Writing the First Draft of Your Memoir

From time to time in this space, Balboa Press publishes articles written by our authors in which they share some aspect of their self-publishing journeys. These are the words of Kate Nagel, author of: Untethered and Becoming Kate. For more information about Kate, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram. For a sneak peek of Becoming Kate, click here. Download the Balboa Press free publishing guide to receive more information on self-publishing your book with Balboa Press. 


I was putting away the last of the holiday decorations when I came upon a box containing a special gift.  My journey into writing began years ago when I used journaling as a medium to explore and express the entirety of my emotions regarding my life and the things I wanted to change about it. I was encouraged by many to tell my story. As I stood in the chill of an unheated attic, 9781504327343_COVER.inddI looked at the words that comprised the first draft of Untethered, my first book. I gingerly opened the binder and recalled the struggles I experienced in those early days. I realized how much that draft had become a metaphor for the life I had been living and how I had been trying to change it.

I was nervous at the prospect of writing a book, and called upon an old, frustrating habit. I am a person who takes great comfort in structure and stability, and reverted to a state of acute micro management. I constructed a detailed outline and tried to think through every minute detail. The first few sessions were painful as I forced my writing to the rigidity of the framework I had created. I found myself searching for the words I thought I was supposed to say. I felt as if someone was looking over my shoulder, judging word choice, sentence structure, and grammatical accuracy.  I stopped and started dozens of times to edit, repair, and improve my work as I went along. I was worried the reader wouldn’t find my story compelling.  I became frustrated with the entire process and seriously considered abandoning my aspiration.

What had changed?  Why was book writing so different from journaling? One night (late at night), I realized that it wasn’t the writing that was inhibiting the process; it was the writer.  I had become so mired in the process and need to be perfect that I had lost perspective on the purpose and passion that had compelled me. I perceived it as a project that needed to be controlled as opposed to as a creative process that ebbs and flows. If I was going to tell stories about change, it was time for me to change some things that had lived inside of me for a long, long time.

Author_724377.becomingkate.author.backcover_20151202094526I needed to find a new balance point. The first draft of a story is just that… a draft.  It wasn’t supposed to be perfect. There’s plenty of time to edit, polish, work, and re-work the words. I accepted that writing requires some guidance and structure, and it needs lots of open space to fortify the creative forces that live within. I challenged myself to think of that first draft not as project, but as a long journal entry. I went “off the grid” as I quieted my need to achieve and invited my curiosity to explore and allow what lives inside me to find its way to the page. Slowly, the edges of expectation softened and my creative energy ignited.

As I flipped through the binder, I saw the rawness of my story told through sentences and thoughts that sometimes seemed to ramble on and others that dropped off the page. Margins filled with red sprays of notes, thoughts, and ideas. It was sloppy, unkempt, and highly disorganized in places.  And it was beautiful.  As I placed the draft in the box, I realized how much my life had changed and my writing evolved. The day I stopped I writing from my head and started writing from my heart.  I learned that creativity and passion lives just outside the boundaries we create and keep for ourselves.  Drop the barriers, open the heart, and let the words flow.

Stay tuned for more of Kate’s blogs coming up in the next few weeks as well as her second book, Becoming Kate, coming out next month.

Balboa Press authors who’d like to share a 350-600 word experience related to the self-publishing of their books, are invited to do so by sending a message through our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BalboaPress, by tweeting us @BalboaPress, or by emailing blog@ balboapress.com. We may not be able to use every story, but we will read and consider them. Balboa Press reserves the right to edit stories for content, grammar and punctuation accuracy; as well as for space.


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