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Writing An Autobiography: A How-To Guide With Key Tips

I’ve always felt that writing is an intimate activity; neither the writer nor the reader misses the inner workings of the writer’s mind. More so is the case with writing an autobiography. You’ll not only delve into the nitty-gritty of your thoughts but also critique your own life in the process of penning it down.   Sounds a tad uncomfortable, doesn’t it? And yet, it is this very genre of non-fiction that has one of the strongest readerships. Besides, no matter the discomfort you put yourself through whilst writing it, the minute your autobiography reaches the reader, it takes on the task of inspiring others.  There’s a tendency to believe that a biography, and more so an autobiography, is meant to be written by only a subject who’s a stellar performer in their career and highly popular for it. This is far from true. Sure, such a person could have a great ability to inspire their fans and readers, but even an ordinary person is capable of it.   You see, it’s in how you tell your life’s story that the inspiration lies, not necessarily in the popularity of it. Famous or not, every one of us deals with hardships in life and does one thing or another to overcome them. And therein, lies the narrative for every gripping autobiography...  In this article, I’ll help you understand what an autobiography is; go through the differences between biography, autobiography and memoir; provide some autobiography examples; tell you what to include in an autobiography; highlight the things that make for a compelling autobiography; and tell you how you can research your own life (yes, you read that right) to make your autobiography as authentic and balanced as possible.  What Is An Autobiography?  When thinking about the meaning of the word autobiography, it can be helpful to compare the subgenre with others which it\'s confused for (biography and memoir). So, in this section, I\'ll highlight the nuances of each genre/subgenre. Autobiography Definition An autobiography is a non-fictitious story by a person about their own life. It’s a subgenre of the larger genre of biography.   Let\'s look at biographies in more detail. Biography  A biography is typically written by a writer who’s highly knowledgeable about an individual and their life. They might be written post-humously (sometimes, the individual could still be alive), and may or may not be authorised (given express permission by the individual or their family).   Take, for instance, the award-winning Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by author Sally Bedel Smith. This book does the behemoth task of showing the reader what it meant for a young woman – Queen Elizabeth II – to take on the monumental task of being a monarch and do so successfully for decades. This book is certainly a magisterial biography. Though it doesn’t explicitly mention whether or not it is authorised, it certainly seems like it was, because the writer met the Queen on various occasions during the course of her research. So, if watching The Crown on Netflix has left you thirsting for more, you need only read this biography.  Another highly compelling biography is Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs. Openly authorised, this book is a testament to not only its visionary of a subject, Steve Jobs, but also life in the digital era that we live in. In over forty interviews with Jobs himself, and more than a hundred interviews with his friends, family, colleagues and competitors, Isaacson chronicles Jobs’ rollercoaster life as a creative entrepreneur. Jobs was known to irk his friends and foes alike with his brutal honesty and this is reflected in his biography too. He holds nothing back and neither does anyone that talks about him, making this book one of the sincerest biographies ever written.  Autobiography  An autobiography, however, is written by the subject themselves. The writer looks back on their life, putting all major events from their birth up until the time they complete the book under the microscope. They explore their past with the wisdom-filled lenses of their present. Needless to say, the authenticity of such a story is arguably higher than in a biography. I mean, who better to write your life’s story than you! Here are some great examples of autobiographies.  One of the most-read autobiographies of all time is perhaps Nelson Mandela’s A Long Walk To Freedom. The book details the story of the man who spent twenty-seven years in prison for marching against South African apartheid and then went on to become the president of a free country. It’s not only the narration of a revolutionary man (which in and of itself is significant), but also a story of triumph over racism and colonialism.   Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar’s Playing It My Way was a stellar record breaker with a pre-order of 1,500,000 copies of the autobiography, easily overtaking even Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs! The man was a legend on the cricket pitch and it’s no wonder fans want to read about what his life is really like, directly from the horse’s mouth. Suffice to say, Tendulkar’s penmanship matched pace with his batsmanship; his innings began even before the match did!  I’m one of those people who’s rather reluctant to watch a movie unless they’re certain it’s an inspiring, or at the very least a positive, one. One such movie that’s an all-time favourite of mine is The Pursuit Of Happyness starring Will Smith (who incidentally happened to publish his own autobiography Will earlier this year). The movie is an adaptation of Chris Gardner’s own autobiography by the same name. We’ve read many a story of single mothers struggling to make ends meet. But Gardner’s is that of a single father’s rags-to-riches story, which also shows him doing his best to be a good father to his son. For someone who grew up without a father, Chris’ own parenting is both heart-warming and inspiring, even keeping his overnight rags-to-riches story aside.  Where there’s a woman of colour who runs a Fortune 50 company, there shall be an autobiography of her. Ex-CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi’s My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future isn’t simply a story of her life but also a critique of the lack of work-life balance that society so readily accepts. Somewhat cut-and-dry, this autobiography makes the reader picture a rather ditch-feelings-be-formidable Indra Nooyi. But, perhaps, that’s exactly what it took her to get where she did.   What’s common amongst all these autobiographies is that they are highly inspirational, some with a big message for society in general. Where there’s talk of autobiographies, Anne Frank’s Diary Of A Young Girl is never far behind. The epistolary by the teenager lays bare her experiences as a Jew during World War II. The progression of her diary shows the maturing girl’s growing difficulty in maintaining self-awareness, a direct reflection of the impact of the Nazi regime. However, though the book falls under the umbrella genre of biographies, it’s more accurately a memoir.  Memoir  A memoir is another subgenre that’s all about a real person’s story written by the subject themselves, making them autobiographical. It is a long non-fiction narrative of the writer’s memory of their own life. Memoirs are often known – and read – for their exquisite literary quality.  We had a memoir as part of the curriculum for my bachelor’s degree in English Literature. I recall a week during that semester when our whole class was really glum. When one of our professors asked us what was wrong, we all sighed collectively and told her we were reading Elie Weisel’s Night.   Imagine that. A whole class of students were deeply saddened by the subject of a memoir, some even on the verge of tears, as we explained to the professor why we were all low. Elie Wiesel sure knows how to translate his pain into poignancy for the pages.   The memoir (it also falls under another subgenre called faction) is heartbreaking to readers as it details the harrowing experiences that the writer lived through and perhaps relived as he wrote it. Night is a haunting rendition of Elie Wiesel’s experience of the Holocaust as a teenager. This event in history marks the failure of humanity, and to intimately feel a survivor’s account of this horror is a grieving experience. This, right here, is what memoirs are capable of.   A memoir and an autobiography are similar on these counts – they’re both about real people and the real lives they lead. One way in which they differ is in their goal – memoirs are written to move the reader, to connect with them by way of emotive storytelling, while autobiographies are generally meant to inspire the reader, through a detailed exploration of who the writer really is. This is how they function primarily, even though both memoir and autobiography could potentially move and inspire just the same.   Sometimes, autobiographies might be marketed as memoirs and this can be quite confusing. Even experts make the mistake of using ‘autobiography’ and ‘memoir’ as synonyms. A key difference is that autobiographies record the subject’s life from birth to present time, chronologically, whilst memoirs may go back and forth in time and often cover smaller time spans. Autobiographies place importance on facts and history, whilst memoirs lean heavily on emotional experience. This also means that autobiographies are more general in terms of the topics they cover, even though certain events may be highlighted more than others. On the other hand, Memoirs can be thematic with a singular event or experience or emotion taking the forefront.   How To Write An Autobiography  If you’re excited to write your life’s story, then you’re in the right place. Here are the steps to writing an autobiography:  Do Your Research  Yes, it’s your own story. You might even assume that you’re the foremost expert on the topic of you. But think again. You might be surprised by how much you don’t know about your past, by simply going through family photos, and talking to your family and relatives about your childhood. They could give you several anecdotes that could brighten up your autobiography. Even talking to your ex-employers and bosses about the great and not-so-great things about your time in their company could give you a whole new perspective about yourself that you can then share with your readers.  Create An Outline  Writing an autobiography might seem like a mammoth task, especially if you’re not clear on what your narrative is. Are you telling your rags-to-riches story? Are you looking at the work-life balance battle you lead throughout? Or are you depicting your struggle against the societal restrictions placed upon you? If you have the narrative clear in your mind, then the outline is simply about listing all the various events of your life and seeing what aspects of them fit your narrative. Jot these aspects down; they’ll be the key points in your chapter breaks. Voila! You have your narrative, outline, and key points per chapter.  Write The Draft  Once you start writing your autobiography, try to get through it as quickly as possible. Aim for progress, not perfection, at this stage. The thing is, you’re bound to second-guess your own perspective the more you dwell on it, simply because everything seems important. After all, it is your life you’re writing about. However, this is exactly what could keep you stuck. Instead, move through it at a good pace, and later, when you edit it, you can slow down and decide what works and what doesn’t.   Give It Time Before Editing It  I never edit my writing soon after I’m done. To have a fresh outlook on my own writing, I need some time and distance from it. So, I give it at least two days, when it’s a small piece. But for an autobiography, I’d suggest giving it much longer; perhaps a month or two. Completing the manuscript in itself could take you months, if not years, and tire you out at the end of it. Take a long break, maybe even a vacation, where you work on something else completely. That way, when you return to edit your autobiography, you’ll have a renewed eye for error and detail. After this, maybe give it another two weeks before you fact-check and proofread. Once this is done, you’re ready to send it off to an agent.  