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This blog was featured on 10/23/2019
Writing for Change: How to Create an Action-driven Memoir
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
October 2019
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
October 2019

This guest post was written by Lucinda Jackson author of Just a Girl: Growing Up Female and Ambitious.

 

Lucinda Jackson, scientist and corporate executive, spent eight years in academia and more than forty years with Fortune 500 Companies. After growing up on the West Coast, she received her PhD at Southern Illinois University and continued in science throughout her career, speaking worldwide on environmental topics, and serving on boards of academic, non-profit, and industry organizations. Dr. Jackson has published peer-reviewed articles, patents, and book chapters and is working on a book series about freedom after a career-dominated life. 

Writing for Change: How to Create an Action-driven Memoir

“A good author never mixes memoir and a call to action,” the instructor said in the first memoir course I took early in my writing career. I puzzled on that and later read more about this supposed doctrine. “It’s either one or the other,” one article claimed. A blogger wrote an example: “You can’t tell a story about your mother’s breast cancer and then ‘interrupt’ the story with your own activist views on testing for breast cancer.”

“Why not?” I thought.

“Publishers prefer a book that is one genre; you try mixing it up and they don’t know how to market it,” one expert said to me. I’d never get a combo published.

This rankled a bit. I’d learned in the corporate world that personalizing a message you want others to act on is the best way to make it stick. We were trained as managers to tell a meaningful story of our own as inspiration to effect change. When we tried to build a strong safety culture, bosses started each meeting with a personal anecdote such as: “My wife and I were driving to the grocery store yesterday and I had to slam on my brakes to prevent us from almost hitting a young mother with a baby cutting across the street against the light. We were so shaken up, we turned around and went straight home without the groceries. Those people could have been killed. I know I will never, never cross the street against the light. I implore all of you to take my story to heart and vow to cross at the crosswalk with the signal.”

As I wrote my memoir Just a Girl about my personal journey growing up as an ambitious girl and woman, I realized my bigger objective: to share my tips and views to help other women build their strength and change our sexist culture along the way. Stories of my personal trials were the perfect vehicles to promote my call for action.

When you start your memoir, be sure to clarify your intention going in—is there something that happened to you about which you feel so passionate and knowledgeable that it warrants others to act? Or is your book really meant to share interesting or entertaining events in your life that evoked your own individual change? Be clear on your motivation.

If you find you do have a goal for change in others, write your memoir towards that. This involves including stories that support the reasons behind your convictions and—more importantly—excluding other stories that are part of your life but don’t effectively promote your cause. I didn’t want to only write a story about my journey with sexual harassment and sexism in the workplace and life. I knew I wanted to invoke societal transformation.  

Writing for change can get you a step ahead in the overall picture with your book. Once you decide it’s not solely a memoir, but also a call to action, you can use that choice of direction to:

  • Decide what publishers to approach with your action-driven narrative. I did find out it is true that many agents or publishers don’t like a blending of genres.
  • Influence the look of your book cover and the type of blurbs you gather for the back copy. Once I knew I was writing with a conviction towards cultural change, I worked with my book designer to build a cover that inspired and motivated readers: with a bright color and women of all shapes and colors marching up a cloud staircase in victory. We selected blurbs that furthered the positive action of my cause, such as, “Just a Girl offers solutions for how women can learn to stand in their authentic selves, have a stronger voice, and raise boys to be more conscious and compassionate.”
  • Build the tone of your on-line presence—what your Facebook page, website, chosen colors, or photo will project. I created a tag line that would announce my key principle: “I empower women in the workplace and in life.” I purposefully selected a photo where I was leaning forward to depict energy and zeal.
  • Help focus your marketing efforts towards groups and organizations compatible with your cause. I am marketing my books at women’s conferences, leadership events for women, the Global Woman Club, and so on. You can also align with non-profits that support your beliefs and find tremendous personal satisfaction from that relationship.

Despite what I was told initially that no publisher will take you if you mix memoir and activism, I did find support from a like-minded publisher—the amazing She Writes Press. And perhaps the trend is heading more towards “memoir with a cause”—look at Michelle Obama’s recent book Becoming and Kamala Harris’s The Truth We Hold, both excellent examples of combining memoir and writing for change. Trends shift and evolve, and you never know when your style might end up fitting in after all.

I felt so passionate, I couldn’t write my memoir without a call to action. You need to decide if that is you, then go for it!

About the Book

Just a Girl: Growing Up Female and Ambitious

Just A Girl is the sensitive, personal story of the author’s ambition to become and succeed as a scientist during the “white man in power” era of the 1950s to 2010s. In the male-dominated science world, she struggles from girlhood unworthiness to sexist battles in jobs on the farms and in the restaurants of America, in academia’s laboratories and field research communities, and in the executive corner office. Jackson overcomes pain, shame, and self-blame, learns to believe in herself when others don’t, and becomes a champion for others.

The turbulent legal and social background of sexual harassment and sexism in America over seven decades is delivered as “history with emotion.” Just a Girl is also a call to action: it identifies the court cases and lawsuits that helped advance the cultural changes we see today; outlines the pressing need for a Boys and Men Liberation (BAML) movement; highlights new approaches by parents; advocates for changes in our universities; and suggests a different direction for corporate America to take to stop the cycle of sexual harassment. Eye-opening and inspiring, it points the way to a brighter future for women everywhere.

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