Journey of a Memoir

Post-it notes, color markers, index cards, notebooks, flip charts, Excel spreadsheets. I used all of them and more to write a book. What started out as an essay in a one-day seminar eight years ago grew into a memoir.

I read lots of memoirs, studied books at Barnes & Noble, indie bookstores, and on my own shelves.

I called my sisters to verify family facts. “Do you remember . . . ?” and “When did we . . . ?”

I bought easel-size paper and wallpapered my writing room. I moved a rainbow of 3×3 sticky notes up, down, and across.

I asked people to read the first page and clunky, raw versions that I thought were complete. How embarrassing!

I was over-eager, and prematurely sent out query letters thinking I could land an agent. Who wouldn’t want to represent me? I had a unique story, didn’t I?

Then I met Chris who said, “You have to deliver the goods. Dig deeper.”

So I took his sage advice and sat on the floor of my writing room to make myself physically uncomfortable. I spit out pages of difficult scenes or “islands of memoir,” suggested by William Zinsser in Writing About Your Life.

I spread pages in neat columns on the floor, stood up, noticed themes and color-coded them.

I laid pages on the kitchen island for another view. Then I took scissors and cut up paragraphs to rearrange them.

Back at the computer, I deleted sections large and small and moved them into a file titled “Lost pieces of manuscript.”

I’d wake in the middle of the night and think of a better word to use in a specific sentence. I’d reach for a notepad on the nightstand and scribble words before losing the thought.

I met with Kathy who would critique sections and pose question after question. She patiently took my calls that were filled with self-doubt and she nudged me forward.

I eliminated chapter titles and felt immediate freedom.

I secluded myself in the rotunda of my local library where not even a bottle of water is allowed.

I asked Mary and Bridget and Martha to read the manuscript and met with each of them for feedback.

And all the while, I asked, “Why am I doing this?”

One voice said, “No one cares. This is junk.”

Yet another voice whispered, “Keep going, Joyce.”

I read it and read it and read it, with a pencil in one hand and sticky page markers in the other, until I got so tired of my own story.

I put the manuscript away and didn’t touch it for months at a time. I told myself it was marinating.

I dabbed peppermint essential oil on the back of my neck to stimulate creativity.

I wandered museums, lit candles, listened to classical music, and drank herbal tea hoping for inspiration.

I stared out the window – a lot.

I diverted my attention by watering houseplants and shopping on Amazon.

I meditated.

I took a lot of walks.

Then one day last November I talked to my friend Tina and told her I was stuck.

“You’re not stuck. You’re done,” she said.

Those five words catapulted me forward. I gave myself a deadline to self-publish and kept driving to it. I hired a graphic designer and a copy editor. I proofed the manuscript multiple times before approving it for publication.

Did I really need all those writing methods and stationery supplies? I don’t know but they got me to where I am now: a published author.

6 thoughts on “Journey of a Memoir

  1. So grateful to have read this. It describes beautifully the journey I am currently on in writing my memoir! The dialogues in my head; the thousands of pieces of paper and notes; the messed up computer files, etc. You’ve given me hope.


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