Are You Stuck in the Weeds?

Memoirs are powerful narratives that allow individuals to share their unique experiences with the world. However, the journey of memoir writing often presents challenges, with many aspiring authors finding themselves lost in a sea of details, struggling to navigate through the vast landscape of their memories without a clear roadmap. This phenomenon, commonly referred to as “being in the weeds,” can hinder progress and stifle creativity, leaving writers feeling overwhelmed and directionless.

Join me as we explore the challenges encountered by memoir writers and uncover effective strategies for surmounting them. Through the lens of a real-life case study featuring Jan, a memoirist I previously collaborated with, we’ll illuminate actionable solutions to common hurdles in the memoir-writing journey.

In my three decades of experience in the publishing world, I’ve witnessed countless individuals grappling with the same issue: a reluctance to seek the assistance they need. If you’re committed to crafting a memoir that resonates with authenticity and impact, you’ll require more than just raw material—you’ll need guidance, accountability, and a supportive community to make the process not just bearable, but enjoyable. You’re in luck because the Memoir Method offers precisely that. Head over to pageandpodium.com/memoir-method to discover more about our upcoming cohort and how you can join us on this transformative journey.

Being in the Weeds

So, what exactly do I mean by “being in the weeds”? Picture this: a tangle of thoughts, memories, and snippets of life’s moments, all scattered haphazardly without a clear roadmap. This was precisely the predicament Jan found herself in when she approached me for assistance. Jan had been diligently chronicling her life story for nearly a decade, focusing on her journey of overcoming childhood trauma and its lingering effects on her adulthood. However, despite her dedication, she found herself drowning in a sea of disjointed scenes and unstructured musings.

Jan’s approach was commendable—she had diligently documented her experiences through a blog, gradually amassing a collection of anecdotes, reflections, and even recipes and songs. Yet, as the years passed, she realized that what she had wasn’t a cohesive memoir but rather a scattered assortment of vignettes. She yearned to weave these fragments into a unified narrative, one that could serve as a beacon of hope for others grappling with similar struggles.

However, Jan’s biggest obstacle wasn’t a lack of material—it was a paralysis induced by the daunting task of crafting a coherent structure from the chaos of her notes and blog posts. This, my friends, is what I refer to as “being in the weeds.”

What Are the Root Causes of Being in the Weeds?

There are three significant causes of being in weeds that are worth exploring. I encourage you to take a moment to introspect and see if any of these resonate with you, as these are precisely the challenges we aim to address through the Memoir Method. Our mentorship, accountability measures, and group sessions are tailored to help individuals overcome these hurdles. Therefore, here they are:

  • Red Pen Syndrome

One common cause of getting stuck in memoir writing is what I call “red pen syndrome.” It stems from the tendency to dive headfirst into writing without considering structure—a phenomenon often referred to as red pen syndrome.

Think back to your school days in the US, perhaps over the last century or more. You likely submitted creative pieces—stories, essays—that you poured your heart into. And what did you get back? A paper covered in corrections. Maybe you were a good writer, like me, and still got an A. But those papers probably came back with circled commas, little carrot marks, and all sorts of nitpicky corrections. Sound familiar? It’s enough to make anyone break into a sweat just thinking about it.

Many aspiring writers, influenced by past experiences with feedback and criticism, become fixated on perfecting every sentence and detail in their writing. This fixation on minor imperfections can paralyze creativity and impede progress.

To overcome red pen syndrome, writers must shift their focus from micromanaging individual sentences to crafting compelling narratives. By prioritizing storytelling over perfectionism during the drafting phase, writers can free themselves from the constraints of self-doubt and criticism.

  • Love of Beautiful Prose

There’s another reason that aligns neatly with the first, and it’s the love of beautiful prose. I’m sure many of you can relate to this. If you’re a reader, even occasionally, you likely appreciate well-crafted quotes, poetry, or song lyrics. You revel in the intricacies of language. Me too! I’ve always been fascinated by the artistry of words, how they can weave symbolism and evoke vivid emotions and images. However, the time to focus on crafting beautiful prose isn’t during the initial drafting of your memoir.

While eloquent language and vivid imagery can enhance a memoir’s impact, fixating on prose perfection can derail the writing process. Writers may find themselves endlessly refining sentences instead of advancing the narrative.

