Make a Plan to Start—and Finish!—Your Memoir

Have you ever thought of writing your own memoir? Or preserving your family’s history by recording your relatives’ life stories? Many of us have, but so few of us do it. Why? Maybe we think we’re not “good enough” at writing. Or perhaps we’re scared to reveal family secrets. You might have started and somehow just never finished.

Bestselling author Darien Gee understands how hard it can be to start and finish writing a memoir. In her book, Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story (from our parent imprint Watermark Publishing), she provides concise, step-by-step guidance for writers of all experience levels. Even better, her book goes beyond “how to” and gets you to completion through exercises and encouragement. The emphasis is not on publication—though if that is your end goal, you’ll find pointers for that, too—but on finishing your memoir so it can be shared with others.

Here, DWriting the Hawaii Memoir by Darien Geearien shares some writing wisdom, beginning with why we might want to write a memoir in the first place:

Sharing our lives opens us up. It connects us. It helps us (as the writer) to make sense of things, to celebrate moments that might otherwise be lost, to remember what matters most. It helps us (as the reader) to see that we’re not alone, that our lives are both personal and universal, that the human spirit is deeper and more profound than we may remember when we’re trying to pay our bills or care for a sick child or parent. We get to be a part of another person’s experience. We can share the joys, the laughter, the chicken skin coincidences, the sorrow, the grief. We can take what we learn and apply it to our own lives. Then we can turn it around and do the same for others.

In Hawaiian, mana‘o means several things—thought, belief, intention, ideas, desire. Your mana‘o emanates from who you are as a person. It is individual and unique. You get to claim your life, your experiences, your story. What you put down on the page is up to you. You are the only one who can put the words down in that way. But how to get started…?

It’s actually as simple as this:

Start Wherever You Are.

Writing is ready when you are, wherever you are. All you need are the thoughts in your head, something to capture them—pen and paper, typewriter, computer, voice recorder, whatever suits you best—and a place to sit still and just do it.

Set Goals.

The key is to start simple. There’s nothing wrong with setting an ambitious goal, but you want to set yourself up for success. That means having a clear idea of what you want to achieve and establishing a rhythm that works with the realities of your life. Twenty minutes or three pages a day may not sound like much, but you’ll know when you’re ready for more. Better to start at a place that feels easy than one that feels too hard.

Establish a Routine.

Many people approach writing a book in a haphazard way. They sit down, write a few words, organize their desk, get up for a cup of coffee, write some more, take a bathroom break, check their email, do some laundry, make a sandwich, then throw in the towel for the rest of the day because it’s time to pick up the kids or catch the evening news. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if you want to write a book—more importantly, if you want to finish writing a book—you greatly increase your chances by establishing a routine.

Set a Deadline and Finish What You Start.

Do you want to write your memoir, or do you want to write and finish your memoir? It may seem like an odd question, but there are lots of writers who write without ever finishing their manuscript. Setting a deadline isn’t meant to quash your creative spirit. It provides focus, and when the brain puts its full attention on something, it filters out everything else. You can move the deadline up or push it back, but you must set a deadline when you begin. Without it, your writing project will be unmoored, left to float about and be pushed around by circumstance or whimsy. The brain loves parameters, and it will rally all your resources around it. The time to do this isn’t when you’re midway through the project, but before you begin. If you want to have a finished manuscript in your hands, set a deadline.

Even boiled down to four simple steps, the idea of writing something as “serious” as a memoir may seem daunting. A task for “a real writer,” not you. But if you know how to write, you are a writer. It’s as simple as that. You may be a terrible speller, suffer at the thought of writing a single paragraph or hate reading anything over two pages, but you are a writer. And you already possess all the material you need—your memories. While you may want to look for ways to develop and improve your basic skills (such as punctuation, grammar, story structure), the first thing you must work on is your own thoughts, especially the negative ones. This trumps everything else, because tormented, unhappy writers are no fun at all. Don’t put yourself down. Be kind. Trust your words. Trust your desire to write. I know you can do it—shouldn’t you, too?

Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story

by Darien Gee
Softcover, 144 pages

Excerpted from Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir by Darien Gee. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information retrieval systems, without prior written permission from the publisher, except for brief passages quoted in reviews.

Writing the Six-Word Hawaii Memoir

Ready to flex those memoir-writing muscles?


To celebrate the release of Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story by Darien Gee, we’re giving away three sets of memoir books, including the new how-to guide, plus a 15% discount credit on a Legacy Isle Publishing package. All you have to do to enter is share your own Six-Word Memoir®. See the end of the post for complete details.

The Six-Word Memoir® is the brainchild of SMITH Magazine. The goal is simple: Write your memoir in exactly six words, no more, no less. You can’t break up compound words but you can play with contractions (“do not” = two words, “don’t” = one word). Their tagline sums it up: One life. Six words. What’s yours?TM

Here are some examples shared in Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir:

“Born on O‘ahu, raised on Hawai‘i.” (Kai Ibana)
“Got hit, life bit, rage quit.” (Taran Takahashi)
“I live clean and surf mean.” (Kamuela Spencer-Herring)
“All my scars are my stories.” (Ryan Hooley)
“Roping wild cattle is a battle.” (Levi Higa)
“He loved me but left anyway.” (Elsbeth McKeen)

And here are a few written and shared by visitors to our booth at the Hawaii Book & Music Festival:

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Here’s how to enter:

  • Post your own Six Word Memoir in a comment below. Your memoir MUST be six words, exactly.
  • Additional entries: Post a DIFFERENT memoir on our Legacy Isle Publishing Facebook Page and/or on Twitter (don’t forget to tag us @LegacyIsle). Memoirs submitted for each channel must be unique. Duplicate entries will be discarded. You may enter once per channel (blog comment, Facebook, Twitter).
  • Each memoir submitted is entered in our drawing for one of three prize packages to be given away.
  • Entries must be submitted by July 15, 2014. DEADLINE EXTENDED TO JULY 31, 2014!
  • Legacy Isle Publishing is not responsible for misdirected or improperly tagged entries.
  • Open to U.S. residents only.

