The Writing of a Memoir: Insanities Nobody Tells You About


I birthed my book twice: after growing it in my gut and on the page for eight years. 

The first time—self-publishing—was agony and disappointing. The second time—with a legit hybrid press—was dignifying and empowering. Do all authors feel like they “birth” their books? I imagine memoirists, like myself, do because more than birthing a book per se, I birthed my truer, more healed Self. 

All books start with the seed of an idea. Mine started with a dream. That was twenty years ago. When lay-people ask me how long it took to write, they are shocked to hear eight years—of playing with words over and over again in an attempt to compile 300 pages of Story. But most writers worth their words will tell you that’s the process of writing and that it’s, often, hell. 

First, as a novice wannabe author you wrestle with the absurd notion that you are worthy of dedicating an indefinite amount of time to writing something that may not become a book, get published or be read, by anyone, ever. Then once you commit to following through, no matter your doubts and self-deprecation, the hard slog of spewing and sculpting begins. 

For me, this meant transcribing my journal entries, and projectile writing until I had about 100 pages to print of rough, raw writing, after years of digging, and then laying them out page by page on my king-size mattress in a vain attempt to compile chapters based on loose themes in somewhat chronological order, and to have the whole thing make some semblance of sense. 

That’s just the beginning. 

If you keep writing and organizing, at some point maybe you have enough to call it a first draft aka more shit to sort through. Now it’s time to toss out big chunks, kill your darlings, and rewrite X1000 until you’re suicidal and begging for mercy from your cheap box of wine. A lot of writers give up at this juncture. I don’t blame them. If I hadn’t been driven by a monomaniacal compulsion to complete, and publish it, I would have given up too. 

After more suicidal thoughts and box wine you hire a professional book editor and face the hardest part—the genesis of your shame in your Story—the beginning (even though you’ve already written The End). You spend six months with scissors, glue and a red pen literally cutting and pasting word for word, line by line, page by page. 

Finally, you may feel ready to say you have a manuscript, but it still has no title. Then one day, after years of bad titles, The Title of Your Book finally arrives—your Mother’s idea. You print it out, kiss your book editor’s feet, buy yourself a good bottle of wine, ease off your psych meds, and ready yourself to start sending it off to trusted readers in your circle. 

Maybe now you finally feel entitled to call yourself an author.