Write A Book Proposal  Another thing to consider is that most agents will want a book proposal from you when you query them. Of course, before you do that you need to know which non-fiction agents to reach out to and what they are looking for. Be prepared for rejections; you knew this was never going to be easy. Do not take the rejection to be a personal critique of your life. Just keep pitching your book to agents until the right one picks it up.   Tips For Writing An Autobiography  Apart from the obvious – write in the first person – if you’re considering giving autobiography writing a go, then, you’ll need to bear in mind the following:  What Gives The Full Picture? An autobiography compulsorily covers the subject’s whole life until the point they are done writing it. This means you’ll need to cover your childhood, upbringing, education (or lack of it), adolescence, career, relationships, lifestyle and more. So, knowing what to include in your autobiography can be tricky. Of course, you can’t place equal importance on each of these. If you’re a fitness expert, then it makes sense to spend more time on your lifestyle section than any other. Still, it’s important to let your readers know everything that shaped you into who you are today. So, whilst the emphasis might be on you as a fitness expert, the reader will also want to know how you handled life as a parent, child, employee, friend and more. They’ll want the full picture, the complete you.  How Much Is Too Much?  The best autobiographies provide as much information as a reader might crave about the subject, yet know when to stop. Keeping the reader – who doesn’t know you – in mind is crucial at every turn. The things you think are very important to you, might not be very interesting for the reader. Yes, this is your story, but once your story reaches the reader, it’s their review that decides how impactful it really is.  What Ties It All Together?  Life is messy; it’s hard to sort through the clutter and find the thread that ties it all together. But this, you must do, for your autobiography. Even though it will contain various aspects of your life, they need to have a common narrative. At the end of the day, it’s a book. It is a story. So, you’re going to have to write it like one. Here are some examples of narratives: transformations throughout life, lessons you learnt from every stage or area of life, you versus your public persona, you versus the society. These narratives don’t have to be combative, just problematic enough for any human to relate with.  How Balanced Is It?  By its very nature, an autobiography is revealing. It can unfurl the good, the bad, and even the ugly. How elegantly each of these is handled can make or break the autobiography. Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs does this with a flair unmatched by most other books of the biography genre; the extensive research he did makes for a balanced view. Despite the candid voices, none of it reads like a smear campaign. You can take a leaf out of his book and apply it to your own autobiographical writing. If you can research your own life, by way of getting varied perspectives from friends, family, and even foes, then, you might have a nuanced approach to the storytelling of your own life.  Frequently Asked Questions How Do You Write An Autobiographical Story? There are lots of things to include when you\'re writing an autobiography. Autobiographical stories cover an entire lifetime, pay close attention to detail, are often written in chronological order, and have a clear narrative. They also have balanced characters and are well researched and fact checked. What Is The Purpose Of Autobiographical Writing? Autobiographical writing is generally written with the aim of depicting an important experience, topic, or challenge in the writer\'s life. Beyond this, the aim tends to be much more personal, and dependent upon the subject of the book. Writers may hope to entertain, educate, or inspire their readers, or showcase a different perspective. How Long Is An Autobiography? There aren\'t any specific rules when it comes to the length, or word count, of an autobiography, but they tend to be between 250-450 pages long. Autobiographies written by people who are well known and already have an audience tend to be longer, as their readers are more likely to commit to the text and take the time to read a lengthier tome. Autobiographical Writing  Writing an autobiography is a highly intimate affair; it’s bound to bring back certain uncomfortable memories, perhaps even trauma. If at any point, you feel it’s getting too heavy to handle, put the project on hold, seek out a therapist and come back to your book once you feel it’s safe to do so. Let your therapist know that this is in fact the reason you’re there – to be able to write your book from a safe space.  You may want to consider not talking about your book with loved ones until you’ve completed the first draft. Then, let them know that your book might include them and not all of it might be easy to digest. They might not like it, but in the end, this is your story and you get to tell it from your point of view. If you ensure to focus on your own journey in the book, rather than blame others, then this shouldn’t be an issue. If someone still feels uncomfortable with the contents of your book, know that there isn’t much you can do about it. It’s their job to deal with their own feelings. Don’t let them guilt trip you.  Try not to worry too much about the repercussions of writing your life’s story before you even begin. Remember why you’re writing this in the first place – your life is inspirational and there are readers who’d love to read about you. With that in sight, just get started and complete your autobiography.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

25 Different Types Of Poems To Explore

There are a truly endless number of poetic types, especially if you consider the forms created across languages and those people create for themselves. While this can seem overwhelming, it means that there truly is a form of poetry that suits everyone and every style. So, whether you’re looking for more poems to read, or want to find a new form to write in and experiment with, this guide of the 25 main types of poetry (complete with examples of each type of poetry) will provide you with a spark of inspiration.  What Are The Different Types Of Poems?  For those who like structure and enjoy the challenge of a rigid poetic form, there are forms such as the sestina, the villanelle, and the pantoum. For those who favour fluidity, there’s free verse, lyrical poetry, and occasional poetry. If one form intimidates you, simply try another! Or break the rules of its form and experiment. Here are some of the most well-known types of poetry.  1. Ode  Odes are one of the most well-known forms of poetry. They tend to serve as a tribute to a subject. This subject can be a person or an inanimate object, and the voice in the poem praises the subject in a ceremonial manner. Odes are short lyric poems, which convey intense emotions, and tend to follow traditional verse structure. They are generally formal in tone. Romantic poet John Keats wrote several odes, including Ode To a Nightingale.  2. Elegy Similarly to odes, elegies are tributes to certain subjects, though in this case that subject is largely a person. These poems reflect on death and loss, and traditionally include a theme of mourning. Sometimes they also include a sense of hope, through themes like redemption and consolation. Elegies are generally written in quatrains and in iambic pentameter, with an ABAB rhyme scheme. These are loose guidelines, and many poets adjust them. There is a strong tradition of poets using the elegy in order to honour and pay respects to their departed literary compatriots, such as in W.H. Auden’s poem In Memory of W. B. Yeats. 3. Villanelle Villanelles (yes, this really is a type of poem, not just the name of one of the main characters in the TV show Killing Eve) are a little stricter and more complicated in form. They tend to have a fluid, almost lyrical feel to them, as they use lots of repeating lines. Villanelles consist of nineteen lines, in the form of five tercets and a closing quatrain, and they have a very specific rhyme scheme. The tercets follow the rhyme scheme ABA, while the quatrain’s rhyme scheme is ABAA. The first line repeats in lines 6, 12, and 18 of the poem, while the third line repeats in lines 9, 15, and 19. These repeated lines need to be signifcant and well-crafted as they occur so frequently. Villanelles often describe obsessions and intense subject matters. Well regarded examples include Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl\'s Love Song and Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.  4. Sonnet Sonnets are among the most popular forms of poetry. They are fourteen lines long, and typically centre around the topic of love. The rhyme scheme varies depending on the type of sonnet used. Shakespearen sonnets have three quatrains and an ending couplet. The quatrain has an ABCB rhyme scheme, the couplet has a DD rhyme scheme, and they are written in iambic pentameter. Petrarchan sonnets have one octave and one sestet. The octave uses the rhyme scheme ABBA ABBA, while the sestet most commonly uses the rhyme scheme CDE CDE, but also sometimes uses CDC CDC. Sonnet Number 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a particularly well-written sonnet.  5. Free Verse Free verse is a type of poem that appeals to those who find strict forms intimidating. There are no rules, the poem can establish any rhythm, and rhyme is entirely optional. This is a great form to try if you’re new to writing poetry, or want the freedom to explore all kinds of structures and ideas. Free verse is often used in contemporary poetry, such as in Ada Limón’s How to Triumph Like a Girl.  6. Sestina The sestina is a complex French verse form which usually features unrhymed lines of poetry. It has six sestets, and an ending tercet. The ending words of each line from the first stanza are repeated in a different order as ending words in each of the subsequent five stanzas. The closing tercet contains all six of these ending words, two per line, and they are placed in the middle and at the end of these three lines. The sestina is one of the most complicated types of poetry, but its intricacies create beautiful poetry. See here for a guide on writing sestinas. It often helps to look at examples of complicated poetic forms, so you can see how they’re structured. A Miracle for Breakfast by Elizabeth Bishop is a great example of a sestina.  7. Acrostic Acrostic poems are fun, and very well-known. You may have written an acrostic or two during your time at school. Acrostics vertically spell out a name, word, or phrase, with each letter that begins each new line of a poem. Lewis Carroll’s Acrostic spells out the names of three children he knew, to whom he gave the poem as a gift.  8. Ekphrastic The term ekphrastic poetry refers to any poem that uses a visual image or work of art as inspiration. Ekphrastic poetry is not about form, rigidity, or structure, but the connection between poetry and art. It’s often created by poets writing down details about an art form and how it makes them feel, or imagining when and how the art form was created. Self-Portrait with Sylvia Plath’s Braid by Diane Seuss is a contemporary example of an ekphrastic poem.  9. Haiku Haikus are very popular types of poetry. The haiku originated in Japan, and it is a short and fun form. These poems often refer to nature, though this is optional, and the form comes from the use of syllables. Haikus are three lines long, with the first line comprising 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables, and the final line 5 syllables. The fact that this form is so short and simple means that haikus are very accessible and pleasant to write. That being said, it can be difficult to express something meaningful within such limited parameters. Suicide\'s Note by Langston Hughes is an exceptionally well-executed haiku (note that it’s a newer form of haiku).  