8 writing tips for memoir and biography

A sunset I captured with my camera in Sydney.

A sunset I captured with my camera in Sydney.

I saw the most awesome documentary last week about healers all over the world. Within 2 minutes, I had tears leaking out because of what a good story a healing makes. Before, broken and hurting and helpless to do anything about it; afterwards, healed and whole and grateful to God. The best part is that the story is true.

This post – and my free ebook you can download below – is for the life writers of true stories who want some “back to basics” reminders for how to get your story on paper. Whether you’re writing memoir, autobiography, or biography, a few simple principles hold true. And most of them are fairly easy to spot in your own writing, so you can save a lot of time by referring back to these principles as you write.

Memoirs and biographies need to feel real for the reader. They need real drama.

Yes, it’s your story, but it’s still a story. Your story – or the story of the person whose life you’re chronicling – has already captured your attention and imagination and heart. It needs to be written in a way that also captures the reader’s attention and their heart.

Here’s my 8 basic tips – one for every day of the week, plus an extra.

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Book Review: On Track by Kathryn Apel

I have been waiting and waiting for this book to be released! It was still in the editing process while I was working in marketing this year, so I didn’t get to work on it, but I got to read the final manuscript and OH MY GOODNESS.

This one was simply amazing! I’m not a crier but I cried for joy over this happy ending.

Here’s a quick peek inside the book and how/why Kat Apel wrote this uplifting story.

On Track by Kathryn Apel: A heart-warming children’s book about sports, sibling rivalry and the courage to be yourself.

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Dressing the part: Fashion for women writers

A Roman woman writer, Terentia or Terenzia. She wears the gold hairnet common to the Imperial Period in Pompeii. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

A Roman woman writer, Terentia or Terenzia. She wears the gold hairnet common to the Imperial Period in Pompeii.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

This post is a bit of fun. Many women – myself included – love clothes and deciding what image we’re going to portray with our dress style. So today’s post is all about the fashions of historical and modern writers in different countries and genres.

Even Jane Austen loved talking about the latest fashions when she wasn’t writing. She once wrote to her sister, “My cloak came on Tuesday, and, though I expected a good deal, the beauty of the lace astonished me. It is too handsome to be worn — almost too handsome to be looked at.”

Today’s post is mainly for women, but if you’re interested, I can post a version for the gents later on!

Does any of this actually matter?

There’s a serious side to fashion.

Let’s say it’s time to finish writing your book. If you feel creative wearing certain clothes, wear them every time you write and you’ll write more often and with more energy!

Then it’s time to promote the book. If you know that you are wearing something that makes you look your best, you’ll feel more confident and find it easier to talk about your creative work with others. If you have a great profile photo, you won’t hesitate to get in touch with someone on LinkedIn. When you’re at a writer’s festival and you have a two-minute chance to chat with a publisher in an elevator after a session, you’ll speak with confidence knowing you look and feel your best, your most creative, your most “writerly”.

Writers come in all shapes and sizes, so ultimately you should choose whatever you feel most confident and creative in (thanks, Modern Mrs Darcy) as your “writer” outfit. But here are some ideas if you’ve never thought about dressing like a writer before…

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An ode to Terry Pratchett and the only gift a writer ever needs

Terry Pratchett.  Image source: Robin Matthews, Camera Press, via Daily Mail UK

Terry Pratchett.
Image source: Robin Matthews, Camera Press, via Daily Mail UK

One of my favourite authors of all time, prolific and gifted fantasy satire author Terry Pratchett, passed away last week. It hit me suddenly; I realised I had missed my chance. I wished I could have written to him before he moved on, to thank him for how he changed my writing, my life.

“You are a wonderful writer. Your books live in two and a half whole shelves of my largest bookcase because I enjoy rereading them so much. Thank you for your clever characters who made me think about the world differently. Thank you for your involving plots and your hilarious sense of humour, which gave me another world to live in on grey days.”

I know I’m just one fangirl of many. He’s such a famous author that I know he must get stacks of fan mail every day, from emails to postcards (“Terry, here I am at the edge of the Disc!”). By the time he died at 66 years old, he’d written 70 novels, including the 40-novel Discworld series that I loved so much.

But I still wish that I’d been able to express my gratitude to him in some small way – for me, not for him.

