Thursday, September 28, 2017

Will your memoir be intriguing enough?

You know your stories are important. (If you’re not convinced, look at that Bible verse way up at the top, and go back and read Are your stories important?

You have God-and-you stories that only you can tell, and your children and grandchildren need to know them. Perhaps friends, colleagues, and even strangers need to know them, too.

Yes, your stories are important. But will anyone read them?

Nowadays potential readers have many distractions: texting, Facebook, cell phones, movies, sports, TV, magazines, iPods, the internet, hobbies, and thousands of books besides yours.

All these, and more, compete against your memoir.

And to make matters worse, in Tuesday’s post we covered some startling, even discouraging, statistics: …..

  • “The average time spent reading is on the decline…. On average, Americans read only 19 minutes per day, down from 10 years ago…. On weekends, Americans between the ages of 25 to 34 read for just eight minutes a day on average.”
  • “Most people read only part of a nonfiction book. In fact, a study by Kobo found that religion books were the most abandoned of any genre. In North America, only a little over one-third of all religion books are read all the way to completion.”

Does that make you gulp? It does me.

Peter Jacobi wrote one brief sentence 25 years ago that I’ve always remembered:

No story has a divine right to be read.”

“Unfortunately, as a writer . . . I cannot try what author Anthony Burgess did when he was ‘teaching Shakespeare at City College . . . at 8:00 a.m.’ He explains, ‘I decided to teach them something about how Shakespeare was educated. I began to write three lines of Seneca in Latin on the blackboard to show where Shakespeare learned about rhythm, and they started to walk out. Well, I wasn’t going to let them get away. I rushed to the door and locked it, saying, “You’re going to learn these . . . lines of Latin whether you like it or not.”’” 

We can’t lock our “audience” in and force them to read our stories.

Because attention spans are short and schedules are packed nowadays, people will spend time on only what promises to be worth their effort.

That means our stories must be more intriguing than all those distractions and choices before them.

Think of your own experience: How many times have you started reading a book or magazine or newspaper or blog post, anticipating—maybe even craving—a good read, only to be disappointed with boring or confusing content?

Here’s the lesson you and I can learn from such an experience: Our memoirs must draw readers in and keep them turning the pages.

“Some writers assume
readers are eager to grasp every word they write.
The opposite is true . . . .
Because we find it interesting,
or we think our life is newsworthy,
it’s easy to assume everyone cares.
It’s better to assume no one cares
about what we write . . . .”


So we memoirists must write stories worth reading.

We must earn the right to be read—we must capture the reader’s interest so he’ll keep reading all the way to the end.

How do we write stories worth reading? We find answers to that question in books and articles and writers’ conferences and blog posts.

And from week to week, I post the best of those tips here at Spiritual Memoirs 101—and I post even more valuable info on Facebook. (If you’re not following us on Facebook, you’re missing a lot!)

The links below will connect you to two of the main ways we can hook readers and keep them reading. These merely scratch the surface, but here is a sampling:

The first link will take you to last week’s post: We examined a memoir that lacked emotional depth because the author failed to let readers into her emotions and thoughts and reactions. As a result, she remained a one-dimensional person.

You and I can avoid her mistake by describing how we feel during key scenes and letting readers inside. Read more about creating emotional depth in your memoir by clicking on Performing emotional surgery on ourselves

The second link will help you recreate scenes through the five sensessight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. When we include sensory details, readers enter into our stories—they live them with us—and that keeps them reading.

You’ll find this post especially helpful: Details: A must for your memoir. Don’t miss it!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: How can you inspire people to read your memoir to the end?

You might be surprised at the following stats. They surprised me when I ran across them yesterday.

Sarah Bolme, in her blog, Marketing Christian Books, writes,

  • “The average time spent reading is on the decline…. On average, Americans read only 19 minutes per day, down from 10 years ago…. On weekends, Americans between the ages of 25 to 34 read for just eight minutes a day on average.”
  • Most people read only part of a nonfiction book. In fact, a study by Kobo found that religion books were the most abandoned of any genre. In North America, only a little over one-third of all religion books are read all the way to completion.

You and I want people to read all way to the end of our memoirs.

But we can’t lock them in and force them to read our stories.

Sigh…. So what’s a Christian memoirist to do?

We can entice and persuade our readers. How?

For starters, Sarah says, write compelling prose. (And I’ve posted dozens of blog posts about how to do that.)

Sarah also offers this advice:

  • Keep your page count low, under 200 pages. She recommends 120 to 150 pages.
  • Readers are more likely to read short chapters because, she says, “People often read in soundbites.”
  • If your memoir exceeds 200 pages, consider shortening it or divide it into two books.
  • Keep the price down.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Performing emotional surgery on ourselves

Recently I read a memoir that made the New York Times bestseller list—but I never got to know the author—the main character. I applaud her for her long and noble deed, but she didn’t endear herself to me. She didn’t let me know her enough to care about her.