10. Ballad A ballad is a form of narrative verse, and its focus on storytelling can be musical or poetic. They typically follow the pattern of rhymed quatrains, which use a rhyme scheme of ABAB or ABCB. Though this is often how they are structured, this is not always the case, as the form is loose and can be altered. An example of a ballad is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  11. Lyric Poetry The term lyric poetry houses a broad category of poetry that centres around feelings and emotions. These poems are often short and expressive and tend to have a songlike quality to them. They can use rhyming verse, or free form. Lyric poetry differs from epic and narrative poetry as the focus is on a feeling rather than a story. Emily Dickinson’s The Heart Asks Pleasure First and her Because I could not stop for Death are both strong examples of lyric poetry.  12. Erasure/Blackout Poetry  Erasure (or blackout) poetry is a form of found poetry, wherein you take an existing text and cross out or black out large portions of it. The idea is to create something new from what remains of the initial text, creating a dialogue between the new text and the existing one. This form is great for experimentation as you can use books, magazines, newspapers, anything you can think of. A great example is Doris Cross’ Dictionary Columns.  13. Epics Epic poetry refers to very long poems which tell a story. They contain detailed adventures and extraordinary feats performed by characters (they can be real or fictional) whom are often from a distant past. The term ‘epic’ was derived from the accomplishments, adventures, and bravado of these poems. Homer\'s The Iliad and Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen are famous epics which are often studied at length by students and scholars alike.  14. Narrative Poetry Narrative poems are similar to epics as they too tell a story, but they are not as long nor as focused on adventures and heroism. They focus on plot over emotion, and tell fully developed stories from beginning to end. Narrative poems are typically told by one narrator or speaker, and they often have some kind of formal rhyme scheme. An example of narrative poetry is The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost.  15. Limericks Limericks are short, comedic poems, which can be crude and are largely trivial in nature. They often include pithy tales and brief descriptions. Limericks are five line poems of a single stanza with an AABBA rhyme scheme. The first, second, and fifth lines tend to have 7-10 syllables, while the third and fourth lines tend to have 5-7 syllables. Edward Lear wrote many limericks, such as There Was a Young Lady. Limericks are often prevalent in nursery rhymes such as Hickory Dickory Dock.  16. Occasional Poetry The term occasional poetry refers to poems written to describe or comment on a particular event. They are often written for a public reading, and their topics range from sad, serious matters like war, to more joyous ones like birthdays and presidential inaugurations. Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander is an example of occasional poetry.  17. Pantoum Pantoums are a more complicated type of poetry. They are poems of any length and are composed of quatrains. Within these quatrains, the second and fourth lines of each stanza are used as the first and third lines of the following stanza. The last line of a pantoum is often the same as the first. An example of a pantoum is Charles Baudelaire’s Harmonie du Soir.  18. Blank Verse Blank verse is poetry written with a precise meter, often iambic pentameter, but it doesn’t rhyme. That’s all there is to it! So it’s another interesting form to experiment with, and help you decide which kind of structures you prefer (long or short, rhyming or not, with or without meter etc). Paradise Lost by John Milton is an example of blank verse.  19. Prose Poetry Prose poetry, as the name suggests, combines elements of the poetic form with those of the prose form. It tends to look like a standard paragraph of prose with standard punctuation and a lack of line breaks, but utilises poetic elements such as meter, alliteration, repetition, rhyme, and rhythm. As some of these devices/elements feature in other forms of writing too, there have to be a combination of them featured in the writing in order for it to be determined as a prose poem. If you’re looking for an example of a prose poem, Bath by Amy Lowell is a great one.  20. Concrete Poetry Concrete poetry is designed to create a particular shape or form on the page which echoes the poem’s message. This form of poetry uses layout and spacing to emphasise certain themes, and they sometimes take the shape of their subjects. For instance, a poem about the moon may have a decidedly crescent shape. Sonnet in the Shape of a Potted Christmas Tree by George Starbuck is a wonderful concrete poem (and is a sonnet too; poems often belong in several poetic groups).  21. Epitaph Epitaphs are like elegies, but considerably shorter. They often appear on gravestones and can also include an element of humour. There are no strict rules regarding rhyme scheme and the like, so they are another poetry form suited to those who feel restricted by stricter forms. Epitaph by Edna St. Vincent Millay is a lovely example.  22. Palindrome Poetry This type of poetry combines poetic form with palindromes, so the words reflect back upon themselves, hence why they are also referred to as mirror poems. These poems start with an initial set of lines and then hinge on a line that usually repeats directly in the middle of the poem before they work through the rest of the lines in reverse order. This form is another complicated form which seems less daunting once you read an example of it. Try Doppelgänger by James A. Lindon.   23. Diminishing Verse Diminishing verse is a poetry form with unknown origins. Its main rule is to remove the first letter of the end word in the previous line and then repeat it. For instance, if the first line ends with the word blink, the second line would end with link, and the third would end with ink. There are no other strict rules, though diminishing verse poems tend to be written in tercets. This is a newer form, so there are very few well known examples of it, though you can find some written by various people on the internet.  24. List Poems As the name suggests, list poems are made up of lists of things or items. They don’t follow any strict rules, though the last line is often funny and/or impactful and sums up the entire poem. Sick by Shel Silverstein is one great example.  25. Echo Verse Echo verse refers to poems which repeat the end syllable of each line. This ending syllable can be repeated at the end of the same line, or it can be placed on its own line directly underneath it. Other than this repetition, this type of poetry doesn’t follow any rules. An example of echo verse is Jonathan Swift’s A Gentle Echo on Woman.  Different Types Of Poems And Poets  There are numerous different types of poetry, to match every poet or every mood. Hopefully this guide has given you some inspiration, or helped you discover a new form. There are endless poetic styles and forms for you to explore, but if all else fails simply make up your own!  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write A Poem

Have you always wanted to write a poem, but don\'t know where to start? Trying something new is often daunting. But the wonderful thing about poetry is that it\'s all about you - your feelings, your ideas, the way you see the world. And there are no rules! But there are plenty of things you may wish to learn first to give you a deeper understanding of the most beautiful form of written expression. In this article I will be explaining what poetry is, the key elements of a poem, how to find inspiration, and how to edit your poetry. What Is Poetry?  When you think about poetry, your mind may go back to English lessons at school, and memorising and interpreting poems by the likes of Shakespeare, Coleridge, and Emily Dickinson. While those poets are rightfully revered, there is so much more to poetry than just the classics. There truly is a poem for everyone. And it’s wonderful to see that, with the rise of intersectional feminism, poets by women of colour such as Amanda Gorman and Rupi Kaur (as well as their predecessors Maya Angelou, bell hooks, Toni Morrison) are being recognised for their talent and hard work. Poetry is varied not just in terms of who writes it, but also in terms of form. For those who prefer to process things auditorily rather than visually, there’s spoken word poetry (try Button Poetry if you’re interested). For children, there are nursery rhymes and acrostics. And many modern poets post their poems on social media so that you can enjoy their wonderful words while you’re scrolling.  The definition of poetry has expanded greatly in recent years, but essentially, it is distilled language that intends to resonate with the reader. The effect poetry produces varies greatly and is largely determined by the poet’s intent. Whether you want to make your reader cry, laugh, or want to go on a hike, the limit of the form’s length means that every word counts. And every line should be working towards that goal of making the reader feel.   The Key Elements Of A Poem  There are multiple components to a poem, and each of them has its own value. Individual poets often have a signature style, which tends to be based around the poetic element which they focus on and excel at. Before you start writing a poem, you need to know more about how they are shaped.  Voice  The voice of a poem is arguably one of the most important parts. It carries much of the tone and emotion which helps the reader connect to the poem. The speaker in poetry is often somewhat vague, which enables the reader to empathise with them more. A popular, compelling way in which voice is utilised is through the poetic I (frequently using the word I to frame the speaker’s feelings and experiences). It also affects the timbre of the poem when it is read aloud as the voice of a poem carries certain emotions, which determine how we vocalise.  Form  The form of a poem often indicates much of its structure and rhyme scheme. As it determines the shape of a poem, it is another vital component. Form includes the type of poem (villanelle, haiku, free verse), its overall length, line breaks, the number of stanzas, and the length of the stanzas. Some poets like to start off with a very strict idea of the form they would like their poem to take, some just start writing and see what happens, while others will add elements of form when they edit.  Rhythm  Rhythm is one of the ways in which poetry stands out from other writing forms. While, of course, almost all writing has some element of rhythm, in poetry it is the centre from which the voice, form, content etc stem, and it influences how they are expressed. It’s also linked to structure, as long poems with long lines tend to be more fluid than short poems with short stanzas and lines which often have an urgency to them. Rhythm involves pace and can be altered by things like syllable count and alliteration. Enjambment can be used skilfully to disrupt the rhythm and bring the reader’s attention to a specific line. Caesura and line breaks work similarly, and these sections can be further developed when paired with an interesting rhyme scheme.  Rhyme  Contrary to popular belief, poems do not have to rhyme. Whether a poem utilises full rhyme, half-rhyme, or no rhyme at all, rhyme usually influences how the poem is perceived and helps create its overall message. The rhyme scheme can be very regular throughout the entire poem (e.g. four stanzas with a common ABCB rhyming pattern), or entirely inconsistent, with a rhyming couplet placed at the end to act as the poem’s memorable thesis statement. Assonance and consonance can also be used to create more subtle rhymes, as can homophones because they don\'t visually appear to rhyme. Iambic pentameter (favoured by Shakespeare) is a frequently used rhyme scheme, which is linked to form, as it’s often used in sonnets. It also relies on meter to create strong sounds and emphasis.  Meter  Meter refers to the pattern of stressed syllables and the number of syllables in a line, stanza, or poem. It’s more frequent, and notable, in traditional poetry, and highlights a poem’s rhyme, rhythm, and structure. Often, if you’re writing a poem and find that a section sounds off, it’s because you’ve been using meter in a regular pattern- intentionally or not-and then diverged from that pattern.  