Make a Plan to Start—and Finish!—Your Memoir

Have you ever thought of writing your own memoir? Or preserving your family’s history by recording your relatives’ life stories? Many of us have, but so few of us do it. Why? Maybe we think we’re not “good enough” at writing. Or perhaps we’re scared to reveal family secrets. You might have started and somehow just never finished.

Bestselling author Darien Gee understands how hard it can be to start and finish writing a memoir. In her book, Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story (from our parent imprint Watermark Publishing), she provides concise, step-by-step guidance for writers of all experience levels. Even better, her book goes beyond “how to” and gets you to completion through exercises and encouragement. The emphasis is not on publication—though if that is your end goal, you’ll find pointers for that, too—but on finishing your memoir so it can be shared with others.

9781935690535Here, Darien shares some writing wisdom, beginning with why we might want to write a memoir in the first place:

Sharing our lives opens us up. It connects us. It helps us (as the writer) to make sense of things, to celebrate moments that might otherwise be lost, to remember what matters most. It helps us (as the reader) to see that we’re not alone, that our lives are both personal and universal, that the human spirit is deeper and more profound than we may remember when we’re trying to pay our bills or care for a sick child or parent. We get to be a part of another person’s experience. We can share the joys, the laughter, the chicken skin coincidences, the sorrow, the grief. We can take what we learn and apply it to our own lives. Then we can turn it around and do the same for others.

In Hawaiian, mana‘o means several things—thought, belief, intention, ideas, desire. Your mana‘o emanates from who you are as a person. It is individual and unique. You get to claim your life, your experiences, your story. What you put down on the page is up to you. You are the only one who can put the words down in that way. But how to get started…?

It’s actually as simple as this:

Start Wherever You Are.

Writing is ready when you are, wherever you are. All you need are the thoughts in your head, something to capture them—pen and paper, typewriter, computer, voice recorder, whatever suits you best—and a place to sit still and just do it.

Set Goals.

The key is to start simple. There’s nothing wrong with setting an ambitious goal, but you want to set yourself up for success. That means having a clear idea of what you want to achieve and establishing a rhythm that works with the realities of your life. Twenty minutes or three pages a day may not sound like much, but you’ll know when you’re ready for more. Better to start at a place that feels easy than one that feels too hard.

Establish a Routine.

Many people approach writing a book in a haphazard way. They sit down, write a few words, organize their desk, get up for a cup of coffee, write some more, take a bathroom break, check their email, do some laundry, make a sandwich, then throw in the towel for the rest of the day because it’s time to pick up the kids or catch the evening news. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if you want to write a book—more importantly, if you want to finish writing a book—you greatly increase your chances by establishing a routine.

Set a Deadline and Finish What You Start.

Do you want to write your memoir, or do you want to write and finish your memoir? It may seem like an odd question, but there are lots of writers who write without ever finishing their manuscript. Setting a deadline isn’t meant to quash your creative spirit. It provides focus, and when the brain puts its full attention on something, it filters out everything else. You can move the deadline up or push it back, but you must set a deadline when you begin. Without it, your writing project will be unmoored, left to float about and be pushed around by circumstance or whimsy. The brain loves parameters, and it will rally all your resources around it. The time to do this isn’t when you’re midway through the project, but before you begin. If you want to have a finished manuscript in your hands, set a deadline.

Even boiled down to four simple steps, the idea of writing something as “serious” as a memoir may seem daunting. A task for “a real writer,” not you. But if you know how to write, you are a writer. It’s as simple as that. You may be a terrible speller, suffer at the thought of writing a single paragraph or hate reading anything over two pages, but you are a writer. And you already possess all the material you need—your memories. While you may want to look for ways to develop and improve your basic skills (such as punctuation, grammar, story structure), the first thing you must work on is your own thoughts, especially the negative ones. This trumps everything else, because tormented, unhappy writers are no fun at all. Don’t put yourself down. Be kind. Trust your words. Trust your desire to write. I know you can do it—shouldn’t you, too?

* * * * *


Author Darien Gee wants to help YOU with your memoir!

