• Dhana Musil
  • Things I did Right, Things I did Wrong. My memoir process.
Things I did Right, Things I did Wrong. My memoir process.
Written by
Dhana Musil
September 2016
Written by
Dhana Musil
September 2016

Things I Did Wrong — Things I Did Right. My Memoir Process.

Things I Did Wrong:

I showed too many people my early drafts. This resulted in me changing the whole memoir from past tense to present tense and back again (and there’s no Replace All function for tense).

I didn’t trust my own voice. I made edits based on what my early readers thought would improve my memoir.  Almost every one of these changes ended up sounding clunky and inauthentic.

I didn’t have an outline. This resulted in meandering, off-tangent stories that weren’t part of my memoir. Because I had so much material to sift through, I veered off my Japan story and found myself wading through stories about Nepal and Thailand.

I didn’t set myself deadlines. This resulted in procrastination. Enough said.

I tried to edit from my computer screen. This resulted in my going almost cross-eyed, not seeing the bigger picture, and missing countless mistakes.

I didn’t prioritize my writing time. I put everything and everyone else first, and would write within the cracks of time. This. Does. Not. Work.

I didn’t understand filing, labeling, and how to store folders on my desktop. I didn’t know the difference between Save and Save As, which resulted in countless versions. This caused many days lost, tears, and I never want to write again feelings of exasperation.

What I Did Right:

I believed in myself. Never, ever have I thought my story wasn’t worth telling. On the contrary. If I died today, my only regret would be that I didn’t finish my book.

I persevered. I wrote in all my free time. I went to coffee shops. I went away for a solo writing weekend here and there when finances and time allowed.

I talked about my memoir. The more others were excited about my project, the more inspired I became to finish it. (And it held me accountable.)

I read excerpts of my memoir at Open Readings around town. This taught me about public speaking, and helped me gain the respect and interest from the literary community in my city.

I read A LOT of memoirs. I applied myself to study the craft through authors I love.

I entered writing contests. I won several and I placed second in several. Positive feedback from the judges rekindled my writing flame and gave me that kick to keep writing.

I applied for scholarships and writing retreats. I went to writing conferences. I immersed myself in a literary community. One of the scholarships I received was for the San Miguel Writers Conference, where I met Brooke Warner. I then took a six-month memoir course that she co-taught with Linda Joy Myers. I then hired Brooke as a private writing coach. This was paramount in getting a comprehensive lay of the land in regards to structuring my memoir.

I started giving myself deadlines.

I kept a handwritten journal for every time I had an idea for my memoir. I’d free write around it and then insert it when the time was right.

*A note on writing groups. I think that being part of a cohesive writing group is invaluable. I was part of a group called the ‘Non-Fictionistas’ for a few years. Getting and giving honest, constructive feedback is almost imperative for a writer IF the timing is right. Showing one’s work prematurely to too many people can be an immense time and energy drain on the writer and the readers alike. If your manuscript is at a place where you are happy to have it critiqued, then a writing group is like gold. If you are scrambling to put the pieces together or are short on free time (which would make it difficult to do a good job honestly critiquing others work), then maybe keep it in mind for when you have a solid first draft of your memoir completed.



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  • Dhana Musil Querying

    I am so glad to hear that what I experienced (am experiencing) in my memoir-writing process is resonating with others of you here. Brings that much more depth and community to this crazy world we live in. 

  • Jenny Rae Benavidez

    This is fantastic. I think that a lot of the points made here can work for any genre. Thank you so much for sharing your learning experiences with us!

  • Judy Gruen

    Great post, and I relate to so much of it! I also didn't trust my voice, didn't outline (I hate outlining!), didn't carve out enough dedicated time, and didn't actually think through the difference between memoir and autobiography. Reading "Inventing the Truth," edited by William Zinnser, and finally drawing a line in the sand to give myself enough time and thinking space began to make all the difference. That, and hiring excellent editorial guidance!

  • Carole Avila

    Wow! I needed to hear that! Thank you for your powerful insight and wisdom.

  • Lisa Thomson

    Yes, we're practically neighbors! :)

  • Sonja Larsen

    Hi Dhana, glad you found my comments useful, quote away!

  • Dhana Musil Querying

    Thank you so much for your insight Lisa Thomson. This process can be lonely, it's nice to know others out there share some of my sentiments. I am in North Vancouver, I just saw you are in Delta!

  • Lisa Thomson

    Fabulous tips and honest share. Thank you so much, Dhana. I also wrote a memoir, self help guide and can relate to many of these stumbling blocks. Believing in your message no matter what everyone else is saying is essential. Save as...that's the way to save, isn't it? I'm just running into this confusion on the new microsoft office. It seems to auto save the same document leaving me confused on the most up to date draft. Cross eyed---that's me today. 

  • Dhana Musil Querying

    Sonja Larsen, beautifully written and comes at the perfect time.Do you mind if I quote you?

  • Sonja Larsen

    Wonderful advice. It took me eight years to finish my memoir, (and that's probably a conservative estimate.) With memoir you aren't only writing a book, you're building an understanding of your life. That's hard work, so good for you for not getting frustrated and keeping up the work and the growth needed to develop your craft and finish your book.

  • Dhana Musil Querying

    Hi Mardith, thanks for your comment. I live in North Vancouver but am visualizing moving to California some day!

  • Mardith Louisell

    HI, Dhana, wonderfully clear  and succinct post. I have struggled, and am struggling, with every single one. Sympathy, empathy, and all the rest to you. I noticed you live in BC, am curious about where. Since it's northshore writers of which you are a part, I wonder if it's North Shore meaning North or West Van.  Or maybe on the Island.  At any rate I lived in BC in the 1970s and have lived off and  on in various parts of Canada since I went to school there, though I now live in SF.

  • Dhana Musil Querying

    I just need to keep on keeping on. Which I am doing. Thank you so much for reaching out. Having community like this one cheer me on makes all the difference. Chin up!

  • I'm sad that you haven't yet finished your memoir...that is, if you want to finish it. What gets in your ways of finishing it? What will it take for you to finish it? What are some ways you can accomplish those steps?