Undertaking the task. Before becoming too deeply involved in writing a memoir or autobiography, I advise you to determine why you’re undertaking the task. Perhaps you’re writing it for your family and friends with no expectation of major sales: you simply want to leave them a record of your outlook and exploits.
Then again, if you want to sell a warehouse full of copies, think about whether some subpopulation of strangers will want to buy your book. If you’re not a celebrity, they probably won’t unless it’s beautifully written and expertly marketed. Even then, it’s likely to be a tough sell unless you’re a convict, madam, or escort with an attention-grabbing hook to make you the toast of the latest news cycle. Otherwise, your potential readers won’t be emotionally invested in your story before reading it, and that’s what it takes to generate sales.
Planning. First, you need to decide whether you intend to write an autobiography or a true memoir. An autobiography is a life story from beginning to end, whereas a memoir is a selective set of autobiographical sketches that focus on certain aspects of one’s life. I first intended to write a memoir that concentrated on single decade in my life—1966 to 1975. But as the manuscript (MS) took shape I realized that to get the story told, I needed to write a hybrid genre that also related a few adventures from my earlier life and several more recent episodes.
Since 1975 I’d amassed 110,000 words of autobiographical sketches recounting memoires from my early life to more recent stories. I’d written these out of chronological order, in various styles, and at varying levels of discipline, detail, and quality.
Some of these fragments were epistolary—emails I’d written to friends—and some were written versions of tales I’d told people countless times over drinks. I thought the book would write itself it in a matter of months—a simple matter of organisation and editorial polish, right? Instead, the task turned out to be daunting. I struggled mightily through more than three years of false starts, rewrites, and edits before putting together the book I was happy with.
Organising. I assessed the mixed bag of material I had to work with. Unfortunately, I had not developed any particular theme, structure, story arc, cast of characters, or outline to follow. I decided to present my chapters thematically and chronologically within each theme, which seemed reasonable at that stage.