Finding your Non-fiction Voice

  Writing a non-fiction book is a huge undertaking whether you are writing a memoir, a self-help or expository text. Unlike fiction, you do not get to make things up. What you write has to be true. That is what makes it nonfiction. Depending on what genre you are focusing, you have to determine the non-fiction voice in which you will write your book. The most important element in finding your non-fiction voice is who you are writing to, or your target audience. While you always want the voice you use to be authentic, we all have many voices. In …

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Writing a Memoir: Write the Journey

You’ve logged the miles and now it’s time to write the journey.

Writing a memoir is your opportunity to share a transformational story or collection of stories from your life’s journey. You’ve logged the miles, and, along the way, you’ve faced challenges, taken risks, failed, given up, risked again; until, finally, you emerged transformed in some way. You’ve reached a crest where you can see 365 degrees around you, and you pick out the faint trail of your passage all the way back to your beginning. You know you have a story to share with others. Where do you begin?

Begin at the end

Begin at the end of your story. Really. Not kidding. Your story may be one of struggle, facing and ultimately overcoming adversity. Think Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Author Cheryl Strayed structures her narrative on her actual journey, over a contained period of time, with a clear story arc based on her transformative experience. At the same time, she is writing about her journey to come home to herself after years of dangerous, addictive choices. Her story is one of transformation, step by step, mile by mile, challenge by daunting challenge.

If your memoir is about overcoming adversity, then you, too, are telling a story of transformation. The main character (in a memoir that’s you) faces a dilemma and views her world differently at the end of the story than she did at the beginning. Your reader, too, must experience this journey of transformation from beginning, to middle, to end.

Picture your transformation

Think about powerful last images of books and films you love and how they capture an essence of the story. Now imagine yourself at the end of your story. Take a snapshot in time. Pick an image that captures something essential about you at the end of your story. Where are you? Who are you with? Or are you alone? How are you standing, sitting, dancing? How are you relating to others? Pick out any details that come to you.

Want to get writing right now? Grab your paper and pen and write for 5 minutes. You can use this method to answer all the questions in this post. Easy hint: You’re not writing your story, you are playing with ideas so stay loose, write quickly, do not erase or censor, have fun.

Now circle back to the beginning

Now imagine yourself at the beginning of your story. Take a new snapshot in time. Again, pick an image that captures something essential about you at the beginning of your story. Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with? What are you seeking?

Before and after

Finally, hold those images side by side in your mind. How have you changed from the beginning to the end? How are you relating differently to others? How has your view of the world shifted? Something inside you has changed profoundly. You have undergone a transformation. You’ve let something go and you gained something new. In story terms, you’ve sacrificed and you’ve earned a gift.

When your memoir is not about overcoming adversity

No excruciating problem? No problem! Your memoir may be based on a your adventures, your experiences, and organized thematically. Novelist and memoirist, Roz Morris, author of Not Quite Lost: Travels Without A Sense of Direction, was inspired by an old, leather bound diary, a “visitor’s book” that she carried with her on her travels and used to record unique encounters and interesting experiences, moments otherwise lost. She selected her most “tellable” stories and then looked more carefully for connecting themes to create Not Quite Lost. Roz Morris, also a respected writing teacher and mentor, encourages writers to clarify the primary theme of their memoir and/or chapters by finishing the statement: This is the story of how I did (fill in the blank). Note: Keep a journal or file of stories that don’t fit your statement because they may well find their way into other books you write.

Borrow, build, restructure

Wise writers do not reinvent the wheel. Who has time? When it comes to structuring your narrative, be imaginative, and also recycle. You can use markers on a map, musical scales, ingredients in your favorite recipe, the Ten Commandments. Lists may make great story markers: the list of Einstein’s Demands (to his wife Mileva); Galileo’s Shopping List; Santa’s List; your grocery list; a list of country-western song titles–you get the idea. Take a look at Charles Dickens and his chapter headings. In one of my novels, I divided sections by using the circles of hell from Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno. Dickens and Dante can be models for memoir, too.

‘Find your why’ and stay on course

A writer recently shared some great advice from a conference speaker talking about memoir. Her directive: Find your why, it doesn’t matter what it is, but find it! Why are you passionate about telling your story and sharing it with readers? Write down your “Why” on a sticky note and tack it to your computer or somewhere visible on your desk. When doubts arise and your spirits flag, use your passion to re-inspire and re-energize yourself.

Writing a memoir is not writing your journal

Although writers often use journals to record material, thoughts, notes, your memoir is not your journal. A journal is meant to be sequential, a collection of images, stories, moments, an exploration of history, memory, and the unconscious, a catharsis. A journal needs no ending, no structure, your memoir does.

Writing a memoir is not writing your autobiography

A memoir is not an autobiography. An autobiography aims to cover the span of your life. A memoir is the story covering a slice of your life–a life slice meaningful to you and to others. A memoir is not a biography. If someone wants to write a book that details your life, you are already famous.

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Bring Your Story to Life

Gift your characters and their worlds and their journeys of dilemma, conflict, and transformation generously.

Emphasis on transformation.

Of course well-told stories have the power to simply entertain us. But the best stories also have the power to transform by offering new vision, new insight and awareness. They wake us up. And yes that is a tall order.

I watched two films at the Regal 14 with my ten-year-old daughter this summer. Both were major studio productions with big budgets.

The first, a very recent box office hit—a save-the-universe archetypal saga—featured a reluctant, off-beat hero and his vagabond “knights”, one of whom was female, with green skin and a fighting spirit. Make no mistake, she could kick ass with the best and the worst of the guys. The film was loud, action-packed, entertaining and the same ole’, same ole’ story. My daughter loved it! (more…)

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Break Through Writer’s Block

break through writer's block
Break through writer’s block using these helpful techniques:
1) Breathe!  Slowly, deeply, it’s all okay and normal and you will be fine, truly. (And repeat.)
2) Put the story structure info away—in a drawer, in a trash can, in a virtual trash can—and don’t look at it again. When it causes anxiety it is no longer useful. Shred any piece of paper that tells you that there are rules for writing a novel.
3) Know that finishing is difficult for your creative self (and mine and everyone’s!). Resistance can swell a bit when the end of a draft (or even “almost-draft”) nears.


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Free Your Creativity

free your creativity

If you’re one of those people who ask how, when, where writers get their ideas, it might be hard for you to imagine the need to get a handle on Idea Overwhelm. But when it comes to generating ideas, many Creatives struggle with too much, too many, too fast! The ability to sift, hone and focus ideas and material is crucial to every writer’s success. Here are 10 ways to begin to get a handle on your wealth of creative material: Go for your hot spot! Write your passion! Life is too short to choose tepid subjects. You will only …

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