How to Write a Memoir in 10 Steps

How to Write a Memoir in 10 Steps

To be perfectly clear, I know this isn’t the most orthodox way to teach someone how to write a memoir in 10 Steps, but I submit that if you’re hung up on the literal how-to’s of writing a memoir, you aren’t really ready.

I don’t feel like diagramming sentences today.

That, and rudimentary how-to articles are largely about giving you the confidence to do a thing anyway. You can absolutely do this thing, but you should prepare first. Because if the surprising stuff turns out not to be a surprise, you’re basically unstoppable.

How to Write a Memoir

1. Get Thick Skin

2. Relive Your Trauma

3. Give People Fake Names

4. Find Enablers

5. Hold a Grudge Loudly

6. Be Discouraged

7. Read Other Memoirs

8. Feel Small

9. Write for Spite

10. Dig Up Your Past

The 10 Steps

1. Get Thick Skin

Forget what others have said about you (well don’t literally forget, you might need the fodder) and be prepared to look at your past self objectively. Lassoing that objectivity is even harder than it sounds, but it’s possible.

There are some faults you’re going to want to absolve yourself of in your writing—for me, naivety and cluelessness topped the list—don’t do it. You have to be willing to let readers see the warts. If your story is going to be relatable—if you’re serious about memoir writing—you must be authentic.

Absolution may still come to you, but not by glossing over the bits you don’t like. Be ready to criticize yourself. A lot.

2. Relive Your Trauma

I wasn’t prepared for the buried trauma that writing a memoir would resurface. I thought I was, but I was kidding myself. I literally had to take breaks and ultimately end my memoir to stop the constant onslaught of PTSD triggers.

3. Give People Fake Names

This is probably obvious, but there’s a certain kind of person you’ll need to write about who still Googles herself 15 years later. To avoid the headaches, just change her name.

Because even your best attempts at keeping ties severed may be thwarted.

My ex-husband actually joined my Patreon even though I did my best to rename people and switch up identifying characteristics. That’s a real thing that happened.

There are legal considerations too, but I am not a lawyer. If you have qualms, hire an attorney, please.

4. Find Enablers

Aside from needing money to pay bills after having brain surgery, there were a couple of motivating factors that kept me writing:

A former employer (who I name-drop in the preface of Who You Gonna Believe) and a couple of online friends behaved in such a way that I believed I could write. 

All of them read my blog at some point and encouraged me to write a memoir. I channeled them when I doubted I could succeed.

5. Hold a Grudge Loudly

There’s a great quote that I have seen floating around the internet attributed to Anne Lamott. (I see it a lot without attribution too, so who knows?) It goes something like: You own everything that’s ever happened to you. If people wanted you to write nicely about them, they should have behaved better.

You might feel like it’s in your best interest to withhold certain facts, but you don’t owe anyone your silence. You hear me?

6. Be Discouraged

Some people will say that memoir writers just want revenge. I, for example, fit the divorcee and undiagnosed cliches, since so much of the story is about my lousy ex-husband and my subsequent long slog to a medical diagnosis.

The naysayers discouraged me, not gonna lie. But then a funny thing happened: I realized they weren’t my readers and weren’t ever going to be my audience. Caring about their opinions was like asking the guy who sells gym memberships if my dress made me look fat.

7. Read Other Memoirs

You might just learn stuff you didn’t know would help you write. My favorite reads while I wrote Who You Gonna Believe were by John Lewis, Jenny Lawson, Leah Remini, and Mary Karr.

By the way, I highly recommend The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr.

Shop Recommended Memoirs

8. Feel Small

The odd thing about memoir writing is that it makes you self-aware. You see that other people have profoundly different stories to tell and feel like maybe your life isn’t that big of a deal. I say that’s a good thing.

Not only did a sense of smallness help me see my trauma as a mouse and not a monster, it helped me relate to my audience in a new way and craft a better story for them.

9. Write for Spite

So maybe spite isn’t what fuels you, but it was a big motivating factor for me—knowing that the awful people who denied so much of my truth couldn’t stop me now. That was empowering.

Yeah, I can be petty. I wrote to spite them, but also to spite the person they imagined me to be. The person I knew I wasn’t.

10. Dig Up Your Past

As a practical matter, memoir writing can be hard because our memories are faulty. I found I could settle the timeline of events if I dug through old blog posts. 

