Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: “I like to rewrite. Sound crazy?”

Thursday we started looking at publishing options for your memoir.

But before you’re ready to publish, you’ll need to rewrite and polish that manuscript until it sparkles.

Some people think rewriting is punishment, but it’s not. It’s just part of a good writer’s job. Even the most accomplished writers rewrite and polish, and then they hire editors to polish even more. That’s a good thing.

Rewriting can even be fun. Some of us thrive on it.

“I like to rewrite.
Sound crazy?
Not to me,
because I enjoy finding ways
to make my writing better.”
(Cec Murphey, prolific author)

So go over your manuscript and rewrite where necessary. Like Cec, you’ll be looking for ways to make your story better. Enjoy making it the best it can be.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Your publishing options

When you have edited and rewritten and polished your manuscript until it’s the very best you can make it, you’ll want to publish your memoir.

I’m not going to recommend a publisher because in recent years the industry has changed significantly and continues to do so. But you have several options:  (a) traditional publishing, or (b) indie publishing (independent publishing, sometimes called self-publishing, including POD—print on demand), or (c) something else—like photocopied and bound at an office supply store. (One of my friends wrote her stories by hand and that’s okay too. What a treasure that will be for generations to come!)

Some people, especially older ones, turn their noses up at indie publishing—they believe the only respectable publishing choice is traditional publishing. Indie publishing used to have a bad reputation because authors didn’t write well, edit well, or format well.

But indie publishing has improved greatly in recent years. Most companies offer packages that include editing, formatting, and other helps. Some companies are so professional nowadays that a number of established writers are choosing the indie option, including authors who have had previous success with traditional publishing.

If you choose indie publishing, I strongly recommend that you have critique partners and beta readers go over your manuscript. If they do their job well, you can consider both as your best friends and allies—they’ll help you work hard to make your manuscript as professional as possible. (Be sure to read Belinda Pollard’s informative post, What is a beta reader and why do I need one? Don’t miss the additional links she put at the bottom of her post.)

In addition, consider hiring a professional editor before you publish your memoir. This is pricey, but if you’re striving for professional quality, hiring an editor is, in most cases, a must. And, like critique partners and beta readers, you can consider an editor another of your best friends and allies in helping you craft a professional manuscript. (If you are already skilled in editing, critique partners and beta readers might be all you need. Watch for more on editing in a future blog post.)

Explore the internet for indie publishing companies and you’ll find a variety of options, packages, qualities, and prices. It’s mind-boggling. Get recommendations from other published writers.

If possible, get an in-person look at a book published by each company you’re interested in. You might be surprised at how different the finished books are when it comes to (1) paper quality, (b) font choice and size, (c) spacing of lines and margins, and (d) photos.

For example, take a look inside a few indie books:

In the photo below, notice that the paper is so thin you can see writing on the back side of the page. In fact, you can even see the print on the page before it! This might be #20 or #24 pound paper like you use in your printer at home.  In my opinion, 70# paper is the best. Don’t settle for anything less than #50.

In this next picture, the author typed his manuscript on a manual typewriter—the letter t in the word “often” gives it away.  Bless his heart! (In my youth and young adulthood I typed thousands of pages on manual typewriters so I know what a task that was for him.)

Notice that sometimes he left one space between words, other times two spaces. When you format your manuscript, be sure you’ve put only one space between words and only one space between sentences.

Compare the above picture with the one below which was not typed with a manual typewriter; this looks like Times New Roman  font, which is  popular. Once in a while you’ll run across a book using one of the sans-serif fonts like Helvetica.

Also notice this page has more space between the lines than the one above. Such spaces make reading easier.

In this next picture, notice the smaller spacing between lines as well as the margin, which is only 3/8". That narrow margin is something to avoid.


In the picture below, you'll see a good space between lines and a good margin at 9/16". 

In the photo below, notice how close the lines are together as well as the very narrow margin, only 3/8". It doesn't look user-friendly to most people. 

Include plenty of white space on your book's pages. Compare the photo above with the photo below.

Strive for quality photos. Below is an example of a poor quality photo and it's from my first memoir. I made the mistake of not checking with the publisher as to the quality I could expect. I won't do that again!

Compare that with the good photo below. Night and day difference!

