Writing Your Memoir (part five)

 The last few weeks I’ve been discussing some steps to creating a good memoir. Here are two more.

Step 6: Share

Once you’ve finished a solid draft, have two or more people you trust (including people who represent your “target audience”) read your manuscript and give you their honest impressions—both what they liked and what they think could be improved.

Don’t tell them anything about the book ahead of time. Ask them to highlight sections they feel are powerful and sections they found confusing, boring, or unnecessary. After they’ve read the memoir, ask them to summarize what the story was about (without looking again at the manuscript). Be sure to thank your reviewers for their feedback and their time.

Consider these assessments/critiques as objectively as you can. If you disagree with one person’s opinion, ask someone else. If you get the same response from more than one reviewer, give it serious consideration. Carefully consider all feedback offered, but in each instance, give yourself the freedom to take it or leave it. After all, this is your story.

Consider finding, joining, or starting a critique group with others who are writing their memoirs (either in person or by e-mail). Giving and receiving feedback with like-minded people can sharpen your writing and self-editing skills. And it won’t cost you anything but time.

Step 7: Polish

Fine-tune your memoir by making sure all the nitty-gritty stuff (punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling) is correct. A simple comma in the wrong place can change the meaning of a sentence. And mechanical errors will make you look like an amateur (to readers and publishers).

Review the nuts and bolts of punctuation and grammar for yourself. Consult The Chicago Manual of Style (the industry-standard reference for commercial book publishers in the US). Be sure to use the most recent edition. (The 15th is the current, but the 16th is scheduled for release August 1, 2010.)

If you can’t get a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style (or can’t find what you’re looking for in it, or can’t understand it when you do), you may wish to purchase my Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors: Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling Tips for Writers. It’s based on the rules in CMOS, but is organized in a more user-friendly fashion and written in easier-to-understand layman’s terms. (Available on my website, Secrets of Best-selling Authors.)

Look up every word you’re not 100% sure of the spelling for in the most recent edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (the industry standard for commercial book publishers in the US). Study the definition to make sure the word is what you meant in that context and that you’re using the correct spelling for that form of speech. Look up all hyphenated words and compound words. Do not rely on spell-check.

Ask a friend to proofread your manuscript to catch typos, inconsistencies, and other mistakes you may have overlooked.