Each prize package consists of:

Funding Your Book — A Community Fundraiser Project

Last weekend at the Hawaii Book & Music Festival, a friend stopped by our booth and mentioned that she had a pet project that she would love to see turned into a book. When we handed her a brochure on Legacy Isle’s services, she said, “Oh, I wish we had the money to do this.”

The book project she had been speaking of would document a historic district. While describing the book project, she casually mentioned that she thought that then it could be sold in a community center the district wanted to open, to offer information, archives and a gallery of historic images. “We’re trying to fundraise to start [the center],” she said.

“Why don’t you turn the book into a fundraising project for the center, instead?” we suggested. We offered the following ideas to her:

  • Instead of trying to find money to fund the book independently of the community center, combine the two projects and turn the book into a fundraising item.
  • Use a crowd-funding model and ask for donations that will help 1) create a book to share the legacy of the historic district and 2) fund a center to continue archiving the historic materials and provide information for the community. Naturally, every donation over a certain amount ensures the donor receives a copy of the book when it is published.

Crowd-funding, in the sense of using services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, is relatively new in the book publishing market (although patronage certainly is not!). Under this model, you can ask people to donate in order to help fund your project—it’s basically like pre-selling your book. The model that Kickstarter, Indiegogo and the others have popularized, however, also offers “perks” when a donation is made. Instead of simply offering a book for a flat pre-order fee that covers the book (usually at retail price) and shipping, you can allow people to donate less than the retail price—and give them a “perk” as simple as a printed acknowledgement of their donation at the back of the book, or a credit in the same amount toward the purchase of the book after its publication. Donors who give more get a more substantial perk, such as a private pre-opening tour of a new community center.

This can be great since authors are bound to run into people who might want to chip in a few dollars, but not the full amount that the book might cost—and those people can add up! It also gives people a reason to lend more financial support and get something enjoyable in exchange. A well-off friend or relative who might be in a position to give you $500 toward your book project may not really want 50 copies of your book, let’s be honest, and they might not like you quite enough to hand you $500 “just because.” But if they got a unique experience out of it, that’s something worth considering.

And for community groups and non-profits, this can be an even bigger motivator. Organizations can often tap into deeper resources—an artist on the board might offer a custom painting in exchange for a $1,000 contribution, or a chef might contribute a home-cooked meal for a $2,500-level perk.

While individual authors might find success with the crowd-funding model—the Galley Cat website has a weekly feature highlighting a Kickstarter Publishing Project of the Week—this post is meant to focus on the applications of using the model for a book published by a community organization or non-profit. These types of groups may find greater success than an individual because of the implication that excess funding will be directed toward the group’s greater mission. In the above example of the historic district group, if their goal to fund the book and start the renovation on a potential space was $15,000, and their fundraising page showed they had already achieved the goal, a potential donor would still be motivated to give, knowing that their funds would help build out the center and maintain it.

A community group may also, if it is well-organized enough, be able to manage their own crowd-funding campaign on their own—it would require meticulous record-keeping, as well as a clear statement of how funds will be used, what should happen if the fundraising goal is not met, and when donors can expect their promised books and other perks. (The reason Kickstarter and Indiegogo are so popular is because donors feel comfortable that if the project doesn’t accumulate the funding threshold, they’ll have their money refunded.* These services also offer online transactions and a website to direct donors to, which are tools not all authors or community/non-profit groups have at their disposal.)

Or, instead of crowd-funding, community groups can look for one or two individual or corporate donors to act as a traditional sponsor for all of their publishing costs. This type of funding can have the bonus effect of putting more dollars to work—a book can be sold for multiple times its production cost, adding more to the overall fundraising effort. The Hawaii Foodbank, for example, had a generous anonymous donor purchase 1,000 copies of The Hawai‘i Book of Rice from us at Watermark Publishing; the Foodbank was able to turn around and sell those books as part of their big annual Spring Food Drive effort at no cost to the organization, thereby earning even more than the anonymous donor’s original contribution. Traditional-style sponsors (like the patrons of old) don’t get any tangible benefits (no perks) from backing a project, but a sponsorship benefit might be as simple as a logo placement on all copies of the book or a “Presented by” credit as part of the book’s sub-title.

The choice to crowd-fund or seek a smaller number of donors boils down to what sort of group is looking to do the fundraising, and what sort of audience exists to support the group’s interest. If the book would have a broad appeal, crowd-funding becomes an option because of general interest in receiving the book (with the feel-good aspect of supporting a cause). If the book and the organization are of interest to a much smaller group, then single or corporate donors become a more logical choice.

As you can see, the ways for community groups and non-profits to fundraise to produce a book and then turn around to use the book as a fundraising tool itself are numerous.

*Depending on the crowd-funding platform, some campaigns do not return contributions from under-funded projects to the donors; trust-worthy platforms and campaigns will clearly spell this out on their project page and let donors know what happens if a project does not meet its funding goal.

This post does not imply an endorsement of Kickstarter, IndieGogo or any other specific crowd-funding platform. If utilizing one of these services, be sure to read their terms of service thoroughly. We suggest you also consult with a financial expert regarding your responsibilities. When considering a crowd-funding platform, explore your options; some are better suited to non-profits, and others have more restrictive rules regarding perks or what qualifies as a valid project.