Literary Devices  Poetry is often rife with literary devices. Many poems are focused on clear images, and literary devices are often used to describe them. Motifs and symbolism are some of the broader ones used, and lyrical language, irony, metaphors, and similes are used to describe specific details. Choosing a literary device that interests you and trying to write an example of one can be a great way to start a poem or revitalise one you’ve already begun.  How To Start Writing Poetry  One of the unique things about writing poetry is that there is no set starting point. Want to start with the last stanza? Fab! Want to shape your poem around an interesting title? Great! Want to have a freewriting session that produces a long meandering poem? Go for it! You can always edit later. Ultimately, when it comes to writing a poem, you can start wherever you want to. For some, this can be freeing. If it leaves you more daunted than excited, then one way to start is by using one of our poetry prompts.   It’s also important to consider why you want to write poetry. If you want to take 5 minutes to write a poem because it’s a quick, accessible form of creative expression, then experiment with a few methods and just enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about finishing poems either (many writers never feel as though their work is finished; you could edit your writing in perpetuity). If you want to write a poem to the best of your ability, then you’ll approach things differently and spend more time on it. Not only can you start a poem wherever you like, but you can also decide how long you want it to be, what style you want to emulate (lyrical, free verse, stream of consciousness, prose poetry), and how it’s structured. Poetry can be very personal, so if it reassures you, know that your poetry can be written just for you. No one else has to read it. Poetry can be a great outlet, and a poem’s value is about so much more than how many people have read it.   Reading poetry out loud (to yourself or to others) is incredibly helpful, too. Rhythm is a key element of poetry, and it can be better emphasised and understood when we hear it compared to when we read it. Processing your work in a different way can give you ideas about what to write in a new stanza or help you to edit a section of an existing part of it.  Start With Structure  When it comes to writing a poem, a good place to start is with the structure. Decide whether you want to write a poem with a strict form (a villanelle that has a predetermined rhyme scheme and length) or whether you want to start with a free writing session that ends up as a poem written in free verse. It really helps to know what kind of writer you are. Do you find restrictions helpful, because they focus your ideas and give you clear boundaries? Or do you find them confining, and feel that more freedom enables you to think more creatively? Regardless of your answer, knowing the extent to which form and structure can help you provides you with a rough idea of what your poem will look like, which means you can then start to focus in a little more on the specifics. You could even start with a great title which you came up with (finding a strong title is often very difficult, so if this is the case, congrats!) and build the poem from there.  Start With Your Content  In poetry, as with all kinds of writing, the main content and message are key. Therefore, starting with the content of your poem can be helpful. Often, if you’re eager to write a poem it’s because you have a topic in mind. Maybe you want to write an ode to a loved one, process and express your feelings, or write about a current topic/event. If you already have a topic in mind, just start writing! You can always edit it later, and at least you’ve got something to work from. If you have no idea what you want to write about, fear not! You could do a short timed free write, and just see what comes up. If any lines or phrases stand out to you, use them as a starting point. Alternatively, you could use one of our poetry prompts to help you get started.  Seek Inspiration  If you’ve written poetry before, and find yourself feeling stagnant, or if you want to try something new, then seeking external inspiration is great. Read interviews from poets you admire or read lots of poems you like. Your inspiration doesn’t even need to come from the world of poetry. You could hear an interesting line from the song playing on the radio or watch an exchange between characters on a TV show which intrigues you. Be open to receiving ideas, wherever they might come from. You could even write a poem with a friend, and exchange alternate lines back and forth.  Edit!  The hardest part of writing a poem, as with many things, is getting started. Once you’ve chosen your form, decided what your poem will be about, or chosen a prompt, just start writing until you reach a natural endpoint. Or until your hand starts to cramp, and your eyes get tired. Which is a natural endpoint too. Then, once you’ve rested, it’s time to edit. People often think of editing as checking spelling, punctuation, and grammar. While those things are all important too, with poetry you can really have fun with the editing process. Move the first stanza so that it becomes the final stanza. How does that change the pacing, the message, the mood? If it doesn’t work, move it back. You could adjust the rhyme scheme by adding or subtracting words. You could even try erasure poetry, where you cross/black out words, lines, or whole stanzas, creating a new, sparser poem from what’s leftover. Regardless of the outcome, keep focusing on the joy you get out of writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect; no one has to read it if you don’t want them to, and it doesn’t have to be Pulitzer Prize level writing for you to consider yourself a poet. Keep moving things around and changing things until you are happy with how your poem ends up. Though, as Paul Valéry said, “a poem is never finished; it’s always an accident that puts a stop to it- i.e., gives it to the public.”  Writing Poetry  When it comes to writing a poem, you can do it however you want to. The most important thing is that you enjoy it and find it interesting. There are so many distinctive styles and forms of poetry, and numerous ways in which it can be shared (spoken word performances, audio recordings, and in classic print). So there truly is something for everyone. But if you’re struggling with where to start, or want a refresher on the key components of poetry, I hope this article is helpful. And remember, you don’t have to write using a quill and scroll to be deemed a poet. Though it may be more fun than using a laptop.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.   

100 Poetry Prompts

100 Phenomenal Poetry Prompts To Inspire Your Writing Poetry is an expressive and compelling form of writing, but it can be hard to know where to begin. Between form, structure, and content, there are lots of factors to consider when you’re deciding how to write a poem. These poetry prompts will help you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and give you that all-important start.  These prompts are separated into 6 categories containing 15 prompts each, with one miscellaneous section at the end: Poetic form prompts  Imagination focused prompts  Nature/the outside prompts  Media and objects as inspiration prompts  Sentimental/reflective prompts  Structure prompts  Miscellaneous prompts  Sometimes coming up with a clear, exciting idea can be the hardest part of writing poetry. But luckily we’ve done it for you! So let’s get started with our poetry prompts.  Poetic Form Prompts  When it comes to writing poetry, deciding on the form you want to use is a great place to start. Whether you’re deciding between writing in free verse or using a regular rhyme pattern; wondering which era of poetry you want to reflect; or what type of poem (acrostic, sestina etc) you want to write; knowing the overall shape of your poem will help you get started. So here are some poetry prompts in the realm of poetic form.  Write an acrostic poem using your name or that of a loved one. Write an ode to someone or something you love. Start with your favourite thing about them. Write a sonnet or rewrite one of Shakespeare\'s or Petrarca’s. (Sonnets are 14 lines long and are traditionally written in iambic pentameter. But feel free to bend the rules a little; it’s your poem!) Write a poem in the style of, or in honour of, your favourite poet. Flick through a poetry book. Find a line which resonates you. Use that as your starting point and carry on from there. Write a poem that is also a letter. To your past or future self; to a friend; to an emotion; to a loved one who passed away. Write a poem in a \'stream of consciousness\' style. Write in the style of a poetic era which interests you (romantic poetry, metaphysical poetry, Renaissance poetry). Write a sestina (an unrhyming poem consisting of 6 stanzas of 6 lines and a final 3 line stanza). To help you get started, write about the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning. What’s your favourite/lucky number? Write a poem consisting of that many lines. Write a poem listing and connecting mundane objects around you. Consider how you interact with them, and how they interact with each other. Write a poem without taking your pen off of the paper. Your starting point is your favourite vegetable. Write a haiku (5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second line, 5 syllables in the last line). For your starting point, use any word which interests you that begins with the same letter as your surname. Write a poem using the poetic ‘I’. Write about your day so far (feel free to exaggerate and embellish). Write a poem personifying whichever emotion you’re predominantly feeling right now.  Imagination Focused Prompts  Poetry is very focused on images, which means you can truly let your imagination run wild when writing it. Be descriptive, have fun, and don’t be afraid to lean into the bizarre. These creative poetry writing prompts will help you craft unique, engaging poems.  Pick a colour. Use the 5 senses to explore and inhabit it. Keep a notebook by your bed. When you wake up in the morning write down everything you can remember about your dreams. Then write a poem based on your notes. Write a poem about a mirror. What was your favourite fairy tale/fable as a child? Write a poem from the perspective of a secondary character (like Little Red Riding Hood’s Mum) or the antagonist (like the wolf). Think of a cliché which irritates you. Write a better version of it (think ‘show, don’t tell’), and build your poem from there. Think about your favourite scent. Write a poem depicting the things and activities it reminds you of (fresh laundry, apple picking, the ocean, blossom on the trees). Write about the aftermath. Of an argument, a panic attack, crying, a break-up, a dizzy spell, the best news of your life. If you were an animal what would you be? Write from an animal’s perspective. There are flowers on a doorstep. Write a poem about them from the perspective of the sender or the recipient (or both). Are they a celebratory gift (for a birthday, promotion, engagement etc)? An apology? A thank you present? Explore. Think of something bizarre or ridiculous you once saw or heard about (the dream you had about a 20-foot-tall flamingo playing the violin, or your niece’s conversation about the elves who helped her with her homework) and use that as the opening to a poem. Write a poem which takes place in a time of transition. On the bus home, in the moment between being awake and falling asleep, the day before starting a new job... If you were to create your own Coat of Arms, what would it look like? Consider what animal, what kind of plant/flower, what colours etc you would include. Write a poem describing the details and what they represent. Write a poem about a secret. Think about a big decision you made. Write a poem exploring what may have happened if you’d chosen differently. Write a poem about a terrible birthday.  Nature/The Outside Prompts  Classical poetry is what most people think of when it comes to poetry. Lush forests, budding flowers, babbling brooks. Some may think it cliché, but it’s a classic for a reason. And a good reminder to writers to get some fresh air every once in a while. Use this as a nudge to take a break, go for a walk, and who knows; maybe a half-finished poem will come back with you. Try these nature and outdoors focused writing prompts for poetry.  