Need more help? Join Darien Gee at her upcoming intensive workshop through Pacific New Media or free lecture at Barnes & Noble, Ala Moana.

  • Pacific New Media Workshop. “Writing the Memoir: A One-Day Intensive with Darien Gee.” Saturday, March 21. 9am – 4pm. UH Mānoa. Workshop fee of $125 includes a copy of Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir. Optional one-on-one 25-minute consults available following the workshop ($45). or 808-956-8400 to register.
  • Lecture & Book Signing. Barnes & Noble, Ala Moana, Sunday, March 22. 1pm – 2pm. Bring your laptop or a pen or pencil and some paper as Darien will lead a short writing exercise to get you inspired! A portion of proceeds from books purchased on this day help benefit PBS Hawaii and their “New Home” Campaign.



Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story

by Darien Gee
Softcover, 144 pages



Excerpted from Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir by Darien Gee. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information retrieval systems, without prior written permission from the publisher, except for brief passages quoted in reviews.


Working On My Memoir (Or So They Say)

Inspired by the @WrknOnMyNovel Twitter account, we thought we’d do a search on the phrase “Working On My Memoir” to see what’s being tweeted about memoir writing. Turns out, it’s an entertaining mix of legit memoirists at work and folks offering tongue-in-cheek summations of their lives.

We saved the Twitter search. Check it out here.

Working on edits for my memoir (pub date fall of 2015) Favorite part so far is that I get to re-name all my ex-boyfriends. #writerpower

@KimvanAlkemade @ClaireCookwrite congrats. I signed the contract for my memoir last year when I was 64.. was working on it for years.

Working on my #memoir. It’s gonna be really personal. So please be kind. #amwriting #writing

Working on my boss’s memoir for him. I dislike being gawked at by the ancient old men in this retirement home D:

I can’t believe I’m almost done with the first complete draft of my memoir. I’ve been working on it for 5 years and dreaming of it for 15.

I’m working on a memoir of motherhood entitled “The Astonishing Number of Things I Do with My Feet.”

Working on my memoir "Hell is Working Tuesday Afternoon". I have time to write it because I'm working on Tuesday afternoon and it's boring.

Been up since 3:50 working on my memoir. Thanks(?), jetlag


Writing the Six-Word Hawaii Memoir

Ready to flex those memoir-writing muscles?


To celebrate the release of Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story by Darien Gee, we’re giving away three sets of memoir books, including the new how-to guide, plus a 15% discount credit on a Legacy Isle Publishing package. All you have to do to enter is share your own Six-Word Memoir®. See the end of the post for complete details.

The Six-Word Memoir® is the brainchild of SMITH Magazine. The goal is simple: Write your memoir in exactly six words, no more, no less. You can’t break up compound words but you can play with contractions (“do not” = two words, “don’t” = one word). Their tagline sums it up: One life. Six words. What’s yours?TM

Here are some examples shared in Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir:

“Born on O‘ahu, raised on Hawai‘i.” (Kai Ibana)
“Got hit, life bit, rage quit.” (Taran Takahashi)
“I live clean and surf mean.” (Kamuela Spencer-Herring)
“All my scars are my stories.” (Ryan Hooley)
“Roping wild cattle is a battle.” (Levi Higa)
“He loved me but left anyway.” (Elsbeth McKeen)

And here are a few written and shared by visitors to our booth at the Hawaii Book & Music Festival:

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Here’s how to enter:

  • Post your own Six Word Memoir in a comment below. Your memoir MUST be six words, exactly.
  • Additional entries: Post a DIFFERENT memoir on our Legacy Isle Publishing Facebook Page and/or on Twitter (don’t forget to tag us @LegacyIsle). Memoirs submitted for each channel must be unique. Duplicate entries will be discarded. You may enter once per channel (blog comment, Facebook, Twitter).
  • Each memoir submitted is entered in our drawing for one of three prize packages to be given away.
  • Entries must be submitted by July 15, 2014. DEADLINE EXTENDED TO JULY 31, 2014!
  • Legacy Isle Publishing is not responsible for misdirected or improperly tagged entries.
  • Open to U.S. residents only.

