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Writing (the nitty gritty!)

The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Memoir, Chapter 3

This is the third part of our 'Ultimate Guide to Writing a Memoir.'
To access the rest of the guide, click here.

Everything’s in place - you know what you're going to include - and you’re ready to start writing. But hang on, where do you actually begin? You'll need to start by setting aside the time to create a habit out of writing.

Once you've established when you're going to write, you need to decide how you're going to write. Your memoir needs to sound like you're telling the story, so developing your own unique style is an important part of the process.

Creating a habit

1. Identify the times you could be writing

Unless you’re living a life of leisure, you’re going to have to fit writing your story around your existing commitments. Determining when you have free time, and how you spend it, is the first step in finding the time to write your story. Once you know what you are doing when you could be writing, you can make a plan to sit down and get started.

2. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals for your writing

We all have goals, but often they’re vague and we have no idea how we are actually going to achieve them. To create a writing habit, setting S.M.A.R.T. goals provides structure and trackability with clear milestones and estimations of the goal’s attainability. For your goal to be S.M.A.R.T. it has to fit into each category: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

Specific: what exactly do you want to achieve? Where? How? When? Why? The more specific your goal, the greater the chances of achieving it. For example, you want to write your life story. This is vague. More specifically, you want to write for half an hour everyday so that in one year you’ve finished the first draft of your life story.

Measurable: break down your goal into elements that you can measure. This way, you can track your progress and assess whether or not you’re on target to achieve your goal. For example, set a daily word count and reach that number everyday you write. Mark these days on a calendar so you can clearly see how well you’re doing.

Attainable: is your goal attainable? Can you actually do it? Committing yourself to writing everyday may not be realistic if you’re already struggling to find enough hours in the day. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible! Plan smartly and find a way to make your goal attainable.

Relevant: do you actually want to do this? Are you committed and willing to put the effort in? Are you the right person for the job? Answering these questions will help you to establish whether or not your goal is to write your life story yourself, or have your life story written by a professional ghostwriter. This will save you a lot of time and effort, and you still end up with a beautiful, hardbound book of your life.

Time-bound: is there an end-date for your goal? Even if you don’t know exactly when you will finish your book, setting a deadline for each goal keeps you motivated to get the job done, and helps you to avoid procrastination. Remember to keep your timeline realistic. You don’t want to rush your project.

3. Find your time to write - and stick to it

It takes three to four weeks to turn a new activity into a habit. Schedule your writing and stick to it for just three weeks and you’ll create a writing habit with ease.

The best thing you can do to form a habit, is pick a time of day and stick to it. If you consider yourself a morning person, why not wake up ten minutes earlier and start your day productively by writing? If you’re a night owl, try writing before you settle down for bed.

There is always a perfect time to write for every person - you just have to find what works for you, and use it as much as possible.

4. Do the small things that drive big results

The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, is named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist. According to Pareto, 80% of our output is driven by just 20% of our efforts. This means that we spend the majority of our time generating just a small fraction of our results.

Is this true for you? Try to find out. Do you slow down after you write 1,000 words? Do you spend too much time editing and reworking your writing without tangible results? Try to get these bad habits under control - and when you know you’ve gone beyond your '20%', just stop. Whether you set a short word limit, or a brief time frame for writing (e.g. 15 minutes), use Pareto’s principle to focus your energy.

5. Reward yourself

Writing in your spare time doesn’t mean you have to give up your other hobbies. Finding the time to write could be as little as ten minutes in a day. Your other pastimes can then become a reward. For example, if you decide that you want to substitute watching television with writing, try saving up your favourite box set to watch when you reach a milestone in your S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Blank To Do List 

Developing Your Style

Write how you would talk.

You’re already an expert at communicating in your own style - when you speak. It’s your story. It should be written in your voice. Read over what you’ve written, and ask yourself: is this how you would talk? Would you actually say that? If you aren’t sure, ask someone. And if the answer is no, ask yourself: why?

Get feedback to make sure your writing 'sounds like you'.

Know who you're talking to.

Who are you writing your book for? Focusing your narrative with a target audience in mind will help to develop your style. Try thinking of a specific person - whether it be a family member, friend, or colleague. Think of someone that you’d want to read your book, and write with them in mind. It will change your tone.

Write a little, a lot.

If you’re struggling to develop a unique style - which doesn’t necessarily come to you overnight - writing a little, often can help. Just getting into the habit of writing down your thoughts, however they present themselves, can help to develop your writing style. As the saying goes: practice makes perfect. Write a small amount every day to perfect your technique.

Write what you would read.

When you read over your words, are you excited or bored? If it’s the latter, it’s likely you’re not writing as yourself. If what you’re writing about interests you, you’ll be able to write it in such a way that - even at the very least - you will find engaging.

Find your favourite books and ask yourself what it is about them that you love.

Don't just mimic your favorite writers.

Use your favourite writers as inspiration, by all means. But don’t imitate their style, wholesale. Copying someone else’s style will only produce second-rate work. You don’t want your story to be a pastiche. Think like a curator in an art gallery - pick out the aspects of their writing that most appeal to you and incorporate them in your own way.


Read Chapter 4: Overcoming Writer's Block

Written by Sarah Evans
Image credits: by VFS Digital Design and Marco Verch

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