Write about the month you’re in now. What comes to mind when you think about it/this season? Draw from memories, the five senses, seasonal activities.  Which element (earth, air) is aligned with your star sign? Write a poem exploring it. Look out the window or go for a walk and admire the nature around you. What draws your attention? Write about it in as much detail as possible. Write a poem that starts with a tree. Think about what season you want it to be and thus what it looks like (are there leaves/blossom/bare branches)? Think about where you are in relation to it (sat underneath it, looking at it from a passing car, walking up a hill towards it). See where the poem takes you. Write about an open window. What kind of building is it in? What’s on either side of it? How high up is it? What does it represent. People watch as you gaze out of the window, or look at the people across from you as you walk down the street. Make up a life/story for them in your head. Craft a poem around it. Write about a bonfire or a fireplace. Are you someone who loves the smell of them, and how it lingers on your clothes afterwards? Or someone who hates that the smoke gets in your eyes and you have to get really close to them if you want to escape the surrounding cold? Write about water. The ocean, drinking a glass of water, washing yourself or the dishes, the rain.  Where’s your favourite place to be? It could anything from the corner of your bedroom, to a small cafe in town, to an African island. Write a poem about it. Write a poem about the weather. We always want what we don’t have. Write about the season (autumn, spring etc) you wish you were experiencing now. Write a poem about being snowed in or having a power outage. Explore the intimacy of being in close quarters with others or trapped alone. When you’re out and about, pay attention to the words around you. Write a poem based on the tail end of a conversation you overheard, the slogan on someone’s t-shirt, or the curious sign in the shop window. Think of any old buildings near where you live or grew up. Contemplate who might have occupied them 50/100/200 years ago. Write about them.Write a poem from the perspective of someone sullen and sitting alone on a park bench. Media And Objects As Inspiration Prompts  When trying to figure out how to write poetry that is compelling and meaningful, there are many available options. In a technological world, using media as inspiration is one of the simplest solutions. Let your interests converge and use the images/messages/themes from your favourite forms of media to help you write your next poem.  Write a poem based on the first news article which comes up on your TV/phone/the internet. Find a picture of you as a child. Write from the perspective of your child self. Look back at the picture from time to time as you write. Fill in a crossword puzzle or other word game. Write a poem using as many of the words from it as possible. Write a poem about your favourite book. Think about an item of clothing or an accessory (the t-shirt that’s worn and well loved, the dress you wore every week when you were in your 30s, the necklace that’s been in your family for generations) that means a lot to you. Write about it. Think about all the places you went and emotions you felt when you wore it. Conversely, personify the object and write a poem about what it experienced with you on those occasions. Write a poem about or from the perspective of one of your favourite (or least favourite!) characters from a book/TV show/movie. Listen to a song which you enjoy/resonates with you deeply. Dance, close your eyes; do whatever comes naturally. Once it’s finished, sit down and write whatever comes to mind. Think about a key lyric, how it makes you feel, or what your experience was like the first time you heard it. Pick a photo you love, your favourite piece of art, or search for interesting images online (volcanoes, Victorian furniture, classical paintings). Write a poem responding to the image. Watch the trailer for an upcoming film you’re eager to see. Write a poem based on an interesting moment, or in response to it. Think about a memorable concert, play, or fair you attended as a child. Write as though you’re experiencing it now. Pick a quote that resonates with you/which you admire. It could be an old adage, something your parents told you, or from a famous writer. Ponder over it for a while, and then write about or in response to it. What’s the oldest object you own? When did you get it? What does it mean to you? Write about it in detail. Write a poem set in a school. You can recall your own school experience to help you, entirely make it up, or use a scene from a TV show or film as inspiration. If you keep a journal, write a poem based on one of your journal entries. Pick an older one (such as the entry you wrote exactly a year ago today) so that you’re a little distanced from what you were experiencing then. Reflect. Contemplate. Use the power of hindsight. Spend five minutes or so on a social media or gaming app. Jot down any words or images which interest you or evoke some kind of response in you. Use them to help shape your poem.  Sentimental/Reflective Prompts  Poetry writing can be very reflective and personal. When you’re in need of inspiration, sometimes the best place to start is your own experience. Whether you favour poetry that is sentimental and melancholy, or nostalgic and exuberant, these prompts for poetry will help you out.  Write something that you aren’t ready to say out loud yet.  Write about the age you are now; the stereotypes of your demographic, how comfortable you are with your current age, the joys and sorrows it has bought you. Think of a really happy day/experience you had in your childhood. Maybe it was when you made a new friend, or read a great book, or went on a trip to the fair. Write a poem describing your unadulterated joy. Write about the experience of losing something dear to you. Write about someone who taught you/helped you grow but who wasn’t your teacher, parent, or caregiver. Think about a memorable birthday you once had. Write a poem about the first one which comes to mind. Write a poem about a nightmare or a ‘there’s a monster under the bed’ type fear which you had as a child. Write a poem to/about someone, addressing the things you regret not telling them. What was your favourite toy/game as child? Write about the devotion you had to it. Are there any parallels between it and your favourite hobbies/passions now? Write about a small random thing which brings you joy (your favourite cup of tea, your cat running towards the door to meet you when you come home, the smell of a cinnamon scented candle). Write about a haircut/hairstyle or sense of style you once had that differs from how you present yourself today. Who was that version of you? In which ways are you different now? Write a poem about a theme or topic which is important to you (animal rights, mental health, education) without explicitly naming it. What does home mean to you? Write a poem ruminating on it as a concept and a physical space. Write a poem about a cultural moment which resonated with you (old or current). Write about a time when you were overlooked. How did you react? Would you respond differently now?  Structure Prompts  The structure of a poem is as important as the words which it contains. And it can be just as meaningful. Starting with the outline of what you want your poem to be like gives you some restrictions so you don’t feel overwhelmed by the myriad of things a poem can be about, while also giving you the freedom to explore your ideas. Here are some creative writing poetry prompts associated with structure.  Open any book. Write a poem based on the first word which draws your attention. Pick a number between 5 and 100. Write a poem containing that exact number of words. Make a copy of one of your favourite poems and adjust it to make it your own. Rearrange stanzas/lines, cut out words, change the layout, remove every 5th word and see what happens. Using a random name generator- or just flick through a dictionary/thesaurus/book- come up with 5 random words and craft a poem around them. Write a poem without using the letter e. Write a poem with each line representing a year of your life (you can do it in calendar years e.g. 1989, 1990, 1991 etc, or in ages e.g. aged 29, 30, 31) and the key memories/emotions/experiences from that time. If you speak a second language, try writing a poem in that language instead. Write using a different medium. If you usually type your poems on a computer, use pen and paper instead. Or try writing on a whiteboard, in coloured market on a huge piece of paper, using scrabble tiles, in chalk on your garden path, or on a typewriter. Write a poem with nouns which start with the letter of your first name. Find a poem which you have written but aren\'t satisfied with. Read through it, and try and figure out what you don’t like about it. Then, either pick out a line you like and use that as a starting point, or rewrite the poem focusing on its key themes/thesis. Write a poem using commas as the only form of punctuation. Write with a friend! Agree on an approximate poem length (for instance, 16 lines). Choose someone to start by sending the first line to the other person. They then send the second line back in response. Continue until your poem is complete. Write a poem without any full stops. Pick up a pen and a paper and free write. About your day, your state of mind, anything. Set a timer for 5-15 minutes and keep writing the entire time. Don’t correct your spelling or cross things out. Just. Keep. Writing. After your time is up, go back through and circle/highlight/underline words or phrases which you like. Use one or two of them and begin crafting a poem. Write a poem structured as a poetic transcript of a story a loved one/relative is telling. Use spacing and punctuation to indicate pauses, and include fillers.  Miscellaneous Prompts  There are so many different types of poetry that it can be hard to define as a writing form. And hard to write prompts for, apparently! So here are some extra prompts which refused to be defined by any one category, perfect for the poet whose imagination cannot be contained.  Write about silence. Is it eerie, peaceful, anxiety provoking? Explore.  When was the last time you danced? Where were you? Were you alone/who were you with? How did you feel? Write about it. Write a poem about any traditions you have, and whether or not you’re attached to them. Think of an act of injustice/news story which upsets you. Write about its intricacies and why it angers/saddens you. Listen. What’s the most prominent sound you hear? Write about it. Write about a part of the body. Any one! Explore all the things about it which you take for granted and the ways in which it brings you joy (arms for hugging, legs for dancing, eyes for watching the sunset etc). Write a poem exploring the etymology of your name and your relationship to it. Do you have any physical injuries? Write a poem about how you got them and, if relevant, how they affect you now. Write a poem about a coincidence that you experienced. Write a poem about the gestures/facially expressions you frequently use and what they communicate. How do the people around you use gestures?  Using Poetry Prompts  We hope these poetry prompts give you some great inspiration for new avenues to explore with your writing. Many of these prompts can be used again and again if adapted slightly. You can use them as the basis for a brief freewriting session, to help edit or focus poems you’ve already written, or to help you develop your skills in an area of poetry you’ve been working on (maybe you’re trying to become an expert in all things sonnets). Feel free to adjust these poetry prompts in any way which suits you; we find that a shift in perspective often helps. Happy writing!  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

A Guide on Writing Memoirs or Autofiction