You might also find helpful details by talking to friends and family, reading a journal you kept, or poring over pictures. 

Social media timelines and archived chats are also useful if you have them available.

So that’s it. How to write a memoir in 10 steps. Easy, right?

if you’re looking for memoir publishing services, try a company like Modern Memoirs.

An Epilogue for Closure

An Epilogue for Closure

To celebrate last night’s insomnia, I updated the cover image for WHO YOU GONNA BELIEVE and posted an epilogue for closure.

It’s funny, because I remember when Hank Green was promoting his first book, he said in a video something like, “You can just end a book wherever you want.”

It seemed kind of obvious to me at the time. Like, of course you can end a book however and whenever you want. But then I also stressed over wrapping up this memoir for months. So it’s also an epiphany. I get it now.

I couldn’t just say “the end” and wave my proverbial wand at everything. I had to come to terms with being done, I suppose.

Because, I don’t know, I have a brain tumor? Because finishing might mean I can go ahead and die now?

I almost included that Hank Green anecdote in the epilogue, but since I name dropped the other Vlogbrother in the preface, I opted to not be that kind of weird.

Shut up. Name dropping here is different. It isn’t weird.

While I was checking WYGB links, formatting chapters, and double-checking the Table of Contents page last night, I also realized I stopped writing in an okay—maybe even artsy—place anyway.

So read it. It’s free. It’s sorta funny. It’s my revenge or something.

In other news, congratulations to me for getting 500 pageviews yesterday! And after just hoping for that very thing on Monday!

I’m not going to repeat that success today, unfortunately, but it was fun to watch my counter go up after someone big apparently shared my How to Make Cannabutter article on Facebook.

Facebook is good for being seen, but it’s not great for sustained traffic. Once your link slides down the news feed, you’re basically just a hunk of Velveeta in someone’s lactose-intolerant colon.

At the risk of being (more) annoying, I gotta plug this GoFundMe crap again too. I got bills. They’re multiplyin’.

The End

The End

It’s my birthday! I woke up earlier than usual this morning from a dream. That dream included a figure from my past, and my early morning mind went down a rabbit hole of thoughts including this one:

I’m not going to finish my memoir, because I don’t want to.

When I started Who You Gonna Believe a few years ago, I did a little research on memoir writing. One thing that came up frequently was authors saying how emotionally raw writing their stories left them.

Pfft! “This isn’t that hard,” I said to myself, digging in for another chapter.

Reader, in hindsight writing that shit was brutal. I’d dive into a story, trying to think about a scene and how to write it only to discover a year or two later that I was ruminating on terrible things not in the chapter. Things I didn’t include in the manuscript, but things that were essential to remember if I wanted to convey anything meaningful.

Then I’d have to think about the terrible things in the context of how to anonymize the written details. Then I’d have to read what I wrote for editing.

However well I thought I’d done, it was not a labor of love.

But I felt obligated to keep going for reasons, and I genuinely thought one day I’d write “The End” and walk away mostly unscathed.

In doing meditation and introspection regarding my anxiety, though, I recognized two things: 1.) writing a memoir requires living in the past, at least sometimes, and 2.) healing trauma requires being present.

Others might be good at moving back and forth between moments in time, but I am not. And so as a birthday gift to myself, I’m just walking away from this thing. Not a quitter, but—as always—a fighter.

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Fucks Are Finite and I’ve None Left

Fucks Are Finite and I’ve None Left

For Patron fans of Who You Gonna Believe, I have some good news: I’m really, really close to dropping the next chapter.

For non-Patron fans and the morbidly curious, I have some bad news: that new chapter is not going to be available to you right away.

There are a lot of reasons for keeping the upcoming chapter Patron-only for now. Mostly, though, it’s because Patrons have always been given early, ad-free access to new content as a thank you for financially supporting me while working on myself and Who You Gonna Believe.

Chapters 1–25 of WYGB, I have decided, are so old now that they will remain free to read. (Also putting them back behind the paywall is tedious, and I don’t feel like doing it.)

Some might call this next installment my Me Too* story. The abuser’s identity, like Rodney’s, is masked by the obfuscation and omission of details. For my sake, not his.

Chapter 26, debuting in September, comes with a content warning for sexual and psychological abuse of a minor. It’s not graphic, but I understand the benefit of avoiding this kind of stuff until you’re ready.

