“Life is a field of corn. Literature is a life distilled down into a shot glass.”
Your life has been a great experience. You’ve done amazing things. You’ve weathered the most difficult storms a person could imagine. You’ve built a business. Raised a family. Coached a winning team. Overcome great difficulties. Beat the odds. Now you want to tell your story and you don’t know where to begin.
Distilling a lifetime of experiences down to a meaningful narrative is the greatest challenge anyone will face who wants to write their story. One writer compared writing about one’s life to distilling a field of corn down into a shot glass.
That image is useful because it implies several things: Writing your story is a process that takes time. And the end result should have a kick to it.
That’s where I come in. I’ve spent my professional writing career listening to clients and figuring out the deeper meaning of their stories, and then getting their story down on paper. One of my return clients said about my technique:
“John is an empathetic man with a fantastic ability to articulate thoughts and emotional processes on paper.”
Tim Chapman, CEO Chapman House Recovery, Inc.
Tim, by the way, is a teen and adult addiction counselor. He’s been at it for thirty plus years, helping addicts get clean and turn their lives around. So he appreciates empathetic listening.
If you are looking for someone to help you get your story fashioned into a compelling read, give me a call. I will give you a free evaluation of your story and assessment of what I can do to help you reach your publishing goals.
My Six-Step Process
My six-step process takes you from start to finish in seven months.
Listening and Learning
This is where I’m learning about you and your ideas. During our first month together, we talk through your story. I record every session and make a transcript that lays the foundation for the narrative. We’ll spend six to eight hours a week together–over the phone or in person.
Your story will be given the care and attention to detail that it deserves.
We all have governing scenes from our past that have deep emotional memories attached to them. These scenes may come up slowly or rise quickly through layers of memory as we talk through your story.
Often in conversing with my clients, new insights into past events are gained. These become critical to developing your story. That’s why I spend a lot of time with my clients, recording every conversation, going over the stories and conversations in detail before I begin writing.
Drafting and Revising
Your book will now come to you in chapters. Here is where you will spend time reading it, making notes on the manuscript, and returning the pages for my revision.
One concern I often hear about using a ghostwriter is “Will it sound like me?” Hopefully it won’t, at least not the spoken you. Most of us have a spoken voice that differs from our writing voice. If you’ve never written a book before, then a written voice needs to be developed.
But it will be your words, your ideas, your humor, and your vocabulary, for the most part.
Remember, what sounds interesting in speech typically won’t sound good on paper, so there has to be some shaping of the words, the ideas, the sentences to establish a voice that’s authentic to you. This is where my interviewing skills come into play—to dig deep into the story and the meaning behind the events.
When we’re done it won’t be my voice, neither will it be the spoken you, rather the literary you. One that is true to your energy and vocabulary and personality.
Peter Petre did this with Alan Greenspan’s The Age of Turbulence. If you’ve ever heard the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve speak he’s often obtuse. His language is usually riddled with financial jargon that sounds foreign to the average listener.
Petre took his ideas and words and shaped them into extremely readable prose. You can hear Greenspan’s voice for certain, but you can understand clearly what he means even when he’s speaking about the most complex economic mechanisms.
Sometimes voice comes through in vocabulary; sometimes in cadence of the speech.
You can read this in Jimmy Connors’ memoir, The Outsider. When Connors played tennis he had a pugilistic flair to his game. Reading the first page of his memoir brings that same aggressive staccato energy to bear. It’s him all right behind those words. I can feel the energy in the short sentences, like he’s trying to punch me in the face with them.
Voice is a complex nuance to any written work, and I work hard to find yours. It’s a combination of sentence length, vocabulary, emotion, personality, and magic. You’ll see.
Structure and Themes
Most memoirs are organized around a sequential series of events that moves through conflict to some deeper problem, ultimately leading to some resolution. But there’s more. A memoir can also be organized around themes or both sequential events combined with themes.
Mary Karr in her famous memoir, The Liars’ Club, did this so adroitly. (Her book was not ghostwritten. If you write as beautifully as she did, you certainly don’t need me.) She organized her narrative simultaneously by themes and a sequence of events.
While she moved through her life from age five to college, each chapter is deepened emotionally by the development of her father’s drinking buddies and their penchant for telling tall tales. Hence the “Liars’ Club” of the title foreshadows the final scene where the ultimate lie unfolds.
It’s not what we’re expecting, but it has been hinted at, so we’re not surprised. The theme has been so carefully developed that we’re ready for it, and we know by now it’s not a tall tale.
During this structuring phase we’ll decide on the different narrative devices we can use to tell your story. This is part of the process of developing an outline with chapter summaries.
For instance in Drew Barrymore’s, Little Girl Lost, the writer used both first and third person point of view within each chapter. This dual narrative allowed the ghostwriter to dive into her family’s past that bore directly on Drew’s decisions and situation in the present. This created empathy for Drew and suspense over what would become of her.
We’ll also identify the essential conflicts and central crisis of each chapter. Chapters progress through conflict that somehow changes the value (emotion or state of mind or situation) of the author. This builds interest because the reader will want to know more.
This change in value creates the character arcs every good story possesses. Changes should result from something you did or was done to you. Another way of thinking of this is that all change and growth comes through the decisions and events in the author’s life. This gives you new insights into what matters to you—a business breakthrough, professional achievement, relationships, sobriety—whatever you are striving for.
I’ll incorporate all of these elements into the outline that gives the writing direction. It will serve as a guide, not a rule book, as the story unfolds.
Revising and Copy Editing
At last you will receive a completed manuscript. You will read it one more time in its entirety, make comments on it, and then send it back.
After I’ve made the last round of revisions, I will send it to a copyeditor. I work with a professional copyeditor to smooth out the prose and to proofread the text. A pair of fresh eyes will tighten it and give it the final polish. That’s what makes it publication ready.
After the book is copyedited, I make corrections and send it back to you for a final review.
My clients are happy because I deliver a book they can be proud of, one that demands to be read.
While the book is in copyediting, I’ll help you sift through the publishing options. There are a wide variety of self-publishing options available and if you decide to self publish your book, I’ll be happy to assist you sift through the options and make a fully informed decision that works for you.
Traditional Publishing Option
If you seek to publish using a traditional publisher, you will need a professional Book Proposal. Most literary agents will not consider your book without receiving a Book Proposal. For an additional fee, I can write a Book Proposal that will get your project immediate attention.
I will assist you in every step of the submission process to literary agents.