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How I Wrote an Award-Winning Memoir and How You Can Too

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Everyone has a story to tell, but the magic lies in the art of storytelling. In the words of

Robin Moore, "Inside each of us is a natural-born storyteller, waiting to be released." So, how did I craft an award-winning narrative devoid of any professional writing experience, and how can you set sail on this journey, too? It's pretty simple but does require work - pay attention to the highlighted words; they hold the key.

Armed with a deep desire to pen my story, an unwavering commitment, and Stephen King's book, "On Writing," I ventured into the sea of authorship. If you haven't delved into King's literary wisdom, I highly recommend it – a captivating guide brimming with writing insights. One of his cardinal rules: read and write extensively, and carry a book wherever you go to ensure the continuous flow of reading. Interestingly, given my academic background in psychology, his book served as my sole professional compass. I never trod the path of literature or creative writing courses beyond the obligatory English 101 and 102. This isn't to dismiss their value but to underscore that unconventional routes can lead to literary triumphs.

So, you've read King's book and your passion and commitment to pen your story is rock solid. What's the next move?

On Passion: Passion for the craft is the key to writing a great story. If you go into it with the mindset of making millions or becoming famous, then the magic of this art form is lost. But, if you approach writing with passion, when you’re excited about it, then it’s hard for the reader not to be drawn into your passion. If you’re not happy about what you’re writing, don’t expect others to be. As I tell my daughters, “Pursue what excites you and dive in with great passion.”

Research: Don't scribble on unfamiliar territory. Even for a memoir, these narratives are much more than recollections; they require fact-checking. As you delve into your past, intertwine it with well-informed research. Understanding and interpreting scenes enriches your narrative and instills the confidence to write with authority. Explore that long-neglected hometown through Google, have heart-to-heart chats with family members, and interview people close to your story. While my memoir's first half unfolded in South Africa, a place absent from my life for nearly three decades, research transformed it into a vibrant tapestry of revived memories and untold facts. Think of research as the North Star guiding your memoir to extraordinary depths.

Start Writing: Dedicate time to write consistently without fretting over perfection. Begin wherever your intuition guides you—my starting point ended towards the end of my book. As your narrative unfolds, clarity will grace your thoughts. And find a peaceful place to write that allows for your thoughts to flow. In my bustling household, distractions are everywhere. To counter this, I carved out dedicated time at a nearby library.

Be Authentic: This is often tossed around, but what does it mean? Simply put, articulate your emotions. Consider the feelings that swept over you then and linger in those feelings now as you weave your story. Explore the thoughts that went through your mind at those pivotal moments, and remember to be true to yourself and your experiences. Unveil your vulnerability, acknowledging that not every reader will embrace it, which is perfectly acceptable. And, don’t edit while you write. Simply let your words and emotions spill out.

Show Don't Tell: As a former college admissions counselor, I've read thousands of student essays, many of which often blurred into monotony. Standouts? Those that captivated by showing not telling. In my memoir, I stayed aware of this principle. In short, showing paints a picture, while telling merely states facts.

Here's an example:

Telling: Held secrets made me furious.

Showing: Secrets inside me were a fiery force, not a cancer. They didn't kill; they fueled. My body trembled with the flame's energy.

Hook the Reader from the Beginning: Capture the reader's attention right out of the gate: that initial sentence is your literary fishing hook. But here's the inside scoop: hitting the bullseye on your first try has about a 1% chance of happening. Take it from me: an author reviewer dubbed my opening sentence a "genre classic," but that gem only emerged during the editing phase. So, don't stress too much about perfection in the drafting phase – such magic often happens later.

Patience, the Virtue of Creation: Exercise patience in your writing journey. Allow your thoughts to unfold organically, resisting the temptation to rush. Patience is like the avocado of writing- let it ripen naturally and embrace the reality that some days may yield dull and uninspiring prose. I had and still have days where my writing resembles a snooze-fest, but perseverance is key here. Keep in mind that the editing stage awaits, offering an opportunity for hidden gems to emerge within the authenticity of your work. Foster patience as you allow your writing to evolve naturally.

A Great Editor: Alright, listen up! When you are ready to hunt for an editor, remember that AI won't cut it here. Stephen King hit the nail on the head: "To write is human; to edit, divine." A stellar editor? They're like wizards, spotting things you didn't even know were there and will provide objective energy. And bonus – they will give you the lowdown to level up your writing. It's like having a writing superhero by your side! My editor’s careful eye and attention to detail was masterful, as was his commitment to my story. He was indeed the “divine” in the equation.

And there you have it! I hope you found this helpful. I wish you all the best on your writing journey!

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