How do you start a book? A better way to put it would be, how do you eat an elephant? One page (or bite) at a time. Writing a book about your life is a daunting project and I’ve known some writers who started taking memoir workshops with me ten years ago and they still aren’t closer to getting their memoir done. If this describes you, I hope this blog post can help or if you are starting your memoir book journey, this post may save you some time.
In my experience as a coach/teacher/mentor, I’ve learned 6 ways to teach writers how to start and structure their memoir. Taking inspiration from a business plan proposal and a nonfiction book proposal, these are the necessary ingredients for getting your memoir from your head to the printed page! Yes, these ways do require a bit of work and effort, but I promise you your book will take shape if you work on these ways.
- List out 10 scenes in chronological order. First list them; don’t write them out. Make sure the scenes involve you and another person and that they are full of good conflict—is someone failing to get their point across in these scenes? Good scenes usually involve someone saying “no” or doing something inappropriate.
- Once you have your 10 scenes written out, make 10 chapter titles out of them. Place one scene in each of your 10 chapters. Now I want you to stretch and write 12 chapters—your first chapter will be an intro chapter and your last one will be the conclusion. Please note, you may not have a scene that goes in these “bookend” chapters.
- Now you have 12 chapters, 12 chapter titles and 10 scenes. Good. Your Intro chapter will be about “why you wrote this book.” Start writing at least 500 words. Stop. Then start writing chapter summaries for your next 11 chapters. You can incorporate the scenes into the chapter, but most importantly, I want you to write about what you plan to include in each chapter. Try to make each chapter summary 1,000 words.
- Try to have 10,000 words written before you tell me these three things:
- Your intended audience/your ideal reader
- The theme of your book
- Your 200-word back-of-the-book blurb
- Your 150-200 word bio
- You’re writing your memoir as the hero of your own story AND as the mentor for your reader. Never forget these two very important roles. Yes, writing a memoir is very difficult and can be soul-draining, but it will change your life for the better AND it change others lives too. Hopefully it’ll change folks you’ll never meet!
- Your next step is to flesh out each chapter’s content and make sure the reader can easily follow your story. Are you including dialogue, scene description, character development, conflict, motivation and first person reflection? I would read several memoirs at this point to inspire you. Some of my favorites include:
The Liar’s Club and The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolffe
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer
- You probably have 45,000 words now—which is a great length for a memoir. Before you get your book published, I would recommend hiring an editor because memoirs are tricky—sometimes what we think is important and universal, may be completely boring to the reader. I teach memoir workshops and have a six-week live seminar this fall to help you finish your memoir!
Good luck and get your book published so you can change some lives!
Advanced Memoir: Get Your Memoir Done with Alice Osborn
Location: Center for Excellence, 3803‐B Computer Dr. Ste. 106 Raleigh, NC 27609
Thursday, August 18 to Thursday, September 22, 2016 (Class meets for 6 Thursdays)
Time: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.—Bring your lunch! Tuition: $199
Required Readings: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
Additional deep dive editing package is $375 (without this package, Alice only offers verbal feedback)
To Register Click Here
Have you completed Alice’s Memoir Workshop Series and wish to continue to get your memoir polished and published? If so, then sign up for Advanced Memoir: Get Your Memoir Done with Alice Osborn where you’ll receive in-class writing exercises, on the Hero’s Journey, turning points and small details, paired with insightful feedback from teacher Alice Osborn, to help you structure your memoir, give it a strong foundation, so you can then get your book published.
While we’re together, we’ll also read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. This workshop is best-suited for writers who have previous writing experience or who have been working on their memoir. Participants bring their own lunch. If you’d like Alice to deep edit your memoir pages during the class (without this package, Alice only offers verbal feedback), consider purchasing the $375 editing package (up to 60 pages and 20,000 words, valued at $600).