I recently spoke with a friend of mine who is writing her family memoirs. She has written a children's book, but never something so challenging as a memoir. To me writing a memoir is harder than writing fiction, because if you plan to share it with an audience, it has to be captivating, and you are opening your heart up to your reader. Every work produced is like having a baby and the fear that someone might reject your beautiful creation is a powerful deterrent to writing.
She had written a few chapters and told me she was stuck. Her memoir was too short and not close to the 100,000 words or whatever number she felt she had to reach to make her story worthwhile. As a new writer, I knew I had to be careful with how I helped her get through this writer's block or writer expectation. I gave her some advice that I think is worth sharing.
1. Don't write with a numeric expectation. This may differ if you are writing a research paper, but for fiction and non-fiction, writing to reach a certain page length can be intimidating and stifling to creativity. I never know how long a book is going to be until it's done. I write until I feel I have included everything that makes the story complete. For my first novel, Warriors Within, I had no idea on how to write a book. I just wrote from the research I had done and when I realized I had written over 500 words, I figured out I would change it to a trilogy. Let the words flow without criticism or editing.
2. Don't stop writing, even if the words don't make sense. Our inner editor can stop a writer as quickly as pulling the emergency brake. Sometimes free writing is the best technique to use when you aren't sure where a book is going. Even with a memoir, writing about a certain event or memory without wondering where it will fit in the book can lead you to a new chapter or theme.
3. Take a break and put the manuscript away. If your story feels stale or you don't feel connected to it anymore, put it away. Start something else or read books that you like to write. When you come back to your story and read it through, you may have more clarity or see a theme that runs through the piece or realize that you don't like what you are writing. Listen to your instincts.
4. Write a synopsis of your novel. When I first begin writing a book, I don't write an outline, but sometimes in order to keep me on track, I write a description, like I'm describing a dream or a movie to someone. If it rings true to me then that's my guide for the book. Sometimes parts of it connect and other times I may begin with that description, but take a different path. I may even write a few different synopses to see which one I like better. It doesn't matter if I use them, it helps me to clear my brain so I can find my way through the novel.
5. List events and write about them for a memoir without worrying about where they will lead. Sometimes you need to honor the memory without worrying about whether or not it will end up in a book. Keep true to the memories and the feelings these stories evoke. That's where the magic and power of a memoir comes through. Being honest and true to what you remember. Then looking back through it, you will see the connections and know how to string the stories together into a well-written memoir that you and your family can enjoy. Or have an editor see where and how the chapters fit.
The most important thing any writer can do is keep writing. Take it seriously, but do it for the love of the written word and your stories will flow.