After slaving away for months, you have finally finished the first draft of your memoir. You heave a big sigh of relief. At last, you practically shout, it’s done!
Well, not really. In fact, your work has only just begun.
I can say that with certainty, for I am a professional ghostwriter. I know how important it is to revise a manuscript, then do it again, and then revise it some more!
Each time you go over your manuscript, you’ll find more issues to wrestle with, more items to correct, and better ways to tell your story.
Now set it aside…
What you have right now is a first draft, which is really just the clay from which you’ll mold your masterpiece, shaping it into an enjoyable, inspiring memoir. Think of it this way: Now that you’ve finished the first draft of your memoir, you’re ready to begin the real writing. But before diving into this new phase, take a breather. Step back and let your mind clear.
Put your first draft aside for six weeks or even two months, then come back to it with fresh eyes. You’ll be able to read what you’ve written much more objectively. As you reread your draft, its problems will become so obvious they’ll practically leap off the page and hit you in the face. And, hopefully, the answers to those problems will be equally apparent.
Your memoir is all about you, so you, of all people, should be able to read and reread it a dozen times and still feel excited. If you’re bored, there’s a serious problem! When you find sections that don’t hold your interest, rewrite or delete them, tweak or even jettison characters that bore you, and keep improving the manuscript until you’re as thrilled as you were the day you began writing.
Once you think your memoir is as good as it will ever get, show it to a small number of people. Pick friends, family members, or colleagues whose judgment you trust. But when they offer critiques, don’t assume that everything they say is gospel.
You might also join a group of writers who offer feedback on each other’s work and share memoir writing tips. Carefully consider any comments you receive, but trust yourself to know the difference between those that are valid and those you can safely discard.
Consider some professional advice…
Once you’re thoroughly satisfied with your umpteenth draft, consider hiring a professional ghostwriter or editor to read and critique your memoir. These experts can often provide memoir writing tips you would never have thought of. You can then rework the manuscript yourself, following the ghostwriter’s or editor’s advice, or hire the ghost to do it for you.
For tips on getting the best out of your ghostwriter, read my “Working With a Ghostwriter.”
And remember: “revise” is a big word
Revising means changing many things—maybe in a big way—not just moving a few commas around. With each revision, pieces of your story may be moved from here to there or eliminated entirely. Dialogue may be significantly changed, with entire paragraphs cut, rewritten, or written from scratch. Entire thematic elements may be added or dropped, and so on.
As you go from draft to draft, if you’re not revising a lot, you’re probably not revising enough.
When you’ve finished the first draft of your memoir…
You’re ready to attack it again. There’s a good chance you’ll want to make major revisions, and a good chance those revisions will lead to a better book. It’s worth the extra effort!
Memoir writer Dorit Sasson explains how she handles revision in her “Top Five Strategies For Revising Your Memoir.”
Having finished the first draft of your memoir, you’ve got your main stories and characters laid out, and you’ve explored some themes, whether you realize it or not. Now you’re ready to begin digging deep to unearth the richer themes hiding beneath the surface.
If you’d like help writing your memoir…
Contact Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor, the memoir ghostwriters. Use the contact form on this page to send us a message, or call us at 818-917-5362.