It’s not easy to choose a way to publish your memoir. If you choose indie publishing, you’ll have to decide how much money you want to spend. Click on links below to compare the following companies. (If you want less pricey options, soon I’ll write about a couple of more affordable POD options, that is, Print On Demand.)

HIS Publishing Group

In making your decision, note such things as whether the indie publisher does cover design, provides editing services, an ISBN number, a US copyright, and book distribution.

Also check to see if color photos are an option; if not, ask yourself if you’re okay with black and white. Either way, check out the quality you can expect from each company by asking to see, with your own eyes, one or more of their books. Strive for quality photos. Make it your business to learn how to use a photo editing program to make your photos the best quality they can be. Poor photo quality is the most irksome problem I’ve seen in indie books.

Once you choose your publisher, you’ll still have a lot of work to do, but if you’ve done your homework well and strive for a professional product, if you write well, edit well, and format wellyou could be very happy when you hold your published memoir in your hands and when you give copies to your family and friends.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Have you found your voice?

Here’s your Tuesday Tidbit, your 15 seconds of inspiration:

Many writers, especially new writers, struggle to find their “voice.” What does “finding your voice” mean?

It means writing the way you speak. Your goal is to make your writing sound authentic—to sound like yourself.

Jeff Hines says it this way: “You don’t need to search for unfamiliar language…. Simply be yourself and write the way you speak.”

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it,” says Elmore Leonard. “Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing.” 

To read more of Theo Nestor’s thoughts on finding your voice, click on this link at Kathy Pooler’s blog.

To read more of Elmore Leonard’s advice to writers, click on Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Your memoir’s all-important takeaways

People will read your memoir for its takeaways.

What’s a takeaway?

It’s a gem you unearthed that provided you with clarity and helped make sense of your life—a universal truth you discovered—which you offer to your readers.

Takeaways are what readers “take away” from your memoir, the important lessons they’ll carry with them after they’ve read the last page and closed the back cover.

When a reader stumbles upon a takeaway, a meaningful sentence or two that speaks to something deep inside, he will pause to think, to re-read the words, slowly. He might underline the passage. Or maybe highlight it. Or write notes in the margin.

So how do you create a takeaway?

Think back. At some point you had an A-ha moment and a light came on. Puzzle pieces began falling into place. You were not the same person after that.

That’s good, that’s exciting. Such discoveries can be defining moments, life-changersbut go beyond that. Share the benefits of that experience with your readers by crafting a takeaway. Offer them their own A-ha moment.

In other words, in a concise way give words to the principle you learned—think of the takeaway as a precept, a moral, a proverb, a saying, a guideline, an adagesomething readers can live by, a principle that can be life-changing for them, too.

Use your takeaway to offer readers hope,
or wisdom,
or courage,
or laughter,
or a solution,
or a new way of living or loving.

You, the writer, encounter such precepts—such truths to live by—through epignosis. To gnosis (compared to epignosis) is to have head knowledge of something, but to epignosis something is to know it from experience. (Read my earlier post about epignosis: Understanding epignosis can help you write your memoir.)

Your takeaways, then, communicate to your readers: “I know this is true because I have experienced it, I have lived it. It changed my life. Perhaps it will change your life, too.”

Where do you put takeaways in your memoir?

Takeaway happens within a reflection,” point out Brooke Warner and Dr. Linda Joy Myers. (If you missed our recent blog post about the importance of reflection in memoir, click on Reflection and the words we use.)

Takeaway can be a reflection, but not all reflection is takeaway,” they continue. “… [W]herever there is reflection, there is an opportunity for a takeaway, but that doesn’t mean that necessarily all reflections are going to be takeaways.”

In other words, takeaways accompany segments in your memoir in which you reflect. You will probably have a number of reflections throughout your memoir. Some if not all of them will be opportunities for you to include a takeaway for your readers.

Avoid Christianese—jargon that might be distasteful to readers, or lingo that might hinder your readers’ understanding.  For example, resist using phrases such as “I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb.” Instead, use everyday language to make your point.

And don’t beat around the bush! Pinpoint your message. Clarity is your goal. (Please, please, read my blog post about writers who circle all around The Point but never state The Point. Click on What’s the point?)

Dedicate quality time to crafting your takeaways. Specify what was the most important message or lesson you took away from that experience (the one you’re reflecting on). Boil it down, write a concise message for your readers.