That day I made sure I didn’t miss out on other opportunities. I wrote two letters to authors at the publishing house where I work, whose novels are currently being copy-edited (an arduous process in which you question every word choice). I’d read the first or second drafts of their manuscripts in preparation for promoting their work and loved – simply loved – the writing and the characters. I’m not a crier, but I cried over the happy ending of one of them, sitting there at my desk in the marketing office.

So I wrote and told them, “I loved your book. It moved me greatly and I feel inspired to go out and do something about it. Your theme is one I’ve seen in real life and it thrilled me to see someone put it into words so accurately and with such real emotion.”

And I learned a big lesson.

Your encouragement is the best gift you can give a fellow writer.

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Open letter to the doubting writer

I wrote this email to a client last month and they said it had to be shared, so here is an edited version of that note. I hope it encourages you as it did them.

 

60 Once upon a time on typewriter - bigstock_story_2226743_2 from Tamika Christy

Image source: Tamika Christy

 

Dear doubting writer,

No worries, don’t stress. Panic is a normal part of the writing (and a vital part of the editing) process; no doubt you know that already.

I wouldn’t have quoted on your book if I didn’t see in it the potential to be a truly worthy book. I’m not saying the book is perfect; that’s why editing is a good idea. But you’ve already got my vote of confidence.

There’s no one with a gun to your head to get this book out ASAP. No matter when it arrives, people will be thrilled ecstatically to read it.

But you know what, even if you look at your book and think “eh, it’s still not perfect”, I was reading another book today and came across this quote:

“the woods would be very silent
if no birds sang there
except those that sang best”
– Henry van Dyke

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Narrative Therapy: Hear from the author of ‘How I rescued my brain’

At the Perth Writers Festival THIS SATURDAY (21 Feb 2015), you can hear David Roland speak about his book How I Rescued My Brain (Scribe) and how structured life writing (and narrative therapy) can lead to emotional resolution by turning subconscious memories into conscious concepts.

I’m still learning about this topic, but I’m reading a psychology book at the moment about it, Narrative Therapy by Gene Combs and Jill Freedman, so this post will have a follow-up post once I’ve really got my head around it. Normally I wouldn’t post about a topic until I’d done my research, but I figured if you want to go to his event and find out more, you need to know it’s happening now!

Narrative therapy is when you write about an event that has happened to you so that you can see the whole “story arc” of what happened for yourself and gain a better understanding of why it happened, how it came about, and what the resolution of it is.

I picked the Combs/Freedman book up for the concept itself. Closure! Resolution! A better way to think about ourselves and our life events. It’s useful for lots of things. Trauma patients, depressed patients, or people who want to write so they can see the bigger picture they want for their life – e.g. when they’re going through a big change like changing careers or having kids.

For us creators, it’s important because narrative therapy helps us to think outside the box of our own circular thinking, and that thought-stretching can give us better neural plasticity, as David Roland’s book (below) tells us. And neural plasticity means the ability to think of new ideas and be more creative, so it’s worth finding out more about… (Plus narrative writing therapy is good practise at writing a cohesive story!)

David Roland says “life writing” (narrative therapy) enables us to do lots of different useful things, from moving through difficult times, to heightening positive experiences, to learning new things. In his case, Roland had to relearn things his brain already knew, but had forgotten, after he had what doctors assumed was a “stroke-like” event. He was a forensic psychologist who ended up in the emergency ward one day with no idea how he got there.  His book is the story of his neurological breakdown and how he made his remarkable cognitive recovery. You can read more about the book here and buy tickets to his talk here.

Image source: Caroline Leaf

Image source: Caroline Leaf

And for a distinctly Christian perspective on neural plasticity, check out Switched On My Brain by Caroline Leaf PhDhttp://www.koorong.com/search/product/switch-on-your-brain-caroline-leaf/9780801016240.jhtml  According to researchers, the vast majority (about three quarters) of the illnesses that plague us today are a direct result of our thought life and the toxins that are caused by negative thinking patterns. What we think about definitely affects both our emotional and our physical health. Dr Leaf tells us how to think positive while keeping mindfully focussed on God, not just “empty” meditation. This book has been highly recommended by a few people now, so it is next on my to-read list!

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan, (C) 2015. Reblogging is always highly encouraged, as long as you cite me as the author.

Foreshadowing: Do you know what’s coming?

