New Client Asking Me to Write Her Memoir

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Joanna Alonzo

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I've never written a memoir, nor have I ever thought of writing one. I don't think I've even read one before. However, I have a new client asking me to write her memoir, because she's not really a writer and writing it on her own is - in her own words - "so painful, it makes me want to die".

I've ghostwritten a lot of novellas/novels before, but I've never quite done something like this.

My question is, do you guys have any tips on how to go about this? I've been reading about memoirs and how to write them, but if you could recommend anything in particular that you think could help, I'd really appreciate it.
 

Chris P

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If you don't think you can do it right, don't do it. Her story, whatever it is, deserves someone who can do justice to what she's experienced.

But only you know if you're the one for the job. Follow your gut.
 

Blackfish

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I had the same problem...

If the client wants to write away her pain, she can do that all by herself for free. It won't matter in the least what the work looks like when she's done. It's good therapy that does work to some extent, but does not work totally. One of the things I have found extraordinarily useful in using my writing as a form of therapy is the sentence-completion exercise. A little work in that area produces tremendous results; I tell you that just an aside and a suggestion.

If she's in such great pain, where she's even having a hard time speaking about it, she might need some professional help to work through some of it and be done with it before she'll be able to concentrate on the complexity and enormity of writing a book. Is she well enough to work with?

Writing about her pain isn't going to work for publishing. The plain truth of it is, no one cares about anyones pain. Everyone's got enough of their own.

The pain must be made a purpose. There must be a story; a beginning, a middle, and an end. A happy ending. A new beginning. A triumph. An understanding. A theme. An answer. Something like that.

I've got plenty of pains to write about. When I started writing all my pains, it got so boring I quit writing. It was pure drivel and absolute bullshit. It sounded like I was whining. There was no point to any of it. Nobody loves a victim. Nobody loves a whiner. Nobody wants to read about it. Nobody cares.

But I did not want to whine. In fact I wasn't whining. I wanted to tell my story. But I didn't know how.

I had to create a purpose, a theme, a reason for telling it. I had to find a way. Since life has no meaning outside of the self, since life has meaning only to the self, to the one who puts purpose and meaning to their life, that tells you everything you need to know about what others like to read. They are looking for meaning and purpose to put to their life. They want to know what the writer has found and what it will do to help them in their own life. They want answers.

The pain can be used to demonstrate, for example, the incredible odds she had to face on her way to what she wanted. Which is a good question to ask of her to start with. What did she want? To be a ballerina? To be a karate expert? To be a Kindergarten teacher? To find the meaning and purpose of life for all mankind? To find god? To conquer her own ego? What did she have to conquer and what did she have to give up in order to get what she wanted? Did she forget about what she wanted at some point and take a u-turn that worked out well for her? What did she want? Where is the struggle? Where is the conflict? Enduring pain isn't struggle and conflict. Violence is someone doing the violence and someone getting it done to them. Nobody cares about any of that. It's not going anywhere. They can watch all the bad news on television all day long. No need to make the effort to read a book about it.

I had too many personal problems to work through before I would be able to tell my story. Too many unanswered questions. So, I had to forget about writing the story for a long, long time, and get the business of solving the personal problems and answering all my burning questions in order to have what I needed to get on with it. Now, the words are flowing so fast that I can't keep up with it all.

I've done a ton of research on this. It's starting to make sense. There's a ton more to it than meets the eye. There's a lot more to it than just talking about how many times you got your ass whupped. That's about as exciting as reading the memoir of a businessman who has done nothing but fail his entire career.
 

Siri Kirpal

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Seconding (or thirding) that if you don't feel up to the task, don't take it on.

If you want to try your hand at it, though, I recommend Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer and Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach as two good books on how to do it. Bear in mind that if the client wants to publish this book traditionally, you'll probably need a proposal as well as the completed manuscript to land either an agent or a publisher. (Unless you already have one...and even then, you'll need one.)

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

Joanna Alonzo

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Without going into too much detail, the client is set on me writing it. Call it kismet. My gut tells me to go for it, but as you guys mentioned, I need to do the work justice. The work starts on the third week of June, so I'm trying to learn as much as I can before we start. :)

Read a few dozen memoirs to get a feel how its done. Not as easy as it would seem.
I'll do that. Are there any that you can recommend?

If the client wants to write away her pain, she can do that all by herself for free. It won't matter in the least what the work looks like when she's done.
The memoir isn't about her pain, although writing it causes her to relive some memories that are painful for her. I kind of understand how that feels, and every time she tries to revise and rewrite, she goes through the whole thing again, so it's really difficult for her.

The central topic the memoir and stories will revolve on is actually of interest to me, which is why it's a job I'm eager to take on.

If you want to try your hand at it, though, I recommend Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer and Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach as two good books on how to do it. Bear in mind that if the client wants to publish this book traditionally, you'll probably need a proposal as well as the completed manuscript to land either an agent or a publisher. (Unless you already have one...and even then, you'll need one.)

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
THANK YOU for the recommendations, Siri! I'll try to grab a copy of those books. She says she wants to publish, though I'm not sure if she's going for traditional publishing or if she's willing to self-publish. I guess we'll have to cross that bridge when we get there. :)
 

Siri Kirpal

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One thing to remember if you're primarily a fiction writer: Memoir writing is a process of selection. You pare the story down to what's essential. Fiction is a process of addition; you add the ingredients until you've got the proper mix. You can't add new stuff that's not real to a memoir, but you can (through your client) make educated guesses. That's really the main difference.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

Siri Kirpal

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Oh, probably my favorite memoir is The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness by Joel ben Izzy. It's not one of the famous memoirs, but it's thoroughly delightful.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

Literateparakeet

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Joanna Alonzo

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I agree with the suggestion to read memoirs. The first ones that come to my mind (I love memoirs) are Tuesdays with Morrie, The Hiding Place, Miss America By Day, and Ghost No More (by an AWer).

Your tastes may differ. Here's a list of people's favorites from Goodreads:
https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/281.Best_Memoir_Biography_Autobiography
I've been meaning to read Tuesdays with Morrie! And The Hiding Place is by Corrie Ten Boom, right? That's a memoir? Haha... Whaddayouknow, I've already read a memoir after all...

I'll check out the other recommendations. :) Thanks!
 

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