HOW TO REVISE A MEMOIR
This article is all about how to revise a memoir project, including how to write a memoir, important considerations of editing creative nonfiction, and then advice on how to submit your book for publication.
What Is a Memoir and How Do I Write a Memoir?
The memoir publishing category has exploded in recent decades, as many people become very invested in telling their own story. With the proliferation of blogs and other social networking platforms, writers have realized that their words have an audience, and so the memoir category, sometimes called “creative nonfiction,” or “narrative nonfiction” has grown, to the delight of readers.
But what is a memoir, and how do you write a memoir? Before you consider revising your creative nonfiction, you want to make sure that you’ve chosen the correct category and organized your first draft accordingly. For a primer on how to write a memoir, check out this article.
how to revise a memoir
The three prime considerations in memoir are: premise, plot, and character. Is it strange to refer to your life story as “plot” and yourself as “character”? Well, get use to it. That’s how I work with my memoir clients all the time, on purpose. It’s meant to remind them that they are not telling their story and putting themselves on the page for public consumption. You need to consider your storytelling, and the audience you one day hope to attract, and how your life and personality and voice come across to them.
If you’re wondering how to revise a memoir, I would highly recommend focusing on premise first. Which slice of your life are you going to talk about? “Birth to breakthrough” memoirs are a tough sell. Most readers will not stick around for your entire childhood put on the page. The much more appealing storytelling narrative arc is starting at your low point, and then going on a very specific journey while weaving in anecdotes from elsewhere in your life. Then you arrive at the point of redemption. See Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and Wild by Cheryl Strayed as examples. We don’t get every detail of either life, and that’s perfectly fine. Focus your premise.
Then, look at narrative arc. I recommend writing an outline for every memoir project. What do you need to absolutely include? What’s maybe entertaining for you and your immediate family, but could be left out because it doesn’t fit premise? For every anecdote and scene, consider how it ties back into premise. Speaking of which, are you writing enough scenes? Straight narrative will not play in today’s memoir category. Dialogue, scene-setting, and description are crucial. So if you’re putting memories on the page, are they rendered in 3D?
Finally, there’s the issue of YOU. Are you coming across well to readers? Your audience in the memoir category tends to be most attracted to characters who need to overcome an obstacle, with the ability to do it with both humor and heart. Are you struggling enough? Is your character able to be self-aware and vulnerable? Some memoirs feature a character who is confident and knows exactly what they’re doing. But since storytelling hinges on tension and conflict, this may not be compelling enough. Unfortunately, most people can’t judge how they’re coming across to others.
Issues with how to revise a memoir
And this brings me to the idea that there is a limit to self-editing. Try as they might, writers can never see their own manuscripts with the type of clarity that others can. That’s why, I recommend getting actual other eyes (not just your own) on your project, especially since it’s so difficult to judge how you might come across on the page to a memoir reader.
The first solution would be to get a critique group, critique partner, or beta reader. Here’s a link for how to put a team together that will provide you with feedback. But be warned. They are only as good as their level of experience. Everyone has opinions. You want to make sure you’re soliciting worthwhile opinions that you’ll be able to trust. You can find more meat about critique partners in my how to revise a novel article.
The second solution would be to hire a freelance editor. These professionals work with story every day, and a good one will bring insider publishing industry experience to your project as well, so you’re not just getting craft advice ... you’re learning whether your idea has wings if you aspire to get published. Here’s a link on how to approach the idea of hiring a book editor.
Character and plot narrative are crucial to creative nonfiction. But memoir writers often struggle, especially because they have a hard time removing themselves from their own story. You have lived it, but now you’re shaping it for public consumption. This can be a fraught journey.
how to publish a memoir
Submitting a manuscript project for publication is its own beast. There are many considerations. Some of the, you will find on the how to write a memoir page. You may want to consider creating a book proposal for yourself. A lot of debut memoirs don’t sell on book proposal, but it’s always handy to have one. If you’re interested, you can read more on how to write a book proposal. But if you’re curious about broader topics like query letters, researching literary agents, and finding a publisher, you can also head on over to the how to get published page. There, you’ll find a lot of useful advice for the submission part of the process.
revisiting hiring a memoir EDITOR
Now you know more about how to revise a memoir. It always helps to have an extra set of eyes on your manuscript, ideally with extensive experience in the creative nonfiction market. I love my work with memoir clients, and can’t wait to dive into exciting life stories. Please don’t hesitate to check out my writing craft book or reach out for editorial services via the contact form, below.
Click here to purchase Writing Irresistible Kidlit, my book on fiction craft for MG and YA novels, out from Writer's Digest Books. This will show you my writing craft philosophy and give you lots of valuable advice, including tips for the novel revision process and self-editing. There are over 35 example novels cited and discussed throughout. It’s a valuable resource for any writer’s toolkit.