Write your memoir in 2021: Resources to get it done

Congratulations! It’s January 1st and your New Year’s resolution is to finally start working on your memoir. Or maybe you plan to rewrite your first draft or restructure your memoir manuscript to submit to a publisher.

I know from experience how hard it is to write about yourself. It’s fun to begin with but then it gets excruciating and you have to eat heaps of ice-cream to make yourself feel better.

Luckily there are lots of resources out there to make writing your memoir easier and my New Year’s resolution for 2021 is to collate them all here, in a series of blog posts.

In the nine years I spent crafting my journal entries into a manuscript draft I tried every memoir writing technical guide, audiobook, podcast and course I could get my hands on.

I even accidentally signed up to a screenwriting course because I misread the title before I paid the non-refundable course fee. It turned out to be one of the most useful courses ever and I will tell you all about it, and many other resources in this blog series.

It will be my pleasure to curate the best memoir resources for you here, to save you time researching them, so you can get on with the important job of telling your story.

WRITING RESOURCE NUMBER 1: Writing prompts to get you started.   

Getting started can be the hardest part. So without further ado:

Step 1: Create a writing nook. You’ll need somewhere you won’t be interrupted for 25 minutes at least.

I find the best technique for creating a writing nook is to go to your bedroom, close the door and find the chair you leave clothes on before you put them back in the wardrobe. Now, with an empty laundry basket nearby, scoop all the clothes from the chair into the basket. It’s best to do this in one arm load, or maybe two if the socks and jocks keep falling out.

Now, sitting in the chair, use your foot to manouvre the basket until it’s out of line of sight. If that’s not possible, manouvring the chair until your back is to the washing also works. And now you have a writing nook!

This strategy can be adapted to create a writing nook on a spare bed covered in clean washing too. Simply push the washing to one side of the bed, then fold the doona or sheet over it. The washing will be out of view and you’re ready to write

Special Instructions for this technique:

  1. Don’t even think about a quick peek on instagram for inspiration about beautiful writer’s nooks because before you know it you’ll have wasted precious writing time googling delivery charges for a faux-scandi minimalist writing desk and hanging pot plant holder.
  • Under no circumstances are you to fold and sort the clothes in the washing basket or spare bed! Not until you’ve exhausted your writing energy for the day. Your new year’s resolution to write your memoir takes precedence over your resolution to keep a tidy house. Creative energy is finite and uninterrupted time to write is precious as gold. You can sort the socks but you can’t connect with your inner wisdom while yelling at the kids/partner/housemates/pets to get in the bath/take out the rubbish/feed the kombucha scoby/stop drinking from the toilet.

Step 2: Find a pen.

I don’t mean go to the stationary store and spend ages at the pen section deciding wether gel pens or ballpoints flow better for literary mastery, because I know that’s what crossed your mind. Go and get a pen from the junk drawer. The one you took home from the tedious work conference where you spent every session daydreaming about quitting your day job. Trial a quick scribble. Does it work? Yes? Go to step 3.

Step 3:  Select a notepad.

It’s a public holiday today so you can’t waste any time at the expensive stationary shop choosing between the A4 with inspirational picture or the A5 with the embossed motivational quote. You can do that later. Right now, go and find anything with blank pages and/or lines. Find that notebook you already started making notes about your tax in, or the high-school English notebook with a blank few pages left that you’ve been meaning to declutter since 1994. Or tear out some pages from your kid’s English notebook and lean on that expensive hardcover recipe book you’ve never used and now won’t have time to. Because you’ll be too busy writing.   

Step 3: Start writing.

It will be hard to write for 25 minutes without interruption so I’ve collated some memoir writing prompts for you. The goal is to write whatever comes into your head, for the next 25 minutes. Special instructions:

  1. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  2. Start writing and don’t stop.
  3. No googling “techniques for writing for 25 minutes without stopping” (I’ll cover that in a later blog post).
  4. Select one or more of these writing prompts[1]
    • My favorite childhood toy was…
    • My favorite childhood game was…
    • The best movie I ever saw as a kid was…
    • I don’t do it much but I enjoy…
    • As a kid, I dreamed of being…
    • For years, I have missed and wondered about…
    • I have a loyal friend in…
    • One thing I like about my hometown is…
    • When the timer goes off, you can stop. Repeat for as many more 25 minute blocks as you feel up to.

