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?

* * * * *

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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). outreach.hawaii.edu/pnm/programs/2015/EVENT-L13668.asp 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.

 

PBSBookFairCoupon_Darien

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

by Darien Gee
Softcover, 144 pages

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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.

 

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Writing the Six-Word Hawaii Memoir

Ready to flex those memoir-writing muscles?

SixWordMemoirGiveaway

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:

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.