'Okay class, is there anyone else who does not understand the term foreshadowing?' Image source: Artist Dan Reynolds via Cartoon Stock

Image source: Artist Dan Reynolds via Cartoon Stock

One of my number one pet peeves is people who don’t indicate. Are they trying to kill me? They change lanes by swerving in front of me without warning; they stop in the middle of the road for no reason and then suddenly turn onto a side road without warning; they merge towards me without warning.

It’s no joke. Indicating saves lives.

In literary terms, foreshadowing is the equivalent of indicating.

Maybe it’s not life-saving, but it is a useful device. You’re telling your reader – without telling them – what’s coming. So it’s a bit more subtle than “Hey, I’m turning left now.” You’re hinting. You’re insinuating. You’re planting a thought. “Hey, maybe I’ll merge. Sometime soon. You might see it coming, you might not.”

Isn’t that cheating?

No. There’s two valid main reasons for foreshadowing:

  1. To build anticipation in your reader. What’s going to happen next? Ooh, dramatic tension!
  2. To make strange or unlikely events seem credible. The reader is mentally prepared for it to happen because someone already hinted that it could

So, how to do it well? How to do it poorly? It all depends on which method of foreshadowing you’re using.

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Read all about it: Write Around Queensland short story I edited and my reviews of other stories (50th post!)

Historic moment: Just realised this is the 50th post on my blog! Woohoo!
Thanks for joining me for the ride. 🙂

Maya’s signature look of excitement  Image source: Chelsea Anne Photography / Becuo Images

Maya’s signature look of excitement
Image source: Chelsea Anne Photography / Becuo Images
(http://chelseaanne.com/personal/mayas-signature-look/)

After 12 months of working and waiting for the 2014 Write Around Queensland anthology, today is the day!

You might remember that I said there would be some book reviews coming. Well, you also get to read the story that I edited in the eBook of the anthology – for free!

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Why you should listen to your editor

Grumpy Cat Image source: AP Images

Grumpy Cat
Image source: AP Images

“In the end, what makes a book valuable is not the paper it’s printed on, but the thousands of hours of work by dozens of people who are dedicated to creating the best possible reading experience for you.”
― John Green

At the publishing house where I used to work, we had one author who simply would not listen to the advice of his editors.

Ultimately, the final say in how a book is edited is up to the author. It’s their copyright; it’s their book. But the publishing house always has the option of terminating the contract if the author refuses to make required changes.

Our editors recommended very strongly that this author edit out his “purple prose”. This guy was in love with adjectives. It was a common problem in all of his previous books, too.

When this author’s book was finally published, it got reviewed in the Courier-Mail (one of Australia’s larger newspapers). Guess what. The reviewer picked up on the purple prose, too. They nailed the book, and it didn’t sell well – big surprise.

We talked to the author about it but he was convinced that it was a coincidence that everyone had picked up on the same issue and made such a big deal about it.

This is why listening to your editor is so important.

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Bad stories that are being written in the world, and how we can edit them

Delete button. How to edit truly bad stories Image source: Fonts and Fiction Blogspot

How to edit truly bad stories
Image source: Fonts and Fiction Blogspot

This post is a long one, sorry, but stick with it! I really believe this is something we need to make time for.

 

 

Recently, I was looking for inspiration for a part of my novel where one character interrupts a battle to give a passionate speech that marks the beginning of the road to peace. One of the first results when you Google “speech about peace and war” is Martin Luther King Jr.’s little-remembered 1967 speech opposing American involvement in the Vietnam War, ‘A Time to Break Silence’.

I had no idea that reading this speech would change the topic that I would blog on today.

“A time comes when silence is betrayal. In Vietnam, that time has come for us.” – Martin Luther King Jr., ‘A Time to Break Silence’, 1967

Many of you, upon reading the title of this post, assumed that I’m talking simply about my profession of editing. “I say there are bad stories being written out there, and we gonna git ‘em fixed!”

I wish I was.

In the world today, as there has been every year since the dawn of man, there are bad stories being written. By governments and individuals. By my government in Australia. By individuals who I know who think that the government is doing the right thing.

And I need to talk about it. I need to tell you about it. I need to talk about why we are writing a “bad” story and how we can edit it so that we aren’t ashamed of what we have written.

“I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.” – George Orwell, ‘Why I Write’ Essay

 

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