Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Two types of memoir writers: Which are you?

A few of you are aiming for a professional, published memoir with book-signings and speaking engagements and press releases.

Others plan to make a few photocopies of your memoir for friends and family; you’re not dreaming of making it onto the New York Times Best-Seller list.

I applaud both kinds of memoirs! I’ve written both types and found equal joy and fulfillment in them.

If you’re not sure which type your finished memoir will be, let me ask:

Are you in the Tweaking is Torture camp or the Polishing is Pure Pleasure camp?

You’re in the Tweaking is Torture camp if you view grammar as an ambiguity and proofreading as punishment.

Toiling to include details* discourages you and writing leads* leaves you dismayed.

You’re in the Tweaking is Torture camp if you can't stand editing and revising your stories.

A few of you would rather have a tooth pulled without anesthesia than to fuss with a manuscript.

If you prefer writing your memoir in a less-than-rigorous manner and if royalty checks are not your goal—that’s OK! Really!

Your readers will treasure your memoir and you will have achieved your ultimate goal: Telling future generations what you’ve seen God do in and for you and your family (Deuteronomy 4:9, Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

On the other hand, if you’re in the Polishing is Pure Pleasure camp, you’re downright giddy working with words and sentence length and rhythm.

You stay up late into the night reading books and blogs about writing.

You get fired up over new writing tips and can’t wait to fine-tune your rough drafts.

You’re in the Polishing is Pure Pleasure camp if you lose track of time sitting in front of your computer screen: reworking and honing and rewriting.

You spiff up your manuscripts and welcome comments from your critique group.

Melissa Marsh’s words will resonate with you:

“When you're writing,
do you ever get that feeling of pure joy deep in your gut?
Like this is what you're supposed to be doing with your life?
Like this activity completes you?”
(Melissa Marsh, 

So, in which camp are you: Tweaking is Torture, or Polishing is Pure Pleasure?

If Tweaking is Torture describes you, and if stress and frustration bubble up when you face the craft and art of writing, I hereby give you permission to ignore my suggestions about those topics.

I’m serious!

Instead, focus solely on getting your God-and-you stories in writing. Always remember that’s your most important goal.

In my memoir classes, I say: Placing your stories in friends’ and relatives’ hands is your most important goal even if your memoir is not a literary masterpiece.

Recently the mailman delivered Sharon Lippincott’s The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing.* She preaches the same message. Take a look:

Sharon writes:

“… Writing even a little bit, even a single letter or story, is better than writing nothing.… None of my forebears wrote lengthy stories, but however short, I treasure them, and they are better than nothing.

“Don’t worry about what to say, or whether it’s worth the effort, or whether you have time to write a document the size of a James Michener novel. Anything you write will be better than nothing!” (Sharon Lippincott, The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing*)

Whether you’re like me—I enjoy puttering around in my rough drafts and refining, adding this and deleting that—or you belong to the “Anything you write will be better than nothing” camp, sign up as a Follower of this blog (top right), or follow on e-mail (below the Followers’ photos) and I’ll dump heaps of tips and ideas on you in coming months.

“Whether or not you write well, write bravely."
Bill Stout

Next time: More on Polishing is Pure Pleasure

*Related posts:


In the right column, you’ll find a link to Sharon Lippincott’s blog, The Heart and Craft of Life Writing.
You can buy Sharon’s book, The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, through her blog.


  1. Linda, Your posts are always so thought-provoking! I learned early on that writing is really rewriting and I really do want to polish my manuscript for publication. But I also appreciate Sharon's advice that any writing is better than no writing. I believe if we keep writing, the story that needs to be told will come forth in the way it's supposed to.And I love the Bill Stout quote on "writing bravely" no matter what you write. Thank you for all these "pearls." I'm already looking forward to your next post :-)

  2. Hi, Kathy, I know you are highly motivated to polish and professionally publish your memoir. I'm cheering for you! You must be busily organizing and tweaking and perfecting and I hope you are thoroughly enjoying it! I'm eager to read it. :)


  3. I needed to read this encouragement today! Thank you so much for this blog. I'm following!

  4. Hi, Holly, so nice to meet you. :) I enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to getting better acquainted.

    Be of good cheer today!


  5. At this point, I'm not thinking of a professional manuscript for sale although one never knows I guess. I don't have a lot of people to leave my memoirs to and I'm not sure how much they will even pay attention until many years hence so the writing and tweaking will not be so painful.

    I haven't had a lot of time, yet to write the memoir but have enjoyed the times I did write. I hope to make more time in future. I've even got my acupuncture doctor started on writing her family history based on me talking about my memoirs and encouraging her to come out and write with me. At least she has now started ;-)

  6. Penny, even if you don't have a lot of people to pass your stories on to, you have lots of God-and-you stories that would inspire others. Lots of people look up to you, both at home and in Africa. People you know look to you for mentoring, whether you recognized it or not. Those are "spiritual children" God has given you.

    Here's an idea: Think about getting together a few friends from church to compile stories for a booklet about how God has been working in the lives of the congregation. It would be a rich spiritual legacy for your church!


  7. Hi Linda, yes I recognize that I have mentored a lot of people or at least inspired them because they've told me. I've met so many people over the years and I've lost track of most of them. Many of them were not Christians but God used me to show them love and concern. I thank God for all of that and I know I was sometimes planting seeds, sometimes watering them and sometimes harvesting. AS for the stories about the church, I think the church where I attend has a lot of staff and resources so they are able to document. At the moment I have too many things on my plate to take up more...I also want to write some other stories when I have more time. But thanks for the ideas :-)

  8. Linda,
    What a thrill to see that picture of my book! Wow! When I wrote that book I was not fully aware of the power of writing memoir for the readership of one. Nobody I know who has finished a memoir has done so without some sort of personal transformation taking place. So if you don't like to tweak, write anyway. Persevere until you reach the end. Then, if you don't want to tweak, fine. I guarantee you'll know yourself better and find the experience uplifting in the end.

    If you do decide to publish, widely or in a narrow circle, your words may transform others.

    Thanks again!

  9. Hi, Sharon, you are right: persevere! There are so many benefits to writing those stories--benefits to the writer and the readers.

    I'm really enjoying your book, Sharon. Lots of great stuff!


  10. Thanks for the shout out, Linda! :-)

  11. You are most welcome, Melissa! Your words were so perfect I just had to share them with others.