Among publishing and literary types, there is a worn out trope that goes something like this: "Everyone WANTS to write a book or has an idea for a book, but almost no one ever actually DOES the work to make it reality. Having an idea for a book is easy; writing a book is hard." And, based on the writing classes and private clients I've had over the last ten years, I would say there certainly are more unfinished (or never-started) manuscripts in file boxes, desk drawers, and old computer hard drives than there are books on the shelves of your local book shop.
So many people have an idea for a novel (or movie, or sculpture, or dance routine) that they never pursue beyond the borders of their brain. Even more people have some innate desire to write about their life's story; an instinct to leave behind a little something to be remembered by. And most of those stories go untold. But it doesn't have to be this way.
One of my favorite teaching and freelance writing activities is helping people tell their stories. Sometimes that comes in the form of helping them learn the basic ingredients of storytelling, or it could be helping craft a narrative and refine their work to unleash its full potential. Other times, I work as a ghostwriter, listening to their life story and then translating that into the written word.
If you've ever considered writing a book, or even just toyed with the idea of capturing some of the stories of your life on paper, there are a number of ways you can make that idea a reality, whether working on your own, or with someone to guide you. Like me!
Classes and Direct Instruction
There are plenty of classes, video seminars, and instructors out there who specialize in whatever kind of writing you want to do. You don't have to enroll in an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) program to "become a writer;" you just have to pick up a pen or sit at a keyboard. You can learn through trial and error and shear determination, if you want. Or—and it will come as no surprise that this is my recommendation—you can utilize the experiences and education of a seasoned writer to help guide you. If you want to write a novel, find a novelist who is willing to teach you. If you want to write a memoir, find a memoirist. Poetry, a poet. Etc.
Working one-on-one is optimal, but getting started with some classroom or video instruction is acceptable, as well. Keep in mind: Not every great writer is a good teacher, and not every great teacher is a best-selling author. You want to look for someone who has shown they know how to write, but also, that they understand how to teach and mentor a fellow would-be writer. Look for an instructor with knowledge, kindness, empathy, and an encouraging attitude. (But also, be sensitive to avoid someone who will be completely uncritical and praise your work, even when it's not deserving of praise.)
If you want to "do it yourself" there are some options for that, as well. There are good resources online and in books to help guide you through beginning the process of writing. I would suggest seeing what books about writing your local library has available, and taking some time to look through them. (You can also go to the writing section of your local bookstore and do the same.) Find a book that seems to speak to you, creatively.
Several years ago, when I was teaching a Legacy of Words class on a regular basis, I developed a workbook that distilled the six-week class into a print version. You can see the description and order it on Amazon. That workbook not only gives you a bit of "writing theory" and instruction, but it also includes pages and pages of writing prompts designed to spark your memories and give you a place to begin writing about your life. Each prompt has space for you to write your initial, gut-level response, which can then serve as a basis for writing a longer piece. Or, if nothing else, the pages with little story vignettes about your life will be a treasured keepsake for children or grandchildren.
Ginger Pavloff's years of hard work came to fruition this year with the publication of her memoir, Maybe I'm Not Crazy After All.
Maybe you're one of the dedicated few who have doggedly written a book-length manuscript on your own, or have already utilized some instructional or mentoring processes to complete a book. If you aren't fortunate enough to be among the very small percentage of writers who will have their books bought and published by an established literary publisher—and that number is very small, indeed—you may choose to self-publish. In this day and age of print-on-demand publishing and DIY book services, this is certainly an option. But self-publishing comes with a long list of obstacles and possible pitfalls. Some writers choose to go the route of guided self-publishing, where someone, like me, helps guide them through the process of creating a cover, digitizing the files, setting the type to look professional, and other various steps required before your book is ready to be shelved beside other great literary works.
Ginger Pavloff (pictured here) is one of my long-term writing clients who just last month saw her years of work pay off. Ginger first came to one of my writing classes several years ago, and then continued to work with me one-on-one to finish a project she had started and stopped many times before. The result was her book, Maybe I'm Not Crazy After All, which tells of her childhood struggles with having two alcoholic parents and the ways she has learned to overcome childhood trauma and live a happier, healthier life. Ginger's story of love and loss, tragedy and resilience came together in a professionally printed book that she can now give to her kids and grandkids and cherished friends and family. Working with Ginger from the early stages or her effort to get her story on paper, through the publication of the book she can hold in her hands and share with her loved ones, was a real treat for me!
If you've tried to write your own story and find you either don't have the skill or the motivation, you can consider hiring a ghostwriter to help bring your story to the page. A ghostwriter will work with you—via interviews, outlines, and extensive back-and-forth communication—to take the story you want to tell and turn it into something that can be shared with others. (Or, in some cases, published by a big publishing house, with YOUR name as the author.)
Ghostwriters come in all shapes and sizes, so if you're considering a ghostwriter, I suggest a thorough interview process which allows you to understand the writer's process, know what to expect as far as time and cost, and get a feel for how you will mesh with the writer's personality and style. Finding a good ghostwriter is establishing a partnership, and it is important to be partnered with the right person for you.
Utilize a Publishing Company
A final option is to go through a company like Story Terrace. Story Terrace has designed a process which allows storytellers the opportunity to have professional designers, writers, and editors take their story and turn it into a professionally published, full-color, hardback book chocked full of stories and photographs.
I am one of the writers for Story Terrace, so if you decide to utilize their services, you could request me as your writer! (And, even if you want to work with one of their other talented writers, you can let them know you heard about their service through my website.)
One of the assignments I had with Story Terrace was to help write the story of Chuck Reynolds. They later made a promotional video with Chuck. (They used a stunt double for the "writer" though, instead of using me in the video...I would have gladly worked for scale pay, if they had only asked!!) You can watch the video below for more information.
If you do choose to go with a publishing company, be sure you fully understand the contract and the services they will be providing. Utilizing a company like Story Terrace is a bit more pricey, but they have professional processes in place to make sure you receive a quality product. If you ever have questions about which of these routes is right for you, I would be happy to consult you via email, so reach out! We will work together to find the right answer for your situation.
Regardless of how you choose to tell your story, I hope you DO choose to write about your own life. As Chuck says in his video for Story Terrace, every life is interesting. Every life is a story. You don't have to be a great writer to at least begin the process. Look at all the options you have! And, I'm here to help you explore any of the options mentioned above. Don't hesitate to email me if you have questions about any of these options. I'd be happy to help, or help point you in the best direction for you and your project.