Each prize package consists of:

Legacy Isle Authors at Hawaii Book & Music Festival 2014

These Legacy Isle Publishing authors will be attending their first Hawaii Book & Music Festival next weekend, May 3 & 4, at Honolulu Hale. Come down and support them!

Author Frances Kirk, The Society of Seven: Last of the Great Show Bands, will lead a panel discussion on the famed entertainers, with co-panelists John Berger (Honolulu Star-Advertiser) and Brickwood Galuteria.

Panel discussion begins at 2pm on Sun., May 4
Makai Authors’ Pavilion

Books available at the Watermark Publishing/Legacy Isle tent all weekend.

ADVANCE PURCHASE EVENTJoin author Norman Osumi at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii for a special presentation in the Community Gallery on Saturday, Aug. 24 from 2 to 4pm.Mr. Osumi will share his thoughts behind writing this book about his late father. Advance copies of Today’s Thought—Rev. Paul Osumi: The Man & His Message will be available for purchase at the event, ahead of general release to the public. Mr. Osumi will also sign books following the event.For more information, contact JCCH at (808) 945-7633 or email at

Author Norman Osumi will host a tent of his own, offering Today’s Thought—Rev. Paul Osumi: The Man & His Message, at a special Festival price of just $15 (regularly $17.95), which includes a complimentary gift-wrapping option (just in time for Mother’s Day!). In addition, Norman will have copies of Rev. Osumi’s previous books, Today’s Thought, Volumes 1 and 3 (2 has completely sold out) for $3 each.

COMING SOON: Writing the Hawaii Memoir

Writing the Hawaii Memoir by Darien GeeWriting the Hawai‘i Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story by Darien Gee from Watermark Publishing (our traditional publishing division) is an essential read for all aspiring memoirists. Author Darien Gee, a nationally bestselling novelist and writing coach based in Waimea, Hawai‘i, has assembled a collection of writing exercises, advice from more than 20 other Hawai‘i writers and detailed explanations of the various steps and phases in the memoir-writing experience. Appendices also cover other types of life-writing, such as autobiography/biography, oral history and corporate biographies, plus a handy list of resources.

Contributing writers include: Billy Bergin, Pamela Varma Brown, Bob Buss, Lee Cataluna, Ben Cayetano, Stuart Homes Coleman, Craig Howes, Patricia Jennings, Frances Kakugawa, Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl, Beth-Ann Kozlovich, Leslie Lang, Gail Miyasaki, Warren Nishimoto, Mark Panek, Laurie Rubin, Phil Slott, Christine Thomas, David Ulrich, Chris Vandercook and Cedric Yamanaka.

Meet author Darien Gee at the Hawaii Book & Music Festival on Saturday, May 3, 2014.

Darien will offer a presentation on memoir writing at 10am in the Makai Authors’ Pavilion.

For more info on the Festival, visit the official website.

Among the topics covered in Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir:

– How to brainstorm different themes and ideas
– Building a “bento box” and other ways to organize your memoir
– Overcoming writer’s block and other challenges
– Dealing with issues of libel, “talking stink” and copyright infringement
– How to choose the best way to publish your book
– How to stay encouraged and motivated

Here are practical tips and tools to take a wannabe author from, “You ought to write a book about that” to getting words down on paper to share with family, friends and generations to come.

—Robbie Dingeman, editor of HONOLULU Magazine and co-author of
Honolulu Homicide: Murder and Mayhem in Paradise

Everyone has a story to tell. Darien Gee instills the confidence every new author needs to let the words fly.

—Pamela Young, KITV news reporter and co-author of My Name is Makia: A Memoir of Kalaupapa

Visit the dedicated Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir page for printable worksheets, excerpts and tips.

Why Am I Writing This?

At some point in the process, frustrated by writer’s block or the editing process, you may find yourself asking this question. But that’s not the existential dilemma we want to address here.

We want to point out that before you start, and throughout the writing and editing process, “Why am I writing this?” is a critical question.  When you think about why you are writing, it becomes clearer what you should write—what details should be included; how much background research you need to do; whether you want to use direct quotes or instead summarize events without dialogue; whether you start at the beginning and present details factually and in chronological order or go with a less formal structure and include thoughts and feelings along with the facts—and even what details, events or people you leave out.

