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Why I Read and Write Memoir

Behind the public-facing (Instagram) joy of landing my book deal, life is, as Glennon Doyle calls it, "Brutiful." Brutal + beautiful!

My 87-year-old mom fell eleven weeks ago and the stress hasn't let up since. Beth, my sister and only sibling, has shouldered most of the load.

ER visits. Hospital stays. Rehab. Managing caregivers and medication. Grocery shopping. Phone calls at all hours from health care professionals and our mother. I've done what I can from long-distance—primarily dealing with insurance companies and being a safe place for my sister to vent.

We've never had to deal with a situation like this before. Our mom was the caregiver for our dad, who died eleven years ago at age 73 after living with Parkinson's disease for 22 years. Now we're the ones on the front lines.

We're exhausted. Angry. Frustrated.

And many days we feel alone—and hopeless.

We're grasping at straws, searching for help, information—something to help us get through this.

...
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The Right Publication Path for Your LGBTQ+ Memoir

Maybe you’ve heard it’s impossible to get a book deal for a memoir if you aren’t a celebrity or you don’t have millions of followers on TikTok.

You’re not a celebrity (yet) and you don’t have millions of TikTok followers (yet), so maybe you're thinking “why bother” writing a memoir at all?

After all, it’s a big commitment.

It will take time—and require a lot of emotional energy.

And, if you’ve never written a book before, there’s a steep learning curve ahead of you.

So why bother writing a memoir?

That’s a great question and one every writer should ask themselves before they say YES to writing a book.

When I ask my LGBTQ+ memoir clients why they want to share their story, many of them say—”This is something I HAVE to do. I HAVE to get this story out.”

Why bother? Because:

  • YOU need to tell this story for YOU.
  • There are readers whose very lives depend on hearing your story.
  • ...
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What to Do with Your Darlings, aka Your Writing Leftovers

After Thanksgiving Day, my fridge is always teeming with leftovers, which, in my opinion, is one of the best parts of the season!

Constructing the perfect meal—or bite—from what didn't get eaten in the first place.

Often, that leftover meal or bite is even tastier than the original, don't you think?

It's not that different for writing.

Sometimes you hear these leftovers—those leftover precious phrases, scenes, and chapters you’ve lovingly crafted but that no longer serve your story—referred to as "darlings."

“Kill your darlings” has been a favorite phrase of writers for over a century. In his 1916 book On the Art of Writing, British writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch wrote:

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

While I prefer to use less violent language to describe...

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Five Ways to Measure Growth as a Writer

This past Sunday, I gathered with my local writing community to celebrate the seventh anniversary of the group's founding.

What a full circle moment that was for me!

Five-and-a-half years earlier, on a Wednesday night in June, 2017, I attended my first meeting of Write Now Lancaster. I'd moved to Lancaster THE DAY BEFORE, knowing practically no one.

When we circled up for introductions that June evening, I hadn't even lived the ending of the coming-out-later-in-life story that I would eventually write about in GRAVEYARD OF SAFE CHOICES, my memoir that will be published in Fall 2023 by the University of Wisconsin Press.

Now, on this Sunday night five-and-a-half years later, I was one of the leaders of the writing group, ready to put the finishing touches on my manuscript before sending it off to my editors.

It's made me think a lot about growth. How we know we've grown. How we measure it. Whether we can see the growth in the moment.

Your kid wakes up one morning and he's 6'3" and...

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How to Combat Your Doubt Demons While Writing Your Memoir or Book

I'm nearing the home stretch with my revision of GRAVEYARD OF SAFE CHOICES, my later in life, coming out memoir, which will be published by the University of Wisconsin Press in Fall 2023!

Hooray!

I'm celebrating my good fortune and hard work!

But something less pleasant is also happening as I near the end of this journey.

The doubt demons are whispering in my ear again:

Your writing sucks.

You are really going to expose ALL this to the world?

Sure, you got a book deal but no one's going to buy your book except for your family and close friends. Because they have to.

You spent how many years of your life on what?

Here's what I do when the doubt demons creep in:

I come back to my WHY. 

WHY am I writing this story in the first place? Why THIS story? Why me? Why now?

The same questions I ask my memoir clients.

Like many memoir writers, I started writing my story because I felt like I had no other choice. I started writing first for ME—to make sense of a very confusing and...