Here are two examples: 

“We find by losing. We hold fast by letting go. We become something new by ceasing to be something old.” (Frederick Buechner) 

Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the ed of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow. (Mary Anne Racmacher)

Most memoirists scatter takeaways throughout their memoirs. If you have a conclusion, a post script, or an epilogue in your memoir, reiterate your most important takeaways in them, too.

Your takeaways are the most powerful part of your memoir
they’re packed with punch.
They’re the part of your memoir that
makes a difference in people’s lives.

At first your takeaways will resemble diamonds-in-the-rough. Your job is to cut and polish and make those gems sparkle. Doing so adds to their value for both you and your readers.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Listen for “a deeper sound, a different beat”

The process of writing a memoir changes our hearts.

It changes the way we hear.

It opens our eyes. 

It helps us recognize a bigger, higher, deeper, broader story. 

When we start writing, we have no idea where our memories and ponderings and writings will take us.  

“The written word
preserves what otherwise might be lost
among the impressions that inundate our lives.
Thoughts, insights, and perceptions
constantly threaten to leave us
before we have the opportunity
to grasp their meaning.
Writing can keep technology-driven,
fast-paced, quick-fix,
ambiguity-intolerant modern life
from overpowering us—
and give us something palpable
upon which to reflect.

Reflection slows matters down.
It analyzes what was previously unexamined,
and opens doors to different interpretations
of what was there all along.
Writing, by encouraging reflection,
intensifies life.

Editors Ben Jacobs and Helena Hjalmarsson,

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Reflection and the words we use

Reflection is a key part of every memoir—a key part of your memoir.

Without reflection,” writes Amber Lea Starfire, “you do not have a memoir—you have a vignette or series of vignettes that describes events, but does not imbue the events with meaning and relevance. Meaning and relevance come from reflection.”

So, you, the memoirist, reflect on the past:

The first part of reflecting is the kind you do privately: introspection.
  • You set aside time to take a new look at what happened in the past—to search for something you missed that was hiding just under the surface, or something that went over your head.
  • See with older, wiser, more mature eyes.
  • Unravel, analyze, look for meaning, and piece together.
  • Make sense of the event.

The second part of reflecting is sharing with readers what you’ve discovered.

How do you communicate to your readers
that you’re interrupting the flow of your story
to reflect on the past?

These phrases help readers know you're pausing to reflect:

  • Reflecting on this now...
  • I couldn't have put it into words back then, but now...
  • It occurs to me now that...
  • Back then I didn't understand that...
  • Though I didn't understand it forty years ago, now I see that...
  • It would be years before I understood that...
  • I didn't notice it at the time, but...
  • Looking back now, I see that...
  • Now I see that I...
  • Remembering those days/weeks/years, I...
  • When I remember those events, I...
  • I had never known that...
  • If I had known then...
  • I wish I had known then that...
  • Little did I know back then that...
  • If only I'd known back then that...
  • We couldn't have known at the time that...
  • I never realized...
  • I came to realize...
  • It took me many years to realize...
  • While it happened three decades ago, I realize now that...
  • I have come to realize, over the years, that...
  • If we could've looked into the future, we'd have seen...
  • It didn't occur to me back then...
  • Ten years later I would ask myself...
  • Years later I discovered...
  • Over the years I've come to accept...

A word of caution from Brooke Warner and Dr. Linda Joy Myers

“Some critics of memoir believe that reflection is the navel-gazing part of memoir, and it is possible to be overly reflective. In an article called ‘Writing the Z-Axis,’ Sean Ironman refers [to] overly reflective writing as the ‘bar essay.’ This kind of writing, he says, ‘reads as if the writer is on the barstool next to you rambling about their life over a Guinness.’” 

So, consider your reader:  Reflection is a must for memoir, but avoid navel-gazing and rambling. Discern how much reflection is just right.

Be sure to come back next Thursday when we’ll look at the connection between reflection and takeaway.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: The sacred importance of remembering

Here’s your Tuesday Tidbit, 15 seconds of inspiration:

“It is through memory that we are able 
to reclaim much of our lives 
that we have long since written off 
by finding that in everything 
that has happened to us over the years 
God was offering us possibilities of new life and healing 
which, though we may have missed them at the time, 
we can still choose and be brought to life by 
and healed by 
all these years later.” 

Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets