Why then do so few of us actually follow through?
Perhaps you’re one of those people, but you have a list as long as your arm as to why you haven’t started yet. You may not even realize what’s holding you back; you just know that now isn’t quite the right time.
My guess is a huge part of the reason is the daunting nature of the task. We can write a page-long memo or 140-character tweet without issue, but a book? That’s like 90,000 words! Nowadays we’re used to short-form-big-impact; working through something so long as a book requires staying power and a whole lot of patience with the process.
Writing a book of any kind is not easy, and writing our own story presents many additional challenges: the issue of potentially hurting people; trying to recall memory; making it interesting enough; knowing where to begin; seeing it through to the final chapter. If you’re contemplating the task yourself, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, because you’ve probably wrestled with many—if not all—of these hurdles.
So what will help you over the hump and into the space where you have a fighting chance at putting words to paper and making it to the finish line?
It’s all in the planning.
Going after a big dream like this is all about timing, preparation and perseverance. And there are some big questions you need to ask right off the bat. Here goes:
1. Why do I want to write my story?
Seems like a basic question, no? But have you really thought about the whys of writing your story?
Sometimes it just seems like a good idea; you went through something that impacted you deeply and you need to tell the world about it. Ok, then let me ask you, what exactly about your story can the world relate to? Why do they need to hear it?
Don’t get me wrong, I think somebody out there always needs to hear your story, but if you are writing your book because you want to share a message with the world or help other people, it helps if you can put yourself in their shoes and think about how your story will benefit them. Once you know why you are writing, this will give you a sense of direction and purpose during the writing itself.
2. How will it benefit me?
If you want to write your story as a form of ministry to others, i.e. to help them through a difficult time you may have experienced yourself, or to share your wisdom, this is a noble and worthwhile reason. But it isn’t enough.
Part of you needs to be writing your story for you. Because it will help you heal. Or because to do so will bring you joy. Or because you are simply passionate about specific events in your life and how they have changed you, and you feel a need to tell those stories. But make no mistake, if you aren’t passionate about the process and the art of storytelling, you may struggle to keep writing.
3. How will it benefit others?
This could be as simple as pure entertainment. You don’t need to have a helpful message to share or any kind of altruistic goal—you may simply want to bring a smile to your reader’s face. That’s enough. But you do need to know what you want your reader to feel or learn when they read your book. Ask yourself how your story will connect you to them.
4. Do I have the time to write my story in this season of my life?
This is a practical but essential question. I don’t recommend starting your memoir, working on it for a few weeks, and then not returning to it again until several months, or even years, later. Not only will you have changed the way you want to tell your story by then, but you will also find that you likely need to start over because you’ve lost the thread.
Timing is everything. If you are in a very busy season and don’t feel you can dedicate a few hours a week to writing, now may not be the time for a project such as this.
However—and this is extremely important—don’t use a busy life, especially one that will likely stay that way, as an excuse not to commit to something you are passionate about. This is mere procrastination.
If you are serious about writing your story and feel now is the time to do it, you may need to take some things off your plate before you can add writing to it. Look at your schedule and decide what is realistic for you. If you are already stretched thin and can’t remove anything from your schedule, then perhaps now isn’t the time. But if there could be room if you watched less television, you may be procrastinating.
5. What are the main events that have shaped my story?
You’ll ask this question a lot when you first begin to write your story, but having an awareness of the key events that form the skeletal structure of your story before you write will help you immensely when you begin to put pen to paper. Are you writing about your life to date, or one particular event or season? Write a list of the main turning points within that time frame—that is, the major events that changed you and set you on a different path.
6. How did these events impact me?
When you write your story you’ll discover that the journey will take you deep into a new level of awareness of self. What separates one memoir from another is the author himself and his feelings about the events that happened to him. Emotion and perspective are essential ingredients to your story—if you haven’t delved too deeply into how your story has shaped the person you are today, I recommend journaling about the major turning points in your story and how they have impacted you emotionally.
7. What is my story really about?
Sometimes your story isn’t about what you think it’s about. You may have experienced something really interesting—kayaked around the world; overcome adversity or oppression; become an advocate for a specific cause after experiencing loss in this area. This is the story that happened, but the story your reader will connect to is how it changed you and how you made it through. The change in you is the story—the event that happened is merely the vessel that carries it.
Break it down
When you’ve answered the questions above and feel comfortable that yes, this is the right time to write your story, and despite your fears and discomforts you have the staying power to see it through, what next?
My advice is this: don’t look at the mountain, just take the first step (tweet that!)
That first step might be buying a book on writing memoir, or taking a course, or beginning to journal about the turning points in your story. Do one thing to ease you into the water, then set small manageable goals you know you can accomplish, such as writing for 20 minutes a day. This is all you have to think about—one goal, one day.
If you would like support and a roadmap for your writing journey, consider taking my course Write Your Story, which guides you through the whys of writing memoir, to the how to’s. You’ll find a writing community for the journey and step-by-step advice on piecing together your book.
Questions or comments? Please share below!
Image credit: Chapendra | flickr.com