Step 4: Feel smug.

You did it! You started writing your memoir. Take that, 2020 New Year’s Resolution! Look how good 2021’s resolution is shaping up to be already.    

Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I’ll talk about my favourite writing resource for building up your writing momentum.


[1] Taken from the fabulous book: The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.

Why my book launch is raising funds for 100 Women.

In the course of marketing my book I’ve been asked many times for my advice for folk wondering what they can do to make this world a better place. One small step I recommend is to donate to an organisation like 100 Women, that prioritises women’s economic empowerment, because the return on that investment is huge.

I’ve seen first hand in my ten years of international development work that when women contribute financially to the household it changes the dynamics of who makes the decisions.

When women have a greater say where household expenditure goes its more likely to be spent on the family’s health, education, and nutrition. That’s a fact that’s been verified many times over by research, (and a fact possibly known by women all over the world without having it verified by research).

When women are empowered economically, they also gain greater legitimacy in public discourse. During the years I spent working alongside DPOs (disabled people’s organisations) and Community Based Rehabilitation Programs in India, Bangladesh, China, Cambodia and Vietnam I saw the collective power of women. I saw mothers of children with disabilities coming together to advocate for their children to attend school and pressuring local authorities to improve safety for girls, among other things.

My book tells the story of Ammanuel, whose mum couldn’t find work because of stigma about his disability. She accessed microcredit to set up a small business cooking food on the roadside, and made enough money to pay for food and stable accommodation for them both.

My book also tells the stories of housebound young girls who learnt to walk again after being paralysed from TB of the spine, which meant they could return to school, finish their education and play with their pals. What I didn’t include in my book was the story of the community based rehabilitation program running alongside the physio department, that worked with local schools and authorities to overcome the stigma and physical barriers for kids with disabilities to attend, which empowered countless other girls and boys to access education. There is only space for so many stories in one book, unfortunately.

But with 100 Women’s giving circle you can be part of unlimited stories of women turning their lives around. Whether it’s utilising microcredit to change their individual circumstances or coming together to create job opportunities in the community; and working to overcome the structural inequalities facing women.

In 2019 their grants supported women overseas, in Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley and programs for culturally and linguistically diverse communities in WA, and 100% of donations go to their grants pool. And it’s 100% homegrown – it’s based in Perth! There’s one hundred more reasons why 100 Women are awesome (sorry, that’s corny but I couldn’t resist). You can look them up here: www.100women.org.au

Tired lady writes action montage instead of frequent blog posts.

I had grand plans of posting regular updates about my journey from signing a book contract to becoming a published author. But it turns out I didn’t do that, mainly because publishing a book, raising a toddler and maintaining sanity are mutually exclusive activities.

My next brilliant plan was to publish my inaugural blog post when advance copies of the book arrived. But that joyous day happened a few weeks back and it felt irreverent to post about good news when so many were worried about Coronovirus.

So I procrastinated respectfully delayed until now, when it feels right to post a pick-me-up, so here it is: It turns out that receiving your own book in the post is an unrivalled feeling! I can still barely believe it’s true.  For the first few days I couldn’t stop turning the book over in my hands and marvelling at its beauty.

So apologies dear readers that you didn’t get to join me along the way. In lieu of regular updates, I present to you an action montage instead. (Please note: This isn’t how my actual book reads, it has proper sentences):

May-Aug 2019. First round of edits. Submit finished first round back to editor. Feel teensy bit smug about ease of editing and being author.

Sept 2019: Receive next round of edits from my editor; have to move house unexpectedly, use up writing time packing and unpacking. Feel a bit stressed but excited and confident.

Wk 1 Oct: Son Theo gets pneumonia, writing in daytimes difficult as Theo can’t go to daycare. Writing in evenings when Theo’s asleep impossible, mainly as Theo barely ever asleep.  Theo’s sleep compounded by illness. In desperation, antibiotic syrup is disguised in ice cream and strawberry Quik, resulting in full consumption and sleeping toddler. Feel smug about success of combining author and mum role, then spend remainder of evening scraping pink vomit off bed, carpet and child instead of writing. 

