THE BLOG

Finishing Your Memoir This Summer One Scene at a Time

06/09/2015 05:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2016

Everyone is writing a book, but only a few will finish their books, and only a select number will finish their memoir this summer. How will they do it?

1) By understanding a book is simply a series of scenes;
2) By understanding that summer is a definable block of time in which to write a definable number of scenes;
3) By methodically assigning a number of scenes to each week between now and Labor Day;
4) By doggedly writing one scene after the other.

Does your memoir have 12 chapters? Then that's three chapters a month. And each chapter is nothing more than a series of scenes. Sometimes a chapter is only one scene.

There is no real trick here, no magical potion of creativity. It's just math and the commitment to put your rear in the chair and write the scenes you've listed as essential to your story. (By scenes in memoir I mean the remembered events essential for a reader to understand the portion of your life you are exploring. Memoir is a portion of your life.)

It's not the writing or even the remembering of the scenes that is the hardest. It's the sitting down and doing the work. But once you've mastered your procrastination techniques (another process all together), it's as rudimentary as:

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• recording a realistic writing schedule on your calendar
• showing up to do it
• writing the scene

Each time you sit down, you look at the next scene on your list of remembered moments that make up your story. You watch the moment play out in your mind as you remember it again. You transcribe what you see, feel, and hear onto the page--no matter how skeletal the shape or crappy the punctuation.

Sometimes I hack out a scene as a series of dialogue lines with no trimmings, no action tags that show what characters are doing with their bodies, no physical descriptions, or details of setting. I just get the words people said onto the page. Later I go back and add details of place, smells and tastes, physical movements.

Let's say that memoir you are writing does have twelve chapters, and let's say each chapter has three scenes. That's 36 scenes. That may sound daunting as a full number. But when broken down, it's manageable. It's like practicing the left hand on the piano keyboard before adding the right, or strengthening your legs first as a swimmer with kick board action, then adding the arm strokes. One piece at a time.

If you have 10 weeks and 36 scenes, that's 3 scenes a week. One a day in three writing sessions? Two one day, one another? Figure it out. The bottom line is this can be done. You can be one of the few writers who finishes your memoir this summer. It's done by being business-like about the process. Don't go all woo-woo creative on me. I'm as influenced by The Muse as anyone, but I also know that writing is a job. You show up; you do the work. One scene at a time.

Follow Lisa Dale Norton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lisadalenorton