A Guide on Writing Memoirs or Autofiction Many people have lives that would make incredible stories, yet it can be difficult to figure out how to unpick that life and set it on the page. How do you write a memoir? And is memoir the only option?   In this article I will be walking you through different ways to write your life story and offering tips to help you get started and narrow your focus.  What is a Memoir? A memoir is a first-person account of someone’s nonfictional life story that uses the techniques and crafts of fiction to make it a page-turning read. The word comes from the French word for “memory” or “reminiscence.”   The promise to the reader is that whatever is inside is as true as the author can make it. Of course, writing your exact memories is challenging as very few of us have photographic memories. Readers will forgive small fictions, like writing out a conversation verbatim when you only remember the jist of what was said, but not larger ones.   There are plenty of examples of authors who made up memoirs. The best known one in recent years was James Frey in A Million Little Pieces. Readers felt betrayed and angry because the author had broken the pact and the promise. However, if you still want to use a kernel of the truth but not be beholden to it, read on to learn more about autofiction and other options. Do Memoirs Sell? Memoirs are incredibly popular, especially in the age of COVID. Some recent examples are the Obamas’ memoirs: A Promised Land was 2020’s bestselling book (2.4 million copies in one year alone) and Becoming was also an extraordinary bestseller (came out in 2018 and has sold 3.4 million as of the end of 2020). Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (2016) provides an interesting and heart-breaking account of race in South Africa as he recounts his life with his signature humour.   I don’t know about you, but I am unlikely to ever become President of the United States and have people desperate to know my story. Luckily, people are also hungry for stories from people who haven’t brushed fame or become public figures. This is evidenced by memoirs such as Educated (2018) by Tara Westover. Her memoir’s about growing up as a fundamentalist Mormon and her quest for education—her first day of school was university at Brigham Young when she was a teenager. Maid (2019) by Stephanie Land is about an impoverished white woman cleaning the houses of the ultra-rich. The Glass Castle (2005) by Jeannette Walls, is about her eccentric, nomadic upbringing and her troubled father’s dream of a better life. Roxane Gay’s Hunger (2017) focuses on her relationship with food and her body, as informed by trauma. Many of these have also been adapted into TV shows or films, showcasing memoirs have massive crossover appeal.  Memoir vs Autobiography (and other options) Memoir is part of a spectrum from narrative nonfiction to fiction inspired by fact. You might realise, once you start working on your story, that there are gaps in knowledge that have been lost to time. Or perhaps you’d like to weave several generations together, which of course moves it away from your own lived, first-person experience.   Many people ask, ‘are memoirs nonfiction?’ The answer is yes…and no. Let’s take a look at how flexible written memories, and this genre, can be.  Memoir As we said, memoir aims to be true with small liberties. It rarely starts with your birth and tells the story in a straight As we said, memoir aims to be true with small liberties. It rarely starts with your birth and you telling the story in a straight line, ending with however old you are when you finish writing it. For example, Mary Karr has written three memoirs: The Liar’s Club (1995), which focuses mostly on her childhood, Cherry (2000), which focused more on her late adolescence and blooming sexuality, and Lit (2009), which focuses on her journey of faith and her divorce. Trying to focus on all three of those in one book would have been too much and they wouldn’t have had the space to be as hard-hitting. There is also nearly 15 years’ difference from the first memoir she wrote and the last—the memoir is a snapshot of the writer as much as the contents of the book, as the tone is affected by the author’s age and experience.  Autobiography  Autobiography, by contrast, does tend to be more linear. The author here functions more as a historian. It tends to be less intimate, more expansive. There’s less room to zoom in on certain moments and it can feel more of a summary of a life. This is useful if you want to know what, say, Benjamin Franklin, Malcom X, Nelson Mandela, or Agatha Christie thought about their own lives, but autobiographies are less common for people who aren’t public figures.  Autofiction If you realise that there’s no way to tell the story in a compelling way while remaining fully married to truth, or the truth is unknowable, you may consider autofiction.   There has been a lot of discussion of the ethics of writing fiction based on truth, particularly if the subject has not been made aware (just fall down the rabbit hole of “Cat People” or “Kidneygate / The Bad Art Friend” to see discussions on this). Autofiction still focuses on yourself but gives the story the opportunity to come alive in a different way. You can even write it in third person, if you wish. You can change timelines more dramatically or add characters or subplots who are amalgamations or completely fictive. Because you haven’t promised it’s a straight memoir, readers are fine with this.   On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019) by Ocean Vuong is a great example of autofiction — the main character, Little Dog, is a Vietnamese refugee living in America, writing a letter to his illiterate mother he knows she will never read. Vuong is also a gay Vietnamese refugee, and his mother does not read English or Vietnamese. The story delves into his grandmother and mother’s stories in third person, as well as his own, yet crucially it’s sold as fiction and he doesn’t give us a detailed post-mortem of what is or isn’t true.   Other well-known autofiction authors include James Baldwin, Ben Lerner, Rachel Cusk, Tao Lin, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and more. This is sometimes also called the autobiographical novel, with ‘novel’ signalling that it’s leaning heavily into the fictional side. Autobiografiction And to make things slightly more confusing, there’s also the term autobiografiction, which combines autobiography, fiction, and essay. Stephen Reynolds coined the term in 1906 and describes it as a “record of real spiritual experiences strung on a credible but more or less fictitious autobiographical narrative.” It’s often published anonymously or under a pseudonym, and many queer people used this form to express themselves in times of oppression. It’s not as common a term and tends to be lumped with autofiction: indeed, you could make an argument that Vuong’s book falls more into this category in some respects as there are essays within it.   So, now - the nitty gritty. How do you get started on your project based on truth?  Tips for Writing a Memoir (or Autofiction) Start Researching Now – and Beware the Skeletons Even if you don’t think you’ll start writing your memoir for a while, start gathering information as soon as you can. Depending on the project: sign up for a trial of ancestry.com, interview your family members, start journaling about your memories, look up articles in newspapers.com, flip through photo albums or belongings, request court or other official documents.   It’s so easy for these things to become lost, or for us to tragically lose those close to us, taking their memories with them. You might also have to prepare yourself for more secrets potentially coming to light. You might need to have a discussion with how family members might feel about sharing the truth. Yvette Gentile and Rasha Pecoraro discovered this when they started properly digging into everything for their podcast Root of Evil: The True Story of the Hodel Family and the Black Dahlia (2019). The TV adaption I Am the Night (2019), starring Chris Pine, added an entirely fictive noir subplot to make it more dramatic on the screen.  What’s Your Promise to the Reader? How fictional do you plan to be? You don’t necessarily need to know immediately but notice if you start to shift further away from the facts.   This happened with my current project: it focuses on three generations, so I knew it would always have an element of fiction since my grandmother died before I was born, so I can’t exactly ask her how she felt about any of the facts we know. My mother also wrote her sections and I edited over them, and we made-up certain details or massaged timelines so the scene was more evocative. Each draft has had it depart more from the truth and become its own entity. I felt conflicted about this before I realised that my goal is to use the truth as a jumping off point. I don’t actually owe the reader the truth; I owe them a good story. For me, it was more freeing, and I also knew I’d feel less exposed if the project is ever published.   This brings me to:  Check in With Your Mental Health I barrelled right into my project, thinking I was ready. From a craft standpoint, I was – but not from a mental standpoint.   If you are still processing your trauma, you might consider some therapy first, so you are better protected if you have to delve into some painful memories. Remember: it’s all right to take a break and come back, and it also might still be challenging once you return.   As Mary Karr says in her 2015 how-to The Art of Memoir (highly recommended!): “I’ve said it’s hard. Here’s how hard: everybody I know who wades deep enough into memory’s waters drowns a little.” Focus on Experiences and Emotions Whether memoir or autofiction, your reader wants to experience what it was like to be you or this version of you. You might find you’re tempted to relay the information quite factually, but it may read cold. This is fine for the first draft as you focus on story, but when you edit, focus on making it come alive.   Don’t Attempt to Cover Your Whole Life As mentioned, there won’t be room. Think of those touchstones, the main themes you wish to draw out and examine. Again, it might take you a while to hone in on this. That’s all right, as long as you’re willing to set aside writing that doesn’t serve your overall purpose. Save it for another book, potentially! Engage the Reader from the Beginning One thing I found in my previous draft was the opening was too slow and needed a clearer hook. Read the openings of some memoirs and notice how they draw the reader in. And of course…  Read a Lot of Memoirs and Autofiction & Examine Form I’ve recommended a large selection of creative memoir novels I’ve enjoyed in this article, but there are so many more incredible ones out there. The bestseller charts on Amazon are a good place to start (though do consider ordering from an independent bookstore!). Some are even written in innovative and experimental styles, such as In the Dream House (2019) by Carmen Maria Machado. Reading a lot of memoirs or autofiction might give you some ideas on how you can lay out your story.  Think About Tone For some projects, humour might work very well (Trevor Noah, Mary Karr, Caitlin Moran). For others, it might be horribly jarring, and you should consider a more sombre tone. Experiment with this until you find the right voice and approach.  Remember Your Reader You, of course, have no idea who is reading your work once it’s out there. But memoirs have a common theme: they all seem to focus on making sense of the past to inform our present. With a lot focus on healing and letting go, these can be cathartic for both the writer and the reader. That’s the magic of memoir: your book may save your readers without them knowing they had a void that needed filling.   I hope this article has helped you consider how you might start thinking about writing your memoir, or whether taking a more autofictional approach works better. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write Creative Nonfiction