Do you know what I mean? Have you ever struggled to get into the main character and care for him?

Here’s the author’s problem: Her memoir read as if it were a report. An essay. It lacked emotional depth because she failed to let readers into her emotions and thoughts and reactions.

She wrote about living through tough situations and relationships and choosing to do brave, selfless acts, but she kept her emotions on the surface. She remained a one-dimensional person. Rather like a stick person.

Readers need more than facts and action.

We memoirists need to show (not tell) our weaknesses, failures, and conflicts—as well as joys and successes and fulfilled dreams and answered prayers. When we describe how we felt during those times, we let readers inside our hearts and emotions.

  • What was the event’s or person’s significance?
  • What was at stake? Spell out possible outcomes, potential consequences.
  • How did you feel about the situation you were in? What sensations zinged through your insides?
  • Did you ask yourself questions? Pray? Squeal? Tell yourself to remain calm? Or…?
  • Did you have conversations about the event or person? If so, share that through dialogue.
  • Re-create the tension, or relief, you felt at the time.
  • If this was a turning point, a defining moment, let readers experience it with you.

Avoid exaggeration and over-the-top drama. But if you cried, make your readers cry—either tears of joy or sorrow.

If you asked hard questions and got no answers, let readers struggle with your lack of answers.

If you laughed out loud, make your readers laugh, too.

If our heart raced, make your readers’ hearts race.

The memoirist I mentioned at the top, the gal whose book kept me at a distance, can teach us important lessons:

Here’s what I suspect the author failed to do what successful memoirists must do:

Good memoirists must be willing to invest time in searching their hearts and memories.

Sometimes we need to dedicate years to that process—reliving and questioning and pondering and unraveling and connecting the dots.  

We do a doggie head-tilt, we examine what we didn’t have the courage to examine before, we reevaluate, we ask ourselves if we should now come to a different conclusion. We try to make sense of it all.  

And we dig deeper still: We ask God to help us discover what He was up to in the midst of it—and from beginning to end.

In the process, we’ll probably need to do another doggie head-tilt. Sometimes He uses a seemingly insignificant event or acquaintance to bring us to one of life’s most significant turning points.

Digging around in our memories to answer the question, “What was God doing?” can take a long time, as does the reflecting stage, but the hard work of finding answers can lead you to hidden, valuable treasures! That’s where you’ll realize, more than ever before, that God, in His goodness, has been loving and leading you all along.

Deep retrospection and meaningful reflection can feel like cutting open old wounds.

The reflection and introspection required to write a memoir can feel like performing emotional surgery on ourselves.

Like actual surgery, the goal is to
look deep inside to see what’s going on,
and then to fix what needs fixing,
and then put everything back together in the right order,
and in the right place,
and to stitch the “patient” back together.
After that comes healing and strengthening.

And after the contemplation, the digging, the searching, the musing, the mulling over—we climb up the next step: We find words to describe what we’ve learned years later—those gems we’ve unearthed, all the answers we found to the questions we’ve been asking. When we put our stories into words, God uses them to encourage and inspire others, our readers.

Readers yearn for authenticity. Be vulnerable with your readers. Honest about the real you. Make them care about you.  We must let readers into our hearts and thoughts and fears and hangups and questions and agonies—and we let them into our joys and victories, too.

“… Characters come alive when you pick the particularly telling details that can make the difference between a cardboard character and a real live person,” writes Judith Barrington (Writing the Memoir).  

We avoid coming off as a “cardboard character” by finding words and penning unique details—not only physical, but especially emotional, psychological, and spiritual details—that describe us and our experience and the process we’ve gone through from beginning to end in our memoir.

Angela Ackerman writes that a “‘shared experience’ is what powers up that empathy link between the reader and the character. Add this to emotion-rich dialogue, and . . . snippets of the character’s thoughts and internal sensations (visceral reactions), and we can convey a powerful emotional moment!”

“What did your body do? How did it express itself? What did you feel inside—a heaviness in the chest, pain twisting your throat? Lightheadedness from a surge of adrenaline? Skin sensitivity? Recreate the emotional moment and allow your senses to take over. Then, write it down.”

Let’s look again at one of Angela’s points: “Recreate the emotional moment and allow your senses to take over.” To help you with that, don’t miss my blog post about Method Writing, a practice Bill Roohrback wrote about in Writing Life Stories.

A final note: We all do our best to write well, but we still need critique partners, beta readers, and editors to help perfect our efforts. They can take the fresh look that we can’t—we’re too close to our own stories. Read more at Have You Lined Up Your Beta Readers Yet?

