I was going to call this post “How to Write a Memoir” and then I realised it had already been done. To be honest my plan was to talk all about my own experiences so the re-title is more faithful to the material anyway. This was the process from start to finish. If you’re uninterested in the mechanics of producing a memoir, skip to the end for my reflections.
Live the Damn Thing
My source material was my Daygame experience up until the end of 2017. I’d been writing lay reports for my friends and so I had a good idea that each lay would form the basis of each main chapter (there are chapters in between the lay reports which move the story along at a macro level and provide analysis for what just happened). In fact, all together the reports (before any editing at all) came to roughly 40,000 words. The finished book is 105,000 words because of all those intervening chapters and my pre-Game life, as well as the “storification” of the lays. I already had the 40,000 words and so I knew that they would be a good start for the backbone of the book. That meant I didn’t have to live any more life to make the minimum word count of 70,000 words. Adequate storification will double the word count of any original piece at least.
Answer the “Call to Adventure”
Many readers will be familiar with this term. If not: look it up or infer from the following. For me this was Krauser’s Winter Memoir Challenge, a post which lit the spark on the my kindling desire to expand beyond this blog. I told myself “this is a good a prompt as any to get started”, and so I did.
The key was to make a statement as well, so I commented on the article. Projects such as these, I believe, are best committed to as early as possible and with small investment. Over time that investment grows until you get to a point where you have to finish the project to at least maintain face. It provides greater incentive when you can’t be bothered to work on it.
My first real action was to collate all of the reports into one document. I also asked around and got test readers and sent them the first few lay reports after a very quick sprucing. The aim being to get feedback on my raw writing ability and find out where my weaknesses were. In particular I was guilty of minimal characterisation of the girls and focusing heavily on the “I did this then that” Daygame lay report style of writing. As I mentioned above: I had to storify the reports. For future projects this stage won’t be required.
First Draft & Cover Mock-Up
Armed with my test readers’ comments I got to work on the first draft. In terms of the actual work I would focus on one chapter each evening, turning the 1500 word Daygame lay report into a 3000 word memoir chapter. Then I spent an entire long weekend writing the intervening chapters. For anyone else writing a book, I recommend these “set pieces” where you take time out of everything else and dedicate it to writing. When the first draft was finished I sent it to my test readers and then went onto Fiverr to get a mock-up done for the cover. The spec I gave to the vendor was actually very different to the finished piece, but it allowed me to get my ideas out of my own head and into the world which was when I realised what was and what was not feasible, and what looked downright silly. When I paid for the mock-up I felt a satisfying entrepreneurial buzz: this was the first time I was going to make something completely from scratch which I could sell.
I had comments back from my test readers and more than a month had passed so it was time to do the second draft. I looked at the piece with three added bonuses: greater writing ability; perspective gained by stepping away from the work; and the comments from my test readers. I went through and turned each 3000 word chapter into a 4000 word chapter and corrected any logic in the intervening chapters. At this point the bulk of the work is done.
When the second draft was finished I went to Upwork and posted an advert for an editor. I specified: what I wanted from the editor i.e. copy and line editing; the theme of the book; the content of the book; and warnings with regards to the content. A few candidates applied for the role and I sent them a few segments of the book. I wanted to give them a taste of the different sections and so I included something technical, something personal, and something story driven. I picked one, put $300 into escrow and sent them the second draft.
Once the editor had completed their work I went through the final draft and accepted or declined their comments. Then I had to paste the whole document into Lulu’s template and format the document according to their style guide. Next I embedded the fonts and saved the document as a PDF (Lulu requires this for upload).
I used the mock-up cover to inspire the final cover. I went to Fiverr again and commissioned the piece which cost around $50. It is vital that you do the cover once you know the final page count so that the measurements are exact.
Everything was ready and so I uploaded it to Lulu and ordered a test copy. When that arrived I checked it over and as it was all good, set it to general access, then announced its release.
The best way I can describe finishing Demolition Lovers is like when you read the final page of a good book. There’s a kind of melancholy satisfaction because you’ll never live through the experience again. I felt as if that chapter of my life (2016 to 2017) had been completed utterly: I’d lived it and wrote about it and now there was nothing more to say. Melancholy because it cuts off access to nostalgia. Metaphorically speaking that time of my life is now a sealed chest.
Then comes the obsessive checking of the Lulu revenue page. I didn’t have any specific expectations as of how many books I would sell in the initial rush but I feel content. It’s not ego-crushingly low just as it’s not ego-inflatingly high. To be honest, one of my aims with writing this book was to have something to sell as well as to tell my story. As long as I had that something (and that it wasn’t panned or completely ignored) then I was happy. This is just the first step on the journey.
And am I happy with the finished product? Unequivocally yes. I wanted to make something which I thought was cool. I wanted to look down at my book and think “that’s fucking cool.” For each person that means something different and so my advice to anyone else is to make something that they want, not what they think someone else wants. For example, my test readers made some comments which I didn’t incorporate purely because it didn’t align with the vision I had for the book. It’s fair of them to make those suggestions because they see their own views as “what’s cool.” But you’re starting your own brand and you don’t want to make a name for yourself as something which you don’t embody. Which leads me onto my next point.
“I think being a writer is the most narcissistic profession,” I told my regular a couple of months ago. “They think their life is so interesting and important that other people should fund it.”
This is what you’re creating in a memoir. You’re telling the story of your life and hope that others will agree with your view on “what’s cool” so much that they want you to live more of it. This is why it is so important that a memoir reflects you as a person. I want people to pick up Demolition Lovers and not just see it as a story but also as a character dissection. I want them to hold my psyche in their hands and to peer in. It’s exactly why I included the word candid in the blurb.
Now my mind turns to what comes next: another volume of course! I already know the title, I have a plan for the content, and of course I’ve lived enough life and know it will be enough for another tome. This time I know all the steps and so I hope it will take less time to produce. Book two will gather steam over December and we’ll see where I am at the end of the year. Until then…