To combat this tendency, writers must embrace the idea that polished prose is a product of revision, not initial drafting. By focusing on storytelling and structure during the early stages of writing, writers can lay a solid foundation for later refinement.

  • External Validation

Seeking external validation can also hinder progress in memoir writing. Writers may become overly reliant on feedback from others, seeking approval at every stage of the process. This dependence on external validation can stifle creativity and undermine confidence in one’s own storytelling abilities.

This third reason also resonated with Jan. She believed that by compiling all her blog posts and vignettes, gathering every detail, she could present them to others for validation, which she did through her blog, as you recall. Do you notice the striking similarity to red pen syndrome in this behavior?

To break free from the cycle of seeking validation, writers must cultivate self-confidence and trust in their creative instincts. By embracing their unique voice and vision, writers can navigate the writing process with authenticity and conviction.

The Solution to Being in the Weeds

How do we navigate our way out of the weeds? The answer lies in one word: structure. By imposing a clear framework on our narrative, we can untangle the mess and pave a path forward. Let me share with you the approach Jan and I took to transform her scattered musings into a coherent memoir:

  • Creating an Inventory of Story Elements

Firstly, it’s essential to take stock of all the components you have at your disposal. For Jan, this meant gathering all her written material, from blog posts to diary entries, into one place. To streamline this process, we utilized an Excel spreadsheet, though any method that works for you will suffice. In this inventory, each item, whether a story or a thematic concept, was succinctly noted down, along with a timestamp indicating when it occurred.

  • Identifying Core Themes

Once the inventory was complete, we focused on identifying the core themes of Jan’s memoir. Given the broad span of her experiences, ranging from childhood to adulthood, it was crucial to pinpoint a central narrative thread. For Jan, this centered around her struggle with alcoholism, stemming from her childhood trauma. Defining this core theme provided clarity and direction for the memoir’s structure.

  • Crafting a Timeline

With the core theme established, we proceeded to craft a timeline of significant events in Jan’s life. Starting with the pivotal moment of her alcohol dependency, we outlined key milestones, from her daughter’s birth to her eventual recovery. This chronological framework served as the backbone of the memoir, allowing for a coherent and compelling narrative arc.

  • Weaving Stories Together

Having delineated the timeline, we began weaving together Jan’s stories, seamlessly integrating her childhood experiences with her battle against alcoholism. By juxtaposing past and present events, we created a narrative tapestry that illuminated the interconnectedness of Jan’s life journey. This approach facilitated a deeper understanding of the underlying themes and messages of her memoir.

  • Seeking Support and Guidance

Throughout this process, Jan benefited from ongoing support and guidance, whether from mentors, peers, or support groups. Collaborative sessions provided invaluable feedback and encouragement, helping Jan navigate the complexities of memoir writing with confidence and clarity. By surrounding herself with a supportive community, Jan was able to overcome obstacles and stay focused on her writing goals.

Final Thoughts

In reflecting on Jan’s journey, it becomes evident that once we established the groundwork of her memoir—compiling her existing materials and crafting a structured inventory—the subsequent steps fell into place with surprising ease. With a clear understanding of her story’s direction and overarching themes, organizing her blog posts became a straightforward task. We simply arranged them according to the timeline we had outlined, smoothing transitions and ensuring clarity along the way.

Now, for those who, like Jan, already possess a wealth of written material, you may find that our group program, the Memoir Method, may not align perfectly with your needs. However, fear not. Our one-on-one coaching offers personalized guidance for individuals with existing pieces of their life story, whether it’s diary entries, photographs, or letters. We’re here to help you bring your narrative to life without getting lost in the minutiae.

So, if you’re ready to embark on your memoir-writing journey, now is the time to take action. Visit pageandpodium.com/memoir-method to learn more about our program and submit your application. Whether you’re just starting out or have a treasure trove of memories waiting to be shared, we’re excited to support you every step of the way. Happy writing, and we look forward to welcoming you into the program!

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Amanda Edgar

Dr. Amanda Nell Edgar is an award-winning author, ghostwriter, and book coach and the founder of Page & Podium Press. Co-author of the forthcoming Summer of 2020: George Floyd and the Resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Amanda has authored two nationally award-winning books and ghostwritten many more.

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