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5 Tips to a Successful NANOWRIMO for Memoir Writers

Last week I wrote about how National Novel Writing Month 2012 (NANOWRIMO) changed my life.

It can change yours too!

No, I didn't write a novel or a memoir in 30 days—in fact I ended up with a tangle of 50,000 words that were largely a stream of consciousness (see below for how you can avoid the same).

But I did develop the habit of putting my butt in the chair and writing—which is the big difference between wannabe writers from real writers.

Most of the LGBTQ+ folx & allies I work with have never written a book before, let alone taken on the challenge of writing a memoir.

NANOWRIMO is a great place to start.

Here's how you can have a successful NANOWRIMO & end up with 50,000 words that you can shape into a meaningful manuscript.

Step 1: Block Out Time

Block out time on your calendar every day to write and set a daily goal. 50,000 words divided by 30=1,667 words a day. The equivalent of 6 to 7 pages double-spaced every day.

If you know...

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How Writing for My First NANOWRIMO Changed the Course of My Life

I've always been fascinated by the idea that a single moment can change the entire trajectory of a life.

Sometimes that moment feels out of our hands and controlled by "fate"—you catch the train or you don't, like in the movie Sliding Doors.

And sometimes it feels more like "agency"—you're at a crossroads and you make a choice to go one way or the other.

And you know what fascinates me the most? Those choices that seem insignificant but later you realize, they changed your life.

Here's one of my life-altering moments:

“I’m knee-deep in NANOWRIMO,” my friend Lisa said to me in early November, 2012.

“What’s that?” It sounded like a secret society.

“It stands for ‘National Novel Writing Month.’ You pledge to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days.”

I was an empty nester who felt a bit lost.

My youngest had just gone off to college, and I was trying to figure out my next chapter (pun intended).

...

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How to Find the Unique Angle for Your Memoir

"We're really excited about your book," the thirty-something editor said to me. "Because we want to publish the plurality of the queer experience."

Maybe that was her nice way of saying that there aren't a lot of books out there by middle-aged white women who discover they are LGBTQ+ in their fifties :)

For a long time LGBTQ+ literature has been largely “L" and “G” and white.

Yes, we needed and need those stories. But we also need a plurality of LGBTQ+ stories to share the plurality of the queer experience.

Stories like IN THE DREAM HOUSE and GENDER QUEER from BIPOC queer writers like Carmen Maria Machado and Maia Kobabe, respectively. From lesbians, gay, trans folx, bisexual, nonbinary, young and old queer folx. From every color in the rainbow.

But what if you're not part of the rainbow? Does the editor's comment have anything to do with you?

Yes. Here's why it matters to ALL writers:

I've never...

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The Truth About Who Needs to Read Your Story

When I ask my book coaching clients WHY they want to write their story, they typically say something like:

"I want to write the book I wish I had when I was going through X."

I get that.

When I was coming out, I was desperate to read stories of other women who came to terms with their sexuality later in life and how they had navigated that life-altering journey.

Did they stay in or leave their marriages? Could they find a way to live with their longings and not act on them? Was there any path to happiness or was their only path full of pain?

What did they do when everything they thought they knew about themselves was upended?

I wanted to feel seen. Understood. Less alone.

I wanted to know that it was possible to get to the other side of the bombshell that had exploded in my marriage.

That is, I believe, why we read memoir. Sure, there's the thrill of reading a page-turner, but there's nothing quite like that moment when you feel an author is inside your head, expressing feelings you...

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Two Ways to Handle Rejection for Writers

In 1978, I was a high school senior and an exchange student living in Knutsford England, and I wrote a personal essay for my hometown paper about my study abroad experience.

My first byline!

But it wasn’t until the Southampton Writers Conference in 2013, when I took the plunge and applied for Mary Karr’s memoir workshop that I finally—publicly—declared “I’m a writer.”

It took me 35 years after that first byline to COME OUT as a writer.

They don't call me a late-in-lifer for nothing!

When I soaked in Mary Karr’s wisdom as I sat around the table with 12 other writers, many of whom were much more accomplished than me, I realized how much I didn’t know AND I knew that I was in the right place.

The learning curve would be steep and I would get there someday. And someday has happened.

My coming out later-in-life memoir GRAVEYARD OF SAFE CHOICES will be published in Fall 2023.

More details to come! 

Now that I work with...

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