I recommend you sit at Angela Ackerman’s feet—be a regular reader of the blog she and Becca Puglisi publish, Writers Helping Writers. Both share a wealth of wisdom, experience, and instruction. Usually they address writers of fiction, but almost everything pertains to memoir, too.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: Tell us about your memoir

Are you writing a memoir? Let us know.

Have you published your memoir? Be sure to tell us.

and rewriting
and publishing
and marketing
can be daunting tasks,
and we want to cheer you on.

Leave a comment below,

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fun historical resources for writing about YOUR life

Good details can make all the difference in whether you draw readers into your story—and pull them in you must.

Think back: Do you remember reading a book in which you felt you were in the story with its writer? You tasted what he tasted. You smelled odors she smelled. You saw events he witnessed. You heard sounds she heard. You felt the textures or temperatures he felt. We call those sensory details.

But if you’ve ever read a book that kept you at a distance—a story that made you feel like an observer on the outside, unable to get in—then you know how much richer it is for a reader to live inside a story.

That’s what you want to do for your readers—write your memoir so they get “zipped into your skin,” says memoirist Mary Karr.

You can also zip readers in by including historical details of the era. Besides establishing your story’s historical backdrop, such details help create a sense of place and time

  • prominent values/philosophies
  • that time period’s passions and culture
  • the nation’s or culture’s major turning points (Pearl Harbor)
  • the place’s and era’s economic conditions
  • scientific, technological, and medical advances
  • political leanings
  • the nation’s struggles or victories
  • major stories in the news, and so on.

You are a witness to history. So am I. By age 25, I’d witnessed man’s first walk on the moon, Sputnik, JFK’s death, the Civil Rights Movement, rock ‘n’ roll, the Beatles, the hippie era, the feminist movement, and the Vietnam War. They all influenced me and shaped me.

Your historical setting influenced and shaped you, too.

And have you ever thought of this? You influenced and shaped history, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways. Like Biff Barnes said, you are “part of the sweep of history.Don’t overlook roles you played in molding and sculpting history.

Let me tell you about a fun tool you can use to enhance your story’s historical context:

Check out a website from The Atlantic called Life Timeline.

When you enter your birthday, you’ll see a list of historical events that occurred during your lifetime. And you’ll find links to articles about that event.

Use this fun tool to enhance the vibrancy and power of your memoir.

But wait! I have more for youanother way to enhance your story’s historical context. Have you created word lexicons? Word lexicons = collections of words and phrases.

In her delightful book, The Writer’s Portable Mentor, Priscilla Long describes the enjoyment and value of word lexicons. Especially significant are word lexicons that pertain to a specific piece—your memoir, for example.

Priscilla can tell by reading a person’s writing whether he or she collected words and phrases—what she calls The Lexicon Practice.

“Writers who do the Lexicon Practice have left in the dust what I call ‘conventional received diction.’ Writers who don’t do it . . . are pretty much stuck with television words, newspaper words, cereal-box words.”

Priscilla, a writing instructor at the University of Washington and a widely published author, collected words from her childhood for a collection of stories she planned to write: “greenbriar, dirt road, Neil Lindsey’s pig, 4-H Club… calf barn, gutter, manure pile, manure spreader, marsh grass….”

Each memoir—your memoirhas its own lexicon, its own unique set of words and phrases. Use them to define your story, to enrich it, to make it come alive for your readers.

Which words and phrases belong in the lexicon for your memoir?

You’ll want to compose several lexicons because, Priscilla points out, individuals have lexicons, places have lexicons, and “every craft, trade, profession, or job….”

I especially enjoy her lexicon for the Pacific Northwest, my home: “crow, Puget Sound, Steilacoom Tribe, western red cedar, Smith Tower, Emmett Watson’s Oyster Bar, Starbucks, Northwest jellyfish, geoduck (pronounced gooey duck), Stillaguamish River….” She nailed it with those words.

Now it’s your turn: Choose sensory details—details readers can smell, feel, hear, see, and taste.

Think about these possibilities for your story’s historical setting and physical location:

  • iconic geographical references (rivers, mountains, deserts…)
  • prominent buildings
  • popular restaurants
  • food trends
  • lingo (“That’s a swell hot rod you have there.”)
  • clothing and hair styles (poodle skirts, saddle shoes)
  • popular songs
  • popular hobbies/sports (hula hoops)
  • specific car models
  • weather
  • typical sounds (birds, insects, factories, trains, children’s laughter)
  • colors
  • vegetation and wildlife, and so on.

Collect other words and phrases for main characters in your memoir, and professions/occupations.

Create as many lexicons as you need to enrich your memoir and draw readers into it.

If you're age 65 or older... I mean or better, you'll love Words and Phrases Remind Us of the Way We Word by Richard Lederer. And his post will give you a head start on compiling your own lexicon.

