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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Why creators need to care less what people think

74 - Skeleton Keys with Locks - from The Journey's End on Etsy

Image source: The Journey’s End seller on Etsy

Today a tradesmen came to do the front door to replace the broken lock on our door. That’s right, burglars, don’t even bother trying. We’re Fort Knox, baby.

But he came to the door and my brain immediately thought, Aaaargh I forgot you were coming today. The place is a mess and I haven’t even vacuumed yet.

He was there less than half an hour to do the job and we’ll never see him again, and why would he even care what our place looks like? Gosh, what a waste of mental energy it was to stress about it.

It led me to wonder, if I’m letting my poor brain stress out this much – even momentarily – over what a total stranger thinks of me in a non-creative situation, how much am I stressing my brain out about what readers are going to think about what I write?

Have I been writing a terrible novel because I’m worried that readers aren’t going to get it?

Then I read this post by Tim Urban today and just laughed because it explains everything. It’s called ‘Taming the Mammoth: Why you should stop caring what other people think’.

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Book review: Devotions that start and finish my day

My life verse, decorated by me using old wrapping paper (I recycle!). Was stuck up on my wall at the office - now it's stuck on our wall at home, right next to the front door. Last thing I see when I'm heading out? God's reminder.

My life verse, decorated by me using old wrapping paper (I recycle!). Was stuck up on my wall at the office – now it’s stuck on our wall at home, right next to the front door. Last thing I see when I’m heading out? God’s reminder.

As you know, my faith is a big part of who I am. But what do I do when I am faced with a spiritual drought?

The Bible is filled with amazing stories, inspiring messages … but I don’t find it easy to read it every day. (I do read a bit of it every day, but that’s because of discipline, not because the book of Amos fills with me great joy.) But we still need to be filled with God’s truth, so where can we go to find that inspiration?

Devotional books – books filled with a Bible verse for each day followed by an observation on that verse or a practical application for it – have always been useful to me during those dry stretches.

Today I thought I’d review some of the devotionals that I’ve worked through over the past three years – especially since a bunch of them are on sale this week!

Each of these books were helpful, but definitely in different ways and for different seasons. I’ve never found a ‘one-spiritual-thought-fits-all’ devotional. I hope you see some in the list that might help you grow closer to God.

My NIV Couples' Devotional Bible and my favourite coffee mug

My NIV Couples’ Devotional Bible and my favourite coffee mug

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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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Writing the next chapter: What story will you tell in 2015?

Image source: ‘English girl riding bike’ from Riding Pretty blog

Image source: ‘English girl riding bike’ from Riding Pretty blog

My first post for 2015 is bike-themed, because Tim and I went for a bike ride this morning to kick off the new year. No need to peddle old ideas when you can pedal into the future!

There are always endless possibilities for New Year’s Resolutions. Finish your novel. Lose weight. Find The One. Change jobs. Get to Mordor and drop the ring in Mount Doom. The usual.

As Dave Beck, NaNoWriMo Technical Director, puts it: “In the end, isn’t everything—from relationships to careers to geopolitics—about the narratives we choose? The narratives we write?”

So here’s what my resolutions are all about:

Write a good story with your life. A true hero need only be a person who sets goals and overcomes conflict to achieve them.
(paraphrasing Donald Miller in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)

Image source: Our wedding photos by Kyle and Elissa Johnson, Slade Portraits

Image source: Our wedding photos by Kyle and Elissa Johnson, Slade Portraits

Last year I wrote my story as well as I could. I had goals, and I overcame obstacles to achieve them. After the usual stresses of preparation, I married the right man for me and enjoyed decorated our new home with the artworks I made with my own hands. I left a job I didn’t enjoy and worked hard at building my editing business so I could continue to do the editing work that I love. I made time to do some of the adventures I enjoy like bushwalking and beach trips, both with friends and by myself for much-needed and much-appreciated “God dates”. Halfway through the year life got really difficult for a time as I found I had some severe struggles to work through, so I asked for help when I needed it and I trusted God to get me through. I began submitting one novel to publishers, entered as many short story competitions as I could, and completed NaNoWriMo again. And I showered as much love as I could on the people I care about.

So here are the few things that I felt went into writing a good story with my life in 2014, and what I’ll be trying to seek out again in 2015.

Image source: Sarah Killey Photography

Me and Tim holding hands at the altar.
Image source: Sarah Killey Photography

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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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Phew! Made it.

2014 NaNoWriMo Winner!

2014 NaNoWriMo
Winner!

You can do it, fellow NaNoWriMo writers! You can; you can; you can!

If you are now in the slogs of writer’s block, take a look at my past blog posts about how to beat it!

(Don’t worry, this is just a little “giddy with relief” post. You’ll get a real one later in the week with some actual thoughts written down for you to read.)

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is always highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

Commiserations over the struggle of writing, and how to keep going!

‘Mimi Does NaNoWriMo’ Image source: InkyGirl at http://inkygirl.com/wwfc/2011/11/9/mimi-does-nanowrimo.html

‘Mimi Does NaNoWriMo’
Image source: InkyGirl at http://inkygirl.com/wwfc/2011/11/9/mimi-does-nanowrimo.html

Today I’ll be talking about my two favourite web comics that provide inspiration or commiseration for writers – yay! And how to keep going when you feel like giving up (“halfway through NaNoWriMo” blues, anyone?).

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