If you are a nonfiction or memoir author, one of the issues I hear from multiple authors (and experienced myself) is giving ourselves permission to write the hard stuff. Many people will never put pen to paper because sharing the intimate details of their lives or a particular experience is simply too terrifying (or painful) a thought.
I’m here to tell you how to overcome that fear and start writing.
(This is the most important section of this post and I’m going to give you what will likely be the best tip to help you write the hard stuff so pay attention.)
What are you so afraid of? Most writers are terrified of sharing the truth of their experiences, for a myriad of reasons:
These are all valid. However, keep in mind that you can still write about your experiences and nobody has to see them.
Just start writing.
I really cannot emphasize this point enough: get the words out. Journal, write a letter, share your story on your blog or as a guest post anonymously, whatever – get it out of your head and down on paper. Nobody is watching or hovering over your shoulder. Take those fears, lock them in a drawer, and put away the key. They’ll be there waiting when you’re done.
Vulnerability works in your favor when writing memoir and nonfiction (and in truth, you can apply these same principles to writing fiction). An author told me the other day that she could write for weeks nonstop if she could just get over that fear of someone reading it, so keep this in mind: nobody has to read your journal or first draft. Do what I call the ‘word vomit,’ and simply release your mind dump. It’s so incredibly freeing.
So here’s the tip:
I’m giving you permission right now to write what scares you. But do you want to know a secret? You don’t need my permission. You need to give yourself permission to grow up and own that you are a writer. And what do writers do? They write.
Read that paragraph again. Give yourself permission to write. Today, right now, as soon as you are done reading this. Stop worrying about everything else, all those bullet points I listed above, and just start.
You’re an adult, and you are allowed to write like one. Own your story.
…which leads me to my next point…
If, at some point, you take that word vomit and decide you do want to create a book out of it, the only way you’ll be able to connect with your readers is to dig deep into what you are feeling as you write it. Harness your raw emotion. If you don’t feel it as you write it, we won’t feel it as we read it.
As I counsel my author clients (and remind myself): write what scares you.
Here’s my biggest tip as you write your initial first draft: do not self-edit. Those stories have been circulating inside you for years, waiting patiently for you to bring them out. Honor your stories — let them have their say.
Real-life experiences (in my case, I write about surviving childhood sexual abuse and the after effects) can be brutal, joyful, horrifying, and thought-provoking – often a combination of all. Give your writing some kind of structure after your initial draft.
Once you allow yourself to write out your experiences, a structure will usually emerge. Note: working with a professional editor helps immensely at this point.
When writing my first Broken book, Broken Pieces, I discovered that surviving abuse isn’t a linear, chronological process. My editor and I decided that the best way to present the book was in ‘pieces’ (as referenced in the title), so the reader would feel the same kind of frustrations and sense of discord I felt as I experienced it.
I found when writing the second book, Broken Places, my work centered more on mind, body, and soul, so that’s how we structured the book. I didn’t discover that until after I had written most of the book and released everything I felt. The lesson here: trust the process.
If you simply cannot move forward without a full structure, that’s okay, too. Everyone works differently. Nonfiction and memoir tend to be a more internalized process, so my advice here is to not hold back, whichever way you go.
Trust your voice. It may sound cliché, but the truth of it is many people will give you feedback on your work. Ultimately, it’s your name that goes on the cover of that book. It’s your work, so listen to your gut and make those choices.
That said, I do believe it’s critically important to work with a professional editor or someone who does this for a living, not Aunt Edna who used to teach English back in the day. Ask people to beta read for you. Send out ARCs. Share your work with trusted critique partners or a writer’s group if you’re part of one.
Why is this important? Because readers, book bloggers, and book reviewers will buy, read, review your work, and leave reviews. You don’t want any surprises. Sure, not everyone will love your work and that’s okay, too – that’s their right. Do you love every book you read? No. Learn from the criticism but don’t take it personally — another lesson that helps you grow.
Keep in mind, once your book is out there, you’re no longer invited to the party. Don’t take it personally – publishing is a business. Be professional and keep writing.
The only thing stopping you from writing is some unknown, nebulous fear and it’s up to you to wrangle it. Remember, nobody will see what you are writing unless you allow it, but even you can’t see what you’re writing unless you start.
For a more detailed plan on developing your book marketing, purchase Rachel’s new book, The BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge now on Amazon!
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Rachel Thompson is the author of newly released BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge: How to energize your book sales in a month - created to help authors market their book. She is also the author of Broken Places (one of IndieReader's "Best of 2015" top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in the San Francisco Book Festival), and the multi award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, IndieReader.com, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly. Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs, #BookMarketingChat (co-hosted with Melissa Flickinger) and #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with certified therapist/survivor, Bobbi Parish all live Twitter chats. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.