So think about it…

  • Are you writing to preserve events for posterity?
  • Are you writing so that your family can understand their history or your own personal life journey?
  • Are you writing to share your expertise or remarkable life experience?
  • Are you writing for the therapeutic value of capturing emotions and events?
  • Are you writing to “set the record straight” or prove something?
  • Are you writing because you found something fascinating and you want to share your discovery?

Writing is a wonderful exercise. It can help us organize information, process thoughts and emotions, preserve stories and communicate information. But while anything can be a valid reason to write it’s not always the right decision to publish.

Which brings us to the follow-up to “Why am I writing this?” which is “What will I do with it when I’m done?”

  • Will you file it away for your own eyes only?
  • Will you share it with a few friends and your family members?
  • Will you make it available to complete strangers?

Before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, remember to think about why you’re writing and how much of it you plan to share with others. And if you find yourself stuck in the writing process, go back and rethink your “whys”—you may find that they will help you figure out what it is, exactly, you are trying to say.

This spring, Legacy Isle Publishing’s parent imprint, Watermark Publishing, will release an as-yet-untitled guide to writing memoir from bestselling author Darien Gee. This guide will address critical topics concerning writing, specifically with the Hawai‘i memoir writer in mind, as well as provide helpful exercises and advice from published authors. If this blog post has gotten your writing wheels turning, you’ll want to check back with us throughout 2014 as we post excerpts from the guide and guest posts from author Darien Gee.

Considering an Author Website?

Recently, we’ve been finding ourselves having conversations with our authors about author websites. “Should I do a website? Can YOU do a website FOR me?” We get that a lot. Here are a few bits of advice on whether a website is appropriate for you, as an author, and if so, what you should include.


Ask yourself this first: What would I do with my website? If the only reason you are considering a website is because your friends or family asked if you have one or you think you “should”…then you probably shouldn’t.

If your book offers information on a specialized topic, or is a memoir or biography that addresses moments in history or life experiences that are popular topics, a website has the potential to bring attention to your book from people searching online for further information.

If you will be handling distribution on your own (i.e. selling books yourself) or plan on offering speaking engagements or workshops, a simple website is probably a good idea. It is also an easy way for your network of contacts to spread the word about your book — if they like it, or simply want to help support you, they can easily share a link.

If you offer expertise on a particular topic and the idea of updating and adding new, timely content on a regular basis appeals to you, a blog is a great way to expand upon your book contents and build an audience.

We advocate for an author site, rather than a book-specific site, for two main reasons: 1) Who knows, you may find yourself writing another book! It’s easier to add another book to an author site than it is to create another site for a new book. 2) Many of our authors are professionals with expertise in a specific field and often have an established business. Some have an existing business site and some do not. For those who don’t, building a site under their own name allows them to promote both their book and their business and make the two work synergistically.


Include the basics:

  • Who are you?
  • Why are you qualified to write this book (or what makes it special, if it is a memoir/biography)?
  • Where can the book be purchased?
  • How does someone contact you?

From there, you can consider adding:

  • Testimonials on your expertise (for advice books)
  • A blog
  • An events calendar
  • Information on speaking engagements or workshops
  • Excerpts, photographs and/or video
  • Social media links

Keep your site simple. Fancy bells and whistles are nice, but they can cost you a lot of money to incorporate and aren’t as easy to change as simpler design elements. They also may not work as expected across different platforms and devices. Quality information is a better sales tool than a spiffy video montage.


That depends — how much time are you willing to devote to maintaining your site? If you don’t already know how to use simple website management programs, such as WordPress, are you willing to learn? Are you willing to pay someone to do this for you? How often do you expect to be updating your site? Are you thinking about e-commerce?

Time — Managing a site on your own requires that you put in a time investment. You’ll have to design it and then you’ll have to maintain it. WordPress offers a basic, free option that can get you up-and-running right away with very little effort, as do other platforms and services.