When I read Dancing in the Dark by Caryl Philips, I wasn’t quite sure what I was reading, as it was unlike any novel I’d read previously. But I was curious how the author crafted the “voices” or dialogue, which were so finely tuned and authentic it made me feel as though I was in the thick of the plot as it unfolded. Eventually, it dawned on me that the book couldn’t solely be classified as a novel per se, as the story was based on “real life”; because of its biographical and historical context it sat comfortably within the genre of creative nonfiction.  What is Creative Nonfiction? The term creative nonfiction has been credited to American writer Lee Gutkin, who first coined the phrase in the journal he founded in 1993: Creative Nonfiction. When asked to define what creative nonfiction is Gutkin says simply “true stories well told.”   Expanding on Gutkin’s definition I would add that the main difference between creative nonfiction – also known as narrative nonfiction - and other genres is that in creative nonfiction the focus is on literary style, and it is very much like reading a novel, with the important exception that everything in the story has actually happened.   Essentially, creative nonfiction incorporates techniques from literature, including fiction and poetry, in order to present a narrative that flows more like story than, say, a journalistic article or a report. In short, then, it is a form of storytelling that employs creative writing techniques including literature to retell a true story, which is why emphasis is placed on the word creative. I would underscore that it is this aspect which distinguishes the genre from other nonfiction books; for instance, textbooks which are, as implied, recounting solely of facts – without any frills. Types of Creative Nonfiction The good news is that the expanse of creative nonfiction as a genre is considerable and there is ample scope for writers of every persuasion, in terms of categorisation and personal creative preference. Some terms you may be familiar with, and some are essentially the same, as far as content is concerned – only the phrasing may be interchangeable.   Memoirs Memoirs are the most commonly used form of creative nonfiction. It is a writer’s personal, first-hand experiences, or events spanning a specific time frame or period. In it you are essentially trying to evoke the past… and by the end you will, no doubt, hope to have successfully conveyed the moral of your story. Not in a preachy kind of way but in a manner which is engaging, informative or entertaining.   You should note that there are important differences between a biography and a memoir: in writing a biography you need to maintain a record of your sources – primary or secondary – that will stand the rigours of being fact-checked.   A memoir, by contrast, is your recollection or memory of a past event or experience. While they do not necessarily have to be underpinned with verifiable facts in the same way as a biography, there’s more scope for your creative or imaginary interpretation of an event or experience.  Literary Journalism In the early days of the genre literary journalism hogged the headlines; it was, according to The Herald Tribune, “a hotbed of so-called New Journalism, in which writers like Tom Wolfe used the tools of novelists — characters, dialogue and scene-setting — to create compelling narratives.” The way this fits into the creative nonfiction genre is that it uses the style and devices of literary fiction in fact-based journalism. Norman Mailer and Gail Sheehy were exceptionally skilled exponents, though, arguably, critics contended that both could, on occasion, be so immersed that some of their writing was tantamount to an actor who inhabited their character via method acting.  Reportage and Reporting  Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter. If you choose to pursue reportage it is imperative that you pay close attention to notes and record-keeping as reporting is not – as with other elements of creative nonfiction – based on your personal experiences or opinions and, therefore, has to be scrupulously accurate and verifiable.   Personal Essays Other types of creative nonfiction include personal essays whereby the writer crafts an essay that’s based on a personal experience or single event, which results in significant personal resonance, or a lesson learned. This element of creative nonfiction is very broad in scope and includes travel writing, food writing, nature writing, science writing, sports writing, and magazine articles.  Personal essays, therefore, encompass just about any kind of writing. They can also include audio creativity and opinion pieces, through podcasts and radio plays.   The Five R’s of Creative Nonfiction  In Lee Gutkind’s essay, The Five R’s of Creative Nonfiction, he summarised the salient points of successfully writing creative nonfiction and, if you followed these instructions, you’d be hard-pressed to go wrong:  1. Real Life I daresay this is self-explanatory although as a storyteller, instead of letting your imagination run riot you must use it as the foundation. Your story must be based in reality - be that subject matter, people, situations or experiences.  2. Research I can’t emphasise strongly enough that conducting extensive, thorough research is of paramount importance and, not to put too fine a point on it, this is not an area you can gloss over – you will be “found out” and your credibility is at stake. And, no, Wikipedia doesn’t count – other than perhaps as a starting point. Interestingly, by the company’s own admission: “Wikipedia is not a reliable source for citations elsewhere on Wikipedia. Because it can be edited by anyone at any time, any information it contains at a particular time could be vandalism, a work in progress, or just plain wrong.”  3. W(r)ite Not technically an “R” but we get his point… Put succinctly by William Faulkner: “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it\'s the only way you can do anything good.\" 4. Reflection No-one can negate your personal reflections, but you should be aware, given that what you’re writing is based on “fact” that someone mentioned in your article or book may not necessarily agree with your perspective. The fallout can be devastating and damage irreparable. A case in point was the debacle following publication of Ugly: The True Story of a Loveless Childhood by Constance Briscoe. In the best-selling “misery memoir” the author accused her mother of childhood cruelty and neglect; her mother rejected the claims and said the allegations were “a piece of fiction” and sued both her daughter and publisher for libel, and lost.   It goes without saying that when writing about people who are still alive you need to be especially cautious. Of course, you’re entitled to your own unique perspective but, as Buckingham Palace responded to the Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry – which may yet find its way in book form – “some recollections may vary”.  5. Reading It’s often said that the best writers are also voracious readers. Not only does it broaden your horizons but it’s a perfect way to see what works and what doesn’t. And, as William Faulkner admonished: “Read, read, read. Read everything –trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You\'ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you\'ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”   How to Write Creative Nonfiction We now know what kind of creative nonfiction exists, and what to bear in mind before writing, but when it comes to starting your story…where do you begin?  Structure While it may be tempting to jump straight in and start writing, you will save yourself a headache if you begin by deciding upon the structure or form you want your work to be based on. This doesn’t need big whistles and bells, you just need an outline to begin with, something to shape your thinking and trajectory. It’s always worthwhile to know what direction you’re headed in. Nothing is set in stone - you can always add to it or amend accordingly.   For planning there are different models you can employ but I find it easiest to think along the lines of a three-part play: act one, I open by establishing the fundamentals of what I am going to present; act two, allows me to build upon the opening by increasing the dramatic effect of what’s unfolding; and act three, I bring my thesis together by pulling together different strands of the story to a logical, coherent narrative and, even better in some circumstances, a cliff-hanger.  In your outline you should bear in mind the main elements of creative nonfiction and the fact that there are some universal literary techniques you can use:   Plot and Setting  There are many things from your past that may trigger your imagination. It could be writing about an area you grew up in, neighbours you had – anything which can be descriptive and used as a building block but will be the foundation upon which you set the tone or introduction to your piece.  Artefacts  Using what may seem like mundane artefacts can be used effectively. For instance, old photographs, school reports, records and letters etc. can evoke memories.  Descriptive Imagery  The most effective way to ensure your characters are relatable is to work on creating a plausible narrative. You must also have at the forefront of your mind “Facts. Facts. Facts.” I can’t stress enough how your work must be based on fact and not fiction.  Dialogue  Also referred to as figurative language, when using one of the most effective ways to set the tone of your work, the language used in dialogue must be plausible. You simply need to step back and ask yourself, “Does this sound like something my character would say?” There’s no greater turnoff for a reader than dialogue which is stilted.   Characters  If you want your readers to be engaged, they have to “buy what you’re selling” i.e. believe in your characters.   Top Creative Nonfiction Writing Tips Stick to the Facts  Even a mere whiff of fiction in your writing will automatically disqualify it as creative nonfiction. To make sure you haven’t transgressed it’s easier to avoid doing so altogether. Although it’s fine to incorporate literary techniques which include extended metaphor, allegory, and imagery, among others.  Research You will also need to make note of the references you have relied upon. Not only is this good housekeeping it is also what’s expected of a professional writer. There are a multitude of places you can begin your research: family recollections/oral history; my local library serves aspiring writers well with both a respectable catalogue of physical books and online resources such as the British Newspaper Archives; Ancestry; and FindMyPast, among them. These are invaluable tools at your disposal and the list is by no means exhaustive.   Checklist  So, to conclude, what are the takeaways from this guide?   Firstly, methodically work your way through the checklist contained within the 5 R’s. Also, remember, whatever your interest, the extent of creative nonfiction dictates that there’s likely to be a market for your writing.   But, at all costs, avoid falling into the cardinal sin of making things up! It may be tempting to get carried away with being creative and miss that the finished product absolutely must be anchored in facts – from which, no deviation is acceptable.   Indeed, please ensure everything you’ve written is verifiable. You never know when someone is going to fact-check your thesis or challenge an assertion you’ve made.  Best of Both Worlds All in all, creative nonfiction is a wondrous way of telling an important and real story. Never forget that even though you are writing about factual stories and scenarios, you can still do so in an imaginative and creative way guaranteed to bring your readers on a journey of exploration with you.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Jan Cavelle’s Achievements in Business and Books