Just remember: avoid “television words, newspaper words, cereal-box words.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: Your story can change someone’s life

“Stories are our lifeline to inspiration, awe, and hope.
(They) entertain us and introduce us to characters with immense courage.
When characters overcome a challenge
that mirrors the reader’s own circumstances,
their story provides a lifeline of hope to the reader.”

Your children, grandchildren, and great-grands
need to know your stories.

And perhaps your friends do, too.

And how about colleagues, neighbors,
aunts, uncles,
nieces, nephews,
and cousins?

Write your stories! Write them now!

Are you writing a memoir? Let us know.

Have you published your memoir? Be sure to tell us.

and rewriting
and publishing
and marketing
can be a daunting task,
and we want to cheer you on.

Leave a comment below,

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A must-read for you: Avoid scams and schemes

"These days, there are more people making money off new writers than there are writers making money," says Anne R. Allen.

Read that again: "These days, there are more people making money off new writers than there are writers making money."

"Recently," Anne continues, "I've run into a lot of new writers who do the very things that make them fall prey to unscrupulous scammers."

Don't let yourself fall prey to scammers and fakes.

How do you do that? By becoming a wise, energetic student of writing, publishing, and marketing. Start here with Anne R. Allen's post.

There's a reason Writer's Digest listed Anne's blog among their 101 Best Websites for Writers, and there's a reason Author Marketing Experts, Inc., listed her blog among their Top 50 Websites for Indie Authors, and several others. Week after week, year after year, Anne R. Allen shares information we all need to know.

In her blog post, Don't Fall Prey to Publishing Scams: 7 New Writer Mistakes to Avoid, she covers these and other points:

Writing-in-a-Garret Syndrome: Such people avoid writing classes, writing groups, writing books, critiques, beta readers, editors, and writing blogs and magazines. They fail to educate themselves on the publishing industry, self-publishing, and book distribution. Nevertheless, they believe they're brilliant writers and will soon find their books on bestseller lists. Anne says, "These people are prime targets for bogus agents, editing scams, overpriced marketing schemes, and ruthless vanity publishing companies because they're so easily flattered and bamboozled."

Trying to Publish Too Soon: Here Anne addresses those whose manuscripts "have pacing and structure problems,... cliches,... saggy middles, slithery points of view." She warns, "Bogus agents are happy to take them, though. For a fee. Then maybe they'll sell them to their own bogus 'publishing company,' which will be happy to take more of your money...."

Read the rest of Anne’s valuable post in which she discusses Obsessing about Marketing before you Learn to Write and Expecting to Make Money with a First Book and several other relevant topics.

“Every phony publisher, bogus agency, and scammy editing service with a slick website is waiting out there, ready to pounce,” Anne says. “So do your homework…. Even if you’re only writing as a hobby, if you want to publish at all, you need to learn how the business works or you’ll pay a lot of money for something embarrassing.”

 Don’t miss Anne’s final piece of advice, “Always check out a company at Writer Beware, and never sign a contract without running it by a legal professional. For real self-publish advice, follow Joanna Penn’s blog and The Alliance for Independent Authors. Reedsy and Writer’s Boon can give you lists of vetted service providers. And David Gaughran’s book, Let’s Get Digital, gives a great overview of indie publishing."

Many thanks to Anne for the consistently rich resources she provides with every blog post. I highly recommend you read her blog and follow her on Facebook. Also check out Anne's book, How to be a Writer in the E-Age.

Anne’s bio: “Anne R. Allen writes funny mysteries and how-to books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. She’s a contributor to Writer’s Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market. Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.”

Read Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros' blog post, Five Minute Friday Retreat: A Reflection.

Monday, September 4, 2017

TODAY: Sign up for a free online course with NAMW

Dr. Linda Joy Myers of National Association of Memoir Writers announces a FREE online course that begins tomorrow, September 5. Sign up today! I did!

Dr. Linda asks, "Do you have a story to tell? How many times have you told yourself, When I have time, I'll write about my childhood. I want to leave a legacy for my family. Or perhaps you are drawn to write to discover more about yourself.

"Whatever the reason you want to write a memoir, I know from my years of teaching and listening to aspiring writers that those other voices can pop up: you don't know how to write, you don't have a good memory, your life was ordinary, your story would be boring.

"If you're reading this," she says, "it's likely you want to try writing your story, [or are] interested in experimenting with the idea....

"A Taste of Memoir Writing is a free online course that will help you begin your memoir....

"The best thing to do is to start, and these lessons will guide you. You work at your own speed and write whatever you want. When you sign up for this quick taste of memoir writing, for the next four weeks, you will find a lesson in your inbox. It's like a present. You open it and enjoy! Click here to sign up."

Thanks, Dr. Linda!