Know-how — Using a simple platform, like WordPress, is easy for most people to master. The interface is simple to use and doesn’t require a lot of tech know-how. (We use WordPress to run this very blog.) Most blogging templates offer you an option to create an attractive homepage in addition to your blog. For a little more investment, you can claim your own URL and get rid of ad placements. Although WordPress is predominantly known as a blogging platform, it can be used to create and administer a simple website without including a blog. SquareSpace is another platform that allows simple site creation and optional blogging capability. In addition, it allows the incorporation of e-commerce (more on that below). However, unlike WordPress, it does not have a free option. Again, platforms like these are simple and user-friendly and many guides exist to help you through the process. But if you’re the kind of person who has problems with adding attachments to email, you probably want to enlist the help of a tech-savvy friend or relative, or hire a professional.

Paying someone else — If you’re willing to spend the money to hire someone else to set up (and possibly maintain) your site, great! Having someone else do the set up work often makes authors feel more comfortable, even if they plan to take over updating the site on their own. Note that while you can create your own site and even get hosting for free using many popular services, adding “extras” can incur charges. If you don’t understand what web hosting is; if the idea of trying to decide what is and isn’t worth paying for is daunting—these are good reasons to talk to a professional, outline what you want and consider using their services to handle site creation for you. If you would prefer to have your site hosted somewhere other than a free service, you will either need a working knowledge of how to do this on your own, or you’ll need to hire a professional.

Updating — Hiring someone for the set up is all well and good, but depending on what sorts of updates you plan to make—and how often you plan to make them—you may need some basic lessons in managing your own site. Professional site designers and web managers will charge you when you want to make changes. If you want to put up a new photo every month and you aren’t going to do it yourself, be aware that it will cost you. If you plan on a simple informational site with no future changes, you shouldn’t have any problems, but look into options that incorporate a Google calendar so you can add events on your own. We consider site updates—changing/adding images or video, adding new information (like events, press coverage or new books)—different from blogging. Blogs should be updated regularly with new, interesting content. Blog content should be original and generated by you (or if this is for a business, a representative of your company). If you don’t plan on regular updates, consider a simple news announcement section on your site that a web manager can update for you.

E-commerce — Authors who are not signed up for the Legacy Isle Distribution Service should think about how they want to handle book sales. Perhaps you’ll be working directly with a store or two, or a community group to sell books in a physical store. Maybe you want to accept mail orders only. Or, you could sign up with Amazon and sell through their site. The final option is to allow online purchases of your book directly through your site. PayPal and Square have made it easy for anyone to accept credit cards in person or online. There are many other e-commerce solutions, too, that allow you to create an online store managed separately from your website. Some e-commerce platforms will allow you to create basic informational pages and others do not, meaning that if all you want from your author site is to provide some basic information and allow online purchases, one of these platforms may work as a one-stop-shop solution for you. SquareSpace (not to be confused with Square, the payment services provider mentioned above) is an example of a website management platform that integrates e-commerce, making it an all-in-one solution. If you decide to incorporate e-commerce on your site, don’t forget that you’re committing to handling order fulfillment—make sure you charge enough to cover your postage expenses and send out orders in a timely fashion. If that idea doesn’t appeal to you at all, you will need to direct potential customers to an alternate method of purchase or sign up with Amazon.


If all of the talk above has got you completely baffled, your next step is to talk to a professional, or a friend or family member who is more comfortable with web design.

The most difficult aspects of what we’ve discussed are the site set-up and e-commerce. If you’re completely uninterested in e-commerce and you really don’t want to hire a professional to set up your site, take a look at what platforms like WordPress have to offer. Create a test site and keep it private while you see if you’re up to creating and managing your own site.

One last thing to remember: If you establish a website, be sure you’re ready to respond to inquiries received through your site. If you enable commenting on your blog, interact with those who comment. Answer emails or contact form inquiries in a timely fashion.

NOTE: Legacy Isle Publishing does not create nor maintain websites for clients. Our own main site was built by our sister company, Upspring Media, and our blog was created in-house using the free WordPress platform. We assume no responsibility for the content or services rendered by any third-party vendor mentioned in this post.