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4 Big Learnings From My Memoir Revision

Monday morning I sent the final draft of GRAVEYARD OF SAFE CHOICES to my editors at the University of Wisconsin Press!

And ever since, I've been sitting with all the feels.

I'm thrilled. Terrified. Proud of myself for being brave enough to tell my story. Happy I didn't give up when the rejections piled up and it seemed like I would never get clear on what my story was really "about."

The final edits were "interesting" to say the least. As I went through my manuscript ONE LAST TIME (okay, who am I kidding? THREE LAST TIMES), several important insights emerged.

Here are 4 big learnings from my memoir revision:

1. Trust your gut

There were sentences, phrases, and even words that bothered me every time I reviewed my draft. Sometimes it was because the text was awkwardly written or the words did not communicate exactly what I wanted to say.

I wondered if the detail was necessary or gratuitous—was this a "darling" I needed to chop or was it important to the story? If I was "bothered" more than once, that was a sign my gut was telling me that I had a problem that needed to be fixed.

Something inside me nagged me to reach out to one of my friends who appears in the manuscript and double-check whether I could use her real name or use a pseudonym. It hadn't occurred to me because the scene in which she appears isn't controversial.

But I did reach out and our interaction gave me an additional insight that I used to improve the scene—and enabled me to avoid writing something that could have been hurtful to trans people. Trust your gut.

2. Write the truest story you can tell.

Your memoir is YOUR story and is YOUR truth. And truth and memory can be slippery. Give yourself and your book the gift of time to process and make meaning of your memories—then write the truest story you can. Which doesn't mean write every single gory detail.

In my final revision, I noticed several details that had survived many, many drafts that weren't essential to my story and could be hurtful to people I cared about if I included them. I felt a great sense of peace once I deleted them. See #1: Trust Your Gut.

3. Always remember your reader.

Much of my final revision related to how I handled issues related to faith and privilege, keeping in mind my ideal reader. It's possible—and necessary—to write YOUR story, YOUR truth AND keep your reader front of mind.

Example: while I hadn't experienced overt trauma at the hand of the church, many of my ideal readers who are LGBTQ+ have—so it was important that I acknowledge the harm the church has done and be mindful of it as I wrote about my own faith experience.

Here's where it's essential to have another set (or more) of eyes on your manuscript. You don't know what you don't know.

And when you forget your reader, sometimes the universe will remind you. Days before I finished my draft, an acquaintance reached out to say that she couldn't wait for my book—and in fact wished she had it right now.

She had just come out to her husband and was in a dark place and needed to read the story of someone who had made it to the other side. See #2. Write the truest story you can. There are readers out there whose very lives depend on it.

4. The goal is not perfection—it's writing the best book you are capable of writing at this time in your writing career.

There were moments as I read and re-read and re-read my final draft that the doubt demons reared their ugly heads.

What if I missed something? What if I could have said something more eloquently? What if I’ve offended someone? What if? What if? What if?

As a book coach myself, I'm pretty clear-eyed about the quality of my writing. I write clean and lucid prose—not flowery and not literary. I'm not going to win a Pulitzer Prize for this book, but I do anticipate changing some lives.

And that's what matters most to me.

I've written the best book I am capable of writing now—and I've told the truest story I can.

That's all any of us can do.

That's all you can do.

And that's an accomplishment to be proud of—an accomplishment that will change lives.

Because your story matters.

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