What This Memoir Author Wants You to Know: Part 1

I've been conducting "Author Chats" with former clients and other writers I'm connected to where we talk about their writing and publication journeys—and where I ask them to pass on their wisdom on to writers who are just getting started.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Chandler, a soon-to-be published memoir author. In the summer of 2021, Chris came to me with a loose collection of family stories that she wasn't sure what to do with.

Over several months, Chris and I identified an overarching theme for her stories, revised the ones she'd already written, added some new ones, and decided on a structure for her book.

Her memoir Stay Sweet: Tales of Quirky Southern Love will be published on May 12th, 2023 by Red Thread Publishing.

Stay Sweet reminds us that unconditional love still exists in the world and that families can provide safe landing places for children at any age. Plus you'll get to meet the unforgettable May, the hilarious and loving grandmother we all wish we had.

Here's what Chris said she'd tell memoir writers at the beginning of their journey:

Just go for it and do it. 

And—you don't have to know everything to get started. 

I smiled when I heard Chris's advice because it's so simple and so on the mark.

Those two statements are both about not overthinking and not overanalyzing. They're about listening to the call within you to write your story even if it doesn't feel like the logical thing to do right now. They're about jumping in and trusting the creative process. 

Just go for it and do it, and you don't have to know how it's going to turn out to get started with one small step. Great wisdom, right? Because if if we think we need to know, we're never going to get started.

Now don't get me wrong:

I am a big believer in planning and doing some big-picture thinking ahead of time.

There's nothing that pains me more than a writer coming to me with a manuscript that I know they've worked on for years and I need to tell them to go back to the beginning. To think through why they wanted to write this story in the first place. What they want to say to readers. And who exactly those readers are.

My planning process prevents writers from wasting time spinning their wheels and writing pages and pages of random sh*t. It's important to identify the big picture target of your writing—but you don't need to know the bullseye yet. You don't have to know the final form your writing is going to take when you start.

You don't have to know exactly what you have come to the page to say when you start—sometimes you may even discover through the writing process that you're writing about something different than you thought you were when you started.

That's what happened to me with my memoir The Only Way Through Is Out I started writing a story about my professional life and my writing took me to a different story, a story that would upend and completely transform my life. Want to learn more?The Only Way Through Is Out  will be published by the University of Wisconsin Press in February 2024.

The planning process I take my writers through is a middle ground between overanalyzing and jumping in without thinking at all. It's similar to the planning process I went through when I began my memoir journey. I had an idea of what I wanted to write about, but I didn't know everything. I didn't know how the book would eventually be structured. I knew just enough to get started. And getting started was the key.

Because—to state the obvious—if you never start, you'll never write a book.

So how do you know when it's time to start writing your book?

Listen to that voice inside you. Is it calling you to write your story? Does it persist, even when you try to ignore it?

If yes, take Chris's advice and "just go for it and do it."

Do some big-picture planning to give your writing some focus but don't get stuck in planning.

Because remember, you don't have to know everything to get started.

You just have to start—and someday you'll be like Chris. A soon-to-be-published memoir author. Counting the days until her book is in her hands and in the hands of her readers.

Chris's dream came true because she listened to her own advice.


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