Reaching: How I Wrote My Memoir

Grace Peterson
Guest article by Grace Peterson

Being an author wasn’t a childhood dream. In school I was a C student and although I liked to write, I was horrible with grammar and spelling, which kept me from aspirations of literary grandeur. I confined my writings to my trusty journal where I never had to worry about the critical red pen.

I began writing my memoir in 2006, six years after leaving Brock, the antagonist in my book. I remember standing in front of the mirror, willing away the fog so I could focus on my past. There was so much unresolved conflict, so much pain. Being fairly proficient with a computer and Microsoft Word, I wrote. It wasn’t a casual decision, it was a mandate. Finally, at the age of forty-five, I convinced myself that someday I was going to be a published author.  

Fortunately, I have a good memory. I wrote everything I could remember about my growing up years, but as I contrasted my factual scenarios with the likes of Jennifer Lauck, Frank McCourt and other astute memoir writers, I knew I had more work to do—creating a sensory scene, dialog, conflict resolution, honing the literary aspect of writing a book. Reading memoirs was my only training until I happened upon Tristine Rainer’s book, Your Life As Story: Discovering the “New Autobiography” and Writing Memoir as Literature. Finding it felt providential and I devoured every page. It not only provided the tools I needed, it inspired me, empowered me, excited me.

What I didn't do
I didn’t impose deadlines on myself. I didn’t write from an outline. I didn’t have a writing mentor or group to offer feedback. I didn’t belong to any social media. Other than weekly visits to my therapist and offering tidbits to my husband Steve, I was alone, writing chronologically about my painful past. I reread my journals, pored over old photos. I bought CDs of 1970s music and listened and cried. I purchased maps (before I knew about Google Maps) and reacquainted myself with street names and locations and prided myself on how well I remembered those places.

I finished multiple times. I’d take a few weeks off, then come back, dissatisfied. I knew I needed to narrow it down, make my theme obvious and stick to it. Readers weren’t going to be interested in every detail of my life. Eventually, I trimmed 150,000 words to a more reasonable 78,000.

My lack of Internet prowess worked to my advantage in that it enabled me to write without distraction. On the flip side, I wasn’t aware of helpful websites, memoir how-to books, and blogs such as Your Memories, Your Book.

Rejection to determination
By 2010, I knew my way around the Internet and the procedures for getting published, including the dreaded query letter. I was sure all of New York’s literary giants would fight for the rights to my prose. It didn’t take long for rejection after rejection to not only dampen my spirits, but to piss me off. My anger fueled my determination. I forged ahead with a new strategy: Independent publishers. This meant not only a query letter but a full proposal. More rejections. Finally in mid-2012, I had three publishers interested. I was soaring. I signed with All Things That Matter Press in August and my memoir, Reaching was released on May 13, 2013. My second book, Grace In The Garden will be published in late 2013 by the same publisher.

Working with Deb, editor extraordinaire, has been a wonderful experience. There were two conflicts I needed to resolve, but most of my edits were minor such as word redundancies and overuse of the exclamation point. How did I miss that?

Having the support of my publisher meant the world to me. Validation that my work is worthy of a publisher’s time and money is an incredibly pleasant feeling. This is not to say I’m opposed to self-publishing. Had I not landed a publisher when I did, I would have self-published. 

When I received my book in the mail, my dream became reality. It humbles me how encouraging and supportive people have been. At one time, while ensnared in Brock’s world, I was completely convinced all people were evil. Oh, how wrong I was.

Grace Peterson is published in several anthologies and blogs about the writing craft and recovery topics. She is an avid gardener, tending her modest backyard in western Oregon's mild, garden-friendly climate. Her gardening blog is gracepete.blogspot.com and her writing blog is www.gracepete.com/

Photo courtesy Grace Peterson.

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4 comments:

  1. Grace, thanks for sharing your process here. That we are cyber-friends is counted among the many blessings of the Internet writing community. Looking forward to reading Reaching.

    Wayne, thanks for hosting Grace, one classy lady and talented writer.

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  2. Thank you Sherrey. I am honored to call you Friend. And isn't Wayne the best? Hugs to you both.

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  3. This is fascinating, Grace. I'm enthralled in your memoir right now, and having this additional background on the nuts and bolts of getting published makes it even more interesting to me.

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  4. Jane, really? Thank you! I'm anxiously (in a good way) awaiting your comments and thoughts on my book. You've been so supportive and it means the world to me. Hugs!

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