Memoir Writing Is Beautiful, Hard Work

The Photo That Hangs On My Office Wall

Have you heard the Zen saying: Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water? Replace “Before enlightenment” with “To be a good writer” and you’ll have the formula.

Writers write. The most successful writers write a lot.

Sure, writing is an art. But art isn’t made by magic. It takes more than a great idea for a book, more than the realization that a personal situation can interest others, more than surges of inspiration or writing fifty pages when the urge strikes.

The photo that hangs on my office wall shows an elderly Indonesian woman carrying wood she’s collected in a bundle on her back. My brother took the photo on one of his sojourns to that country and I keep it on my wall to remind me of the beauty in hard work. Memoir writing is beautiful, hard work.

Good memoir needs more than a situation; good memoir needs a story, and you are the creator of that story as you turn truth to art. Memoir wants the details that lift a story off the page, that take a reader there along with you, that share you with them and show where you’ve been and how it was. Memoir asks for reflection and it likes the pacing there is in life — times of heightened tension, the build-ups and let-downs.

A memoir needs shape, a narrative arc, whether it’s a single 3,000-word piece of creative nonfiction or a 60,000-word book. With memoir, you get to be the editor of your life: You choose what to put in and what to leave out as you turn an interesting portion of a life into a fascinating story.

Good memoir needs more than a situation; good memoir needs a story, and you are the creator of that story as you turn truth to art.

Writing takes time and dedication to a steady practice. Taking the time to devote yourself to writing is one of the greatest gifts you can give with some of the best rewards you’ll receive. It can’t be rushed.

Discovery happens over time. New ideas come, new angles are taken. And when you finish creating the patches of this great quilt and you stitch them together into a single, complex and connected weaving, you have something solid to hold in your hands and share with others.

I look forward to the day when another shelf on my bookcase is filled with memoirs by people who were inspired and dedicated, who found their voices through writing, discovered what they wanted to say, and learned to say it well. I hope your memoir will be one of them.

Contact me if you’re ready for some valuable help.

1 Comment
  1. Dear Suzanne,

    Can you copy edit my memoir. I have had it edited but it needs a final copy edit (and also copy edit my query letter to a literary agent.) Do you recommend literary agents.How does your remuneration scale for a copy edit work?