After the First Draft is Done

I can hardly believe it. The first full draft of my memoir, My Mother’s Money, is done. Done. Every item of information that needed to go into it is down on paper. But right now, it’s mostly just information. Facts. Data. Dates. Only four or five chapters of solid narrative.

I won’t minimize it, though. Getting all that written was a huge challenge. It took two years. Maybe more, if you count the 10 years of note taking, fact checking, and organizing that writing the draft required.

Now the writing begins in earnest. It’s the shape and how to tell the story that are the most intimidating.

I’ve gorged on too many recently written books and blogs about memoir that urge writers to construct their memoirs to read like novels. I bought into that idea for a long time. My Mother’s Money even lends itself to a novelistic structure.

But the memoirs I like best don’t necessarily read like novels. So, I’ve been thinking about what appeals to me in memoirs:

Descriptions of how things were. What was the narrator sunk in? A place, a job, a family, a time, a tug-of-war?

Stunning surprises—a relationship unexpectedly collapses, or the least likely person flees—upsetting the (often fragile) status quo. (In one of her memoirs, Diana Athill opens with a description a charming novelist who came to a dinner party at her house. She took to him immediately, knowing he’d become a dear friend. That section, which is almost merry, ends, “Five years later this man killed himself in my flat.” How’s that for a boldly stated surprise?)

A thinking narrator, who isn’t averse to wandering off on tangents as he tries to see and comprehend connections. (Above my desk is a quote from someone, urging writers to “approach their subject for its mystery—as an investigator examining the unfathomable.”)

Sympathy or envy for the narrator’s plight or good fortune.

New knowledge about a lifestyle, religion, era, problem—a sort of “Oh, so that’s how stockbrokers are, work, live, think, affect our lives.”

Admiration for the narrator’s courage, as she worries a problem, even if those around her think she should just leave it alone.

Having my own ideas about how to write my memoir won’t make it any easier, but it’ll make it more authentic. And if a memoir is nothing else, it should be that.

What do you like in memoirs?

Find out more about My Mother’s Money: A Memoir of Suspense.

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10 thoughts on “After the First Draft is Done

  1. Congratulations of finishing the rough draft!

    What I love about memoir is richness of experience. Rocketboys, for example, made me care about a subject I had no interest in (coal mining), while “Without a Map” annoyed with how dead it was all the way through.

    I would have to say I prefer a “novel” type read. I recently finished Gerry Adams’ “Before the Dawn” and it was a lot of names and dates and such but no story.

  2. Interestingly, I had the opportunity to proofread a memoir recently, a rush second proof. It seemed to be mostly a memoir for the family, written by a man who’d lived a long life and has seen many successes. That did make for a dry telling, really, except for the parts where he talked about his first-person experiences in the racial climate of the 1950s in high-flying finance, and a few surprises (but not many).

    Congratulations, Lynette! I will stay tuned as you continue to refine your draft.

  3. Congratulations! I know how much work you’ve put into it, and I’ve privileged to read some of the parts you’ve fleshed out. It’s a fantastic story, and I’m so glad you have a new approach to it.

  4. So exciting that you are done with your first draft. I like hearing what YOU like about memoirs – it’s interesting and helps me learn…just in case mine EVER gets down on paper…I’m going to follow your ideas as a foundation! I still cannot wait to read your published memoir!

  5. Congratulations! Finishing the first draft is quite an accomplishment. I’ve never read a memoir, so I can’t say what I’d like about it (unless you count the Diary of Anne Frank), but your ideas sound good. To be honest, I’d probably like it better if it was written like a novel, because that’s what I like to primarily read. If it read that way, I’d probably stick with it better and be more entertained.

    But, then, I’m probably not your target audience. Someday, I want to dip my brain into memoirs and try writing my own, but not yet. Dipping into what I want to record would be painful to say the least, and I want to wait a few years for when I’m mature enough to deal with the pain.

    I hope the second draft flies by, and that your memoir fulfills all YOUR expectations. Write a book that you’d love, and you’ll be fine.

    Have a great day, and happy writing!

  6. Found this post at #memoir and really enjoyed it. I need to get rolling on Chapter One of my memoir this week. Expecting to be where you are in about one year. I’m not sure yet whether the final draft will be a chronology or a more dramatic structure. First, some words! 🙂

  7. This blog was so applicable to me today – thanks for posting it on twitter! Last evening I finished the the first draft of the writing portion of my memoir. Now it’s time to integrate my blog,, into the second half of it (already written, just need to pick selections). Thanks for giving me some thoughts into the editing process and who my reader may be! How’s it been going since completing the first draft?

  8. Brenda, you’ve got a moving story to tell, and I look forward to seeing the final product.

    My memoir is going along apace. I’m revising now, then (although I’m an editor) I’ll send it to my editor. (We can’t really see all the weaknesses in our own writing, especially in a book-length work!) Thanks for commenting, and I’ll be sure to revisit your blog.

  9. Pingback: When the Editor Gets Edited

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