Oct/Nov: Above scenario but with gastro/slapped cheek virus/ hours of bellowing for undiscernible reasons instead of sleep. Edits mainly done in wee hours of morning. Suspect being author could cause nervous breakdown, regret whole idea.

Dec 2019: Finish edits! Fist pump myself for being done with editing forever. Email off edited book.

Jan 2020: Editor sends next round of edits that I misinterpreted as someone else’s role.

Jan/Feb: Frantically work on edits in library while Theo in creche, daycare, with various beloved family members or babysitters. Exceed recommended daily intake of caffeine and sustenance chocolate, daily.

Feb: Marketing discussions. Front picture design discussions. Back jacket blurb discussions. Cover finalised.

Day of deadline for proof-reading changes: Theo looks sick again, can’t go to library creche. Work on final edits next to Theo, who lies down for five minutes and makes miracle recovery. Email off final copy with Theo sitting on my shoulders, playing bongos on my head.

Editor receives copy, later replies to say book is now off to printers, everything done. Cry a little bit, mainly as blood caffeine far exceeds RDI and celebratory chocolate not available.

March: Advance copy arrives. Feels so fantastic to see and hold my book, don’t regret even one minute of it. (Disclaimer: not entirely true). Start writing next book.

I have the best of intentions to deliver my next blog post soon, definitely before my next book. In the meantime, wishing good health and good spirits to all.

Blog

Hey guys….look what I made! I received the first advance copy of my book, actually a few weeks back, but it felt irreverant to post about good news then when so many were worried about coronovirus. But maybe now it’s time for a little pick-me-up, so here it is: It turns out that publishing a book, raising a toddler and maintaining sanity are mutually exclusive activities and that chocolate biscuits are a legitimate form of sustenance when writing at 4am. But it also turns out that receiving your own book in the post is an unrivalled feeling! It’s a day I’ve dreamt of for years and I can barely believe it’s true.  I couldn’t stop turning it over in my hands and marvelling at its beauty.

Lots of people had asked about the process and I had great plans of starting a blog and posting regular updates along the way but it turns out that was (wildly) unrealistic.

So now that the book is finished, here’s an action montage instead. Please note this isn’t how my actual book reads, it has proper sentences, and not even one action montage.

Sept: Receive next round of edits from my editor; have to move house unexpectedly, use up writing time packing and unpacking. Feel a bit stressed but excited and confident.

Wk 1 Oct: Theo gets pneumonia, writing in daytimes difficult as Theo can’t go to daycare. Writing in evenings when Theo’s asleep impossible, mainly as Theo barely ever asleep.  Theo’s sleep compounded by illness. In desperation, antibiotic syrup is disguised in ice cream and strawberry Quik, resulting in full consumption and sleeping toddler. One edited paragraph later, feel smug about success of combining author and mum role, then spend remainder of evening scraping pink vomit off bed, carpet and child instead of writing. 

Oct/Nov: Above scenario but with gastro/slapped cheek virus/ hours of bellowing for undiscernible reasons instead of sleep. Edits done in wee hours of morning. Suspect being author could cause nervous breakdown, regret whole idea.

Dec: Finish edits! Fist pump myself for being done with editing forever. Email off edited book.

Jan: Editor sends next round of edits that I misinterpreted as someone else’s role.

Jan/Feb: Work on edits in library while Theo in creche, daycare, with various beloved family members or babysitters. 

Feb: Marketing discussions. Front picture design discussions. Back jacket blurb discussions. Cover finalised.

Day of deadline for proof-reading changes: Theo looks sick again, can’t go to library creche. Work on final edits next to Theo, who lies down for five minutes and makes miracle recovery. Email off final copy with Theo sitting on my shoulders, playing bongos on my head.

Editor receives copy, later replies to say book is now off to printers, everything done. Cry a little bit, mainly as blood caffeine far exceeds RDI and celebratory chocolate not available.

March: Advance copy arrives. Feels so fantastic to see and hold my book, don’t regret even one minute of it (Disclaimer: not entirely true). Start writing next book.

Wishing you all good health and good spirits until next time.