There’s an introspection in memoir writing—mine anyway—that leads to new understanding, and as a writer I’ve had to decide how to handle that. I think the option-weighing is what stymied me for a bit.

Anyhoo…

Fucks are finite, and I’ve none left.

* This movement was founded by Tarana Burke. Please support Girls for Gender Equity.

Who You Gonna Believe? Not a Gaslighter, Bitch!

Who You Gonna Believe? Not a Gaslighter, Bitch!

Have you seen the video for the new Dixie Chicks song Gaslighter? Here, watch.

I’ve been listening to the song on a loop since its premiere yesterday. ON. MY. BIRTHDAY. It was preordained this song drop right now—while I’m running a promo for my serial memoir and still firmly entrenched in the Rodney chapters.               

I don’t consider myself a country music enthusiast, but I’ve been a Dixie Chicks fan since coming of age in a smothering small town while “Wide Open Spaces” topped the charts. Natalie cemented my adoration for the trio in 2003, though, when she took a whole lot of shit for her anti-war, anti-Bush comments at that concert in London.

In addition to placing “Gaslighter” at the top of my feminist anthem playlist, I’m writing it into my will that I want it used in the soundtrack for Who You Gonna Believe when I become famous for dying of brain cancer and they make a movie based on my memoir.

[Singing]
You’re sorry but WHERE’S MY APOLOGY

Damn, that is some fucking relatable-ass shit, but it is also so empowering. I’m just like, get all the 15-year-old girls in a room right fucking now and play them this song so they know what we want them to know: One day a woman WILL be president and the patriarchy is going to have its little excuse-making lips sewn shut with a backstitch. Put a pamphlet in my pocket and pay me what I’m worth, because gaslighters can’t eat the sandwiches NO ONE MAKES FOR THEM.

Sorry. Getting a little carried away.

Of course, the-you-can’t-touch-us-with-your-feminazi-bullshit-because-we’re-in-V-formation aesthetic is glorious too. Taken as a whole, this video reminds me that when my story ends one day, it will not end with me being a victim.

Of anything.

Friendly reminder that my memoir is unlocked for everyone (even Rodney, lolz) the entire month of March. However, if you want to be a rebel and support me JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN, new patrons are always welcome at patreon.com/EmilySuess.

Dixie Chicks Gaslighter Lyrics

Gaslighter, denier
Doin’ anything to get your ass farther
Gaslight, big timer
Repeating all of the mistakes of your father

We moved to California and followed your dreams
I believed the promises you made to me
Swore that night ’till death do us part
But you lie-lie-lie-lie-lied
Hollywood welcomed you with open doors
No matter what they gave you, you still wanted more
Acting all above it when our friends divorced
What a lie-lie-lie-lie-lie
You’re such a-

Gaslighter, denier
Doin’ anything to get your ass farther
Gaslight, big timer
Repeating all of the mistakes of your father
Gaslighter, you broke me
You’re sorry, but where’s my apology?
Gaslighter, you liar

You thought I wouldn’t see it if you put it in my face
Give you all my money, you’ll gladly walk away
You think it’s justifiable, I think it’s pretty cruel
And you know you lie best when you lie to you
‘Cause, boy, you know exactly what you did on my boat
And, boy, that’s exactly why you ain’t comin’ home
Save your tried story for someone else
‘Cause their lie-lie-lie-lie-lies
Look out, you little-

Gaslighter, denier
Doin’ anything to get your ass farther
Gaslight, big timer
Repeating all of the mistakes of your father
Gaslighter, you broke me
You’re sorry, but where’s my apology?
Gaslighter, you liar

You just had to start a fire, had to start a fire
Couldn’t take yourself on a road a little higher
Had to burn it up, had to tear it down
Tried to say I’m crazy
Babe, we know I’m not crazy, that’s you
Gaslighting
You’re a lie-lie-lie-liar
Oh, honey, that’s you
You made your bed and then your bed caught fire
Gaslighter, I’m the mirror
Standin’ right here until you can see how you broke me
Yeah, I’m broken
You’re still sorry, and there’s still no apology

Gaslighter, denier
Doin’ anything to get your ass farther
Gaslight, big timer
Repeating all of the mistakes of your father
Gaslighter, you broke me
You’re sorry, but where’s my apology?
Gaslighter, you liar

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