Anne’s answer was immediate and unequivocal. “Hire a memoirist. They will make it happen. That's what they are there for,” she told the interviewer.
What interested me most about Anne’s quote was how definitive she was about hiring a professional. Anne, who commissioned me in 2015 to write her 95-year-old mother’s memoir, is herself an editor. Years before, she had interviewed her parents for a couple of hours and transcribed the interviews into several pages of writing, but that was as far as she got. It’s not that she didn’t have the professional wherewithal to do a project like this herself; she had simply come to the conclusion many of my clients do: If you want to get the job done – no delays, no distractions, no diversions – hire someone to do it.
When I started building my business, I imagined that the people who hired me to help them or their loved ones write memoirs would be non-writers, people with no interest or confidence in the writing process at all. After all, it makes sense that if you have no idea how to do something, you hire someone else to do it.
What I very soon came to realize, though, was that although some of my clients are indeed people with no interest in writing and no faith in their own talents, almost as many of my clients are people with plenty of editorial expertise. People like Anne, an editor; or Lucille, a client who spent several decades as a writing teacher, a newspaper editor and a freelance journalist but still hired me to write her father’s memoir. Other clients of mine do not have resumes full of editorial experience but still enjoy writing just as much as I do.
And yet Anne is right. All of them benefited from hiring someone else to get the job done. With client after client, I am reminded that the challenge in getting someone’s memoir written isn’t in how to weave the story – it’s in getting to the finish line. Many people start writing memoirs themselves. They never tell me they found it hard to get started. They tell me they found it hard to keep going – not because they didn’t enjoy the writing process but because they couldn’t find the time or figure out how to organize their thoughts.
Much as I’d like to think of myself as a talented writer, the reality is that my greatest strength might be simply that I can execute. Since I’m also a journalist for a daily paper, writing on deadline is second nature to me; I usually have less than a week to turn an article around, and sometimes less than two hours. For journalists, getting it done – far more than doing it well – is perhaps the capability that most defines our career success. And for me, it’s a skill that translates effortlessly to memoir writing.
Some of my clients know they have the ability to write their memoir but have never gotten started. Others have gotten started but haven’t gained much traction. Often they’ve taken an adult ed class in memoir and captured a few good scenes, but can’t summon the patience to repeat the process with scene after scene. Frequently, clients who have done these kinds of exercises in the past give me what they’ve written and I’m able to incorporate it into their project, blending the scenes they wrote themselves with the scenes I subsequently write.
As Anne said in her podcast interview, “Hire a memoirist. They will make it happen. That's what they are there for.” It’s true – that’s why I’m in business. Whether you are someone who wants to tell your story but has no interest at all in doing it yourself or you are someone who is eminently capable of doing it yourself, in the end it’s not a matter of whether you can – but whether you will. And if you suspect you probably won’t, then it’s time to think about giving someone like me a chance to get it done for you.
Want to know more? Let’s talk about your ideas for a memoir!