning white hair, staring eyes, and a nose and chin which at times seemed so close to touching that they gave him the face of a good witch. In his introductory Old Testament course, the largest lecture hall that Union had was always packed to hear him. Students brought friends. Friends brought friends. People stood in the back when the chairs ran out. Up and down the whole length of the aisle he would stride as he chanted the war songs, the taunt songs, the dirges of ancient Israel. With his body stiff, his knees bent, his arms scarecrowed far to either side, he never merely taught the Old Testament but was the Old Testament. He would be Adam, wide-eyed and halting as he named the beasts—“You are . . . an elephant . . . a butterfly . . . an ostrich!”—or Eve, trembling and afraid in the garden of her lost innocence, would be David sobbing his great lament as the death of Saul and Jonathan, would be Moses coming down from Sinai. His face uptilted and his eyes aghast, he would be Yahweh himself, creating the heavens and the earth, and then he called out, “Let there be light.” There is no way of putting it other than to say that there would be light, great floods of it reflected in the hundreds of faces watching him in that enormous room. (Frederick Buechner, Now and Then)

And Rachel Hanel writes: “Susan Orlean’s description of John Laroche is one of the most perfect descriptions ever written: ‘John Laroche is a tall guy, skinny as a stick, pale-eyed, slouch-shouldered, and sharply handsome in spite of the fact that he is missing all his front teeth.’

Describe your memoir’s main characters
so that readers can visualize them,
as if they were with you and that person.

Revise and polish your memoir in those places
where your main characters need to come to life.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Don’t think for a minute that this has nothing to do with you

Reading time: 2 minutes, 26 seconds

Listen to what I have to say today. It’s important. 

It’s not my message, and it’s not Frederick Buechner’s message. I’m pretty sure God sat beside dear old Fred and helped him write. And then Fred shared the important info, and now I’m passing it on to you.

Fred writes about what a preacher must do—not necessarily does but should do—while standing in his or her pulpit. Having read that, don’t think for a minute that this has nothing to do with you.

Erase all thoughts you might have in your head that might sound like: “I’m not a preacher. I don’t stand in a pulpit on Sundays with a message from God.”

Don’t even think such thoughts.


Because writing your memoir is not a hobby, not a pastime, not a fun thing you do when you have a few leisure minutes to yourself.

Writing your memoir is a ministry, a sacred calling, a holy project.

Eugene Peterson suggested that churches should ordain writers the way they ordain pastors.

Serving God as a writer is, indeed, a heavy, humbling responsibility.

Did you think I’d forgotten about Frederick Buechner? It took me a while to get back to his message but here it is.

Read it slowly—
recognizing yourself as a writer ordained
as if you were a pastor ordained
to share a message from God Himself.

Read Fred’s words several times.

Ask yourself what his message means to you 
as a pastor-preacher/memoirist.

Frederick Buechner writes:

“ . . . Let him take heart. He is called not to be an actor, a magician, in the pulpit. He is called to be himself.

“He is called to tell the truth as he has experienced it. He is called to be human . . . . If he does not make real . . . the human experience of what it is to cry into the storm and receive no answer, to be sick at heart and find no healing, then he becomes the only one there who seems not to have had that experience because most surely under their bonnets and shawls and jackets, under their afros and ponytails, all the others there have had it whether they talk of it or not.

“As much as anything else, it is their experience of the absence of God that has brought them there in search of his presence, and if the preacher does not speak of that and to that, then he becomes like the captain of a ship who is the only one aboard who either does not know that the waves are twenty feet high and the decks awash or will not face up to it so that anything else he tries to say by way of hope and comfort and empowering becomes suspect on the basis of that one crucial ignorance or disingenuousness or cowardice or reluctance to speak in love any truths but the ones that people love to hear.” (Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth; emphasis mine)

Frederick Buechner is calling us memoirists to be real, to refuse to merely entertain, to refuse to think of ourselves primarily as actors or magicians.

He’s confronting us, telling us to face up to what needs to be said. He’s urging us to tell it like it is rather than sugarcoating life and faith.

He’s calling out to us, reminding us that we have a sacred task—the responsibility to write about what hurts, about prayers God doesn’t seem to answer, about the terrors in the night.

Writing those truths can be painful. It requires courage and integrity and tenacity. Are you up to the task?

Ponder Fred’s words. Apply them to your memoir.

If you will take to heart Fred’s challenge, your memoir can speak to those who pick it up in search of God’s presence. It can speak to those who long to spot a little light in their darkness, to those who desperately need hope.

Don’t avoid writing the hard stuff, the mysterious stuff.

You can do this.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Despite your imperfections, God can use your story

If only perfect people should write memoirs, the world wouldn’t have any memoirs.

Are you struggling to feel adequate, or qualified, to write your story? If so, these two powerful messages are for you.

The first is from Henri Nouwen:

“Some of us tend to do away with things that are slightly damaged. Instead of repairing them we say, ‘Well, I don’t have time to fix it, I might as well throw it in the garbage can and buy a new one.’ Often we treat people this way. We say, ‘Well, he has a problem with drinking; well, she is quite depressed; well, they have mismanaged their business . . . we’d better not take the risk of getting involved with them.’ When we dismiss people out of hand because of their apparent woundedness, we stunt their lives by ignoring their gifts, which are often buried in their wounds.

We all are bruised reeds, whether our bruises are visible or not. The compassionate life is the life in which we believe that strength is hidden in weakness and that true community is a fellowship of the weak.”  (Henri Nouwen, “Not Breaking the Bruised Reeds,” Bread for the Journey, March 17 selection)

The second is from Mother Teresa:

“I have experienced many human weaknesses, many human frailties, and I still experience them. But we need to use them. We need to work for Christ with a humble heart, with the humility of Christ. He comes and uses us to be his love and compassion in the world in spite of our weaknesses and frailties.” (Mother Teresa, No Greater Love)

“A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”
(Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20, NIV)

“He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt. . . .”
(Matthew 12:20, The Message)

“. . . And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.
(Matthew 12:20, NASB)