Entrepreneur and Jericho Writers alumna Jan Cavelle is phenomenally successful, having grown her own 20-year-strong business from scratch and published a book of expert insights into growing a business, ‘Scale for Success’, with Bloomsbury in 2021. Whether it’s a business or a book, the journey is never easy - and Jan kindly shares her experience of non-fiction publishing with us here.   January 2020 seems a different world away for all of us.  I was paying little attention to tales of an old lady dying of some unknown disease in remote China.  In fact, I had gone off-grid, telling no one what I was doing.  It was too big, too heart-stoppingly important to me.    One chilly day that January,  I hauled myself upright at around three in the morning and drove to London, terrified of missing my appointment.  I spent most of the four-hour wait in a tourist hotel pushing congealed eggs around my plate and wondering just how many cups of tea it was possible to drink.  Finally, I walked around the corner to the hallowed offices in Bloomsbury Square to stare in awe at the Harry Potters on display in reception.   I had gone off-grid, telling no one what I was doing. It was too big, too heart-stoppingly important to me. But let me take you back a little.  My childhood dream was to write a book, but life and, as a single parent, an abrupt need to make a living took over.  I started a business on a shelf under the stairs in our tiny Victorian cottage and, from non-auspicious beginnings, grew it to something mid-size.  Single parenthood and solo-entrepreneurship are both a recipe for isolation, so it would be years before I met other entrepreneurs.  Entrepreneurs are an interesting bunch.  They come from all sorts of backgrounds and work in virtually every sector.  They are hugely driven, often obsessive, yet the majority are far less judgemental, far less worried about who they are talking to, and more interested in the quality of what is being said.  Most – definitely not all, but most - are highly intelligent and have great stories to tell.  By chance, I saw a business publication advertising for a blog writer. Remembering my writing dreams,  I answered, and thus started a decade of writing for a digital publication called Real Business.  I also joined Jericho Writers.  When I finally parted company with the business, my first thought was retirement.  It took about two weeks for me to miss writing.   I went back to writing articles, but the dream of a book still niggled.  I started working my way through the Jericho Writers resources, focussing on the merits of attempting either self- or traditional publishing.    It took about two weeks for me to miss writing. I had decided to write about sales, my strength - and with the confidence I gained from the articles, I was somewhat cavalier about the writing.  However, to play safe, I submitted my first draft to be assessed by one of the Jericho Writers team.   My editors had always been rather nice to me, so I was unworried when it came to the feedback phone call.    By five minutes in, I was having to ask for a couple of minute\'s break because I was crying so hard that I couldn\'t actually hear. The expert tore it to shreds.  The concept was wrong, the writing careless on fact and atrocious on style.  It was the very definition of tough love.  It says much for my love of writing that I kept going, and much for his judgment that when I re-visited the manuscript a few months later, I was beyond appalled that I had even considered anyone reading it.    Chastened, I wrote another manuscript.  I followed all the instructions on the Jericho Writers website and researched likely agents and publishers.  I treasured the reply that told me it was well written (but not for them).  Elsewhere it was silent.    Relaxing in the glorious summer of 2019,  I had another idea.  People often advise you to write about what you know, and what I know best is how hard it is to scale a business.  I also knew that it is a business stage that many people struggle with.   Suddenly, I realized I had a subject that could potentially be of genuine use to a reader, unlike my somewhat self-interested previous attempts.  My problem was that I was no expert.  But I did know other people who had achieved the leap successfully.  I started off by attempting to interview friends and get their expertise.  Not an easy experience, with both parties in unfamiliar roles and keen to get back to the usual bottle of wine.  I dug out old contacts, people who I barely knew.  I trawled the net endlessly for businesses that looked on an upward curve.  A massive hulk of a book, going from start-up through scale-up, started to take shape.  People often advise you to write about what you know... Suddenly, I realized I had a subject that could potentially be of genuine use to a reader. At around three-quarters of the way in, I realized that I had forgotten the trad vs self-publishing quandary, and worse, I now had an obligation to do something with this thing to the people who had kindly given their time.  Back to my Jericho Writers knowledge bank, I went.  I knew that many of the people interviewed would be less than impressed unless it was traditionally published.  Old school, perhaps.  I spent a month putting together three submissions.  The one to Bloomsbury bounced back on my email.   That bouncing email was the wild piece of luck that we all need from time to time.  Tired and frustrated, I sent a quick tweet off to Bloomsbury to tell them the email was down. It was just before Christmas, so perhaps it was the festive spirit,  but I received a charming reply suggesting I send a brief outline of what I had been trying to send through to the respondee\'s personal email.  I thought no more about it.  Other publishers, too, were notably silent.   I was dumbfounded over Christmas to receive an invitation to come into Bloomsbury\'s offices. Hence finding myself pushing around the congealed egg in January.  The initial meeting was held in a room full of would-be writers, all of them having the weaknesses of their proposals pointed out to them by the editors.  The size of my project was demolished as being far too broad and my use of UK entrepreneurs was no use to a global publishing house.  I argued - I can split it.  I can get other entrepreneurs.  I was packed off to the country to form a submission.  Luckily I could still draw upon Jericho for it.  I muttered \"possibly for Bloomsbury\" into the ears of overseas entrepreneurs and found it a magic key to get them talking.  Hearing back is not a quick process.  The book had to be approved by several layers of international hierarchy.  At each stage, I was genuinely stunned and delighted to have got that far.  Finally, however, a contract was offered, and I was on my way to being (magic words) a published author.  I muttered \"possibly for Bloomsbury\" into the ears of overseas entrepreneurs and found it a magic key to get them talking. \'Scale for Success\' came out in February 2021 in the UK and July in Australia and America.  It contains the stories and wisdom of 30 genuinely amazing people from across the globe.  I didn\'t want to go for the Bransons or the Musks (not that they would have talked to me either), but I wanted relatable people, and I am still stunned by their stories.  Working with a range of people meant a vast amount of extra work.  They all had to be found, convinced that the idea was good, interviewed, and their approval of what I had written obtained.  If I hadn\'t so loved hearing their stories, it would have been a nightmare.  Non-fiction is unbelievably overcrowded.  The self-publishing market has gone wild under the \"a book is your business card\" mantra.  Looking for a backup plan, I spoke to a few of the publishing coaches who take a fat fee for helping you self-publish.  All were confused by my expressed desire to write \"a good book.\"  Entrepreneurs of decidedly mixed-level writing skills are employing hugely expensive PR companies to tout them as the next Tolstoy.  There is little chance to compete in the sunshine with that if you are writing for the love.   Reviews on Amazon are so precious – I can read the stars but haven\'t got the nerve to read the words.  As for the future, I am having a bit of a ‘what-now’ moment.  I produce a stream of business interviews and articles for my website and other publications, but I would love to do another book. Whether Bloomsbury or any other publishing house would love me to do another book is something for the future.  About Jan Jan Cavelle is a writer and entrepreneur who successfully grew and ran her own business for over 20 years. She was chosen as one of the first 50 Female Entrepreneurial Ambassadors to represent the UK in Europe and has been invited to speak on Newsnight. Jan contributed to Real Business for many years and her first book, ‘Scale for Success’, was published by Bloomsbury and cited by publications such as Elite Business, Irish Tech News, Medium, and the Undercover Recruiter.   Find out more about Jan here. Buy ‘Scale for Success’ from Bookshop.org here. Interested in Creative Non-Fiction? We offer a six-week crash course that could be the perfect way in to your new project, taught by Galley Beggar Press\' Sam Jordison. Find out more here. Read about finding an agent for your non-fiction here. Learn how to write a non-fiction book proposal here. Getting rejected by literary agents? Here\'s what to do next.

How To Write A Memoir

We get loads of enquiries from writers wanting to write their own life story. Sometimes it’s just a personal project. Sometimes it’s for friends and family. Sometimes it’s intended for commercial publication. But the question we’re asked is always the same. Where do I start? That’s an easy one. Follow the rules below. 1: Tend Your Expectations Writing your life story down is massively worth doing, but please don’t think that it’s easy to get published. It’s not, if you’re after commercial publication. Only the best stories will get taken on by literary agents and publishers, and only then if they are really well written and well told. Of course, you can always self-publish, too. 2: Keep It Simple Many memoirs fail because they try to over-complicate. Keep it very simple, but be sure to do the simple things well. That means: Start at the beginning and move forwards chronologically from there. (If you’re not doing this, have a good reason, and be talented at it.)Keep the reader in your shoes. Talk about what you saw, what you did, what you felt. Stay in the present moment of your story.Don’t digress.Don’t tell your story in diary form, unless you keep a journal as compelling as Sylvia Plath’s. A diary is a very stop-start type of experience. You need to write a flowing narrative that keeps the reader engrossed.Don’t lecture.Remember to stay descriptive. You may remember what Heathrow looked like in the 1950s, but most of us don’t, so tell us. That’s why we’re reading your book. 3: Research Research the market. Find out how professional, published memoirs are written. See how those writers handle the things you need to deal with. One book we recommend you look at is Please Don’t Make me Go by John Fenton. We recommend this for two reasons. One: we worked on it with John, so we’re fond of it. Two: it’s a masterclass in memoir writing. Very simple, but very, very good. Other memoirs of note might be Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Nafisi Azar, or Where am I now by Mara Wilson. Look at these and other memoirs you like and ask yourself what all these have in common. It could be a poignant insight into off-piste topics (Mara Wilson’s musings as a former child star turned writer), or a knack for colouring the ordinary to make it unusual, compelling (Jennifer Worth’s years as a midwife in London’s East End). There may be other great, well-written memoirs from celebrities you like. What Happened by Hilary Rodham Clinton might be a compelling memoir, but a readership was already in place for her. Publishers would have considered this (before looking at a manuscript) when offering her a book deal, so try to pick out books from relatively unknown writers (or unknown before publication) wherever you can when researching the market. Also, do get a proper idea of length. For commercial publication, and to have a chance with a literary agent, you’ll probably want to produce a manuscript of between 70,000 and 100,000 words. If you are much longer or much shorter than that, you can pretty much forget about publication almost irrespective of content. Finally, although you are writing about your own life, you may well find that some research really does wonders for what you are talking about. Let’s say you were working in Iranian oil fields in the 1950s. You’ll remember a lot, but you’ll have forgotten things, too. The more you can research that time, the more you may spark your memory. 4: Take Care With Your Style If you want to grip a reader, to make sure that your words and your story hold the attention, then you must take a lot of care with your style. That means you can’t just write as you speak. It means you need to get in the habit of challenging yourself to write clearly, forcefully, visually, so the reader can see exactly what you are telling them. For more tips on good writing, please check tips on prose style. 5: Seek Feedback Once you’re properly stuck into your project, why not come to us with the first 10,000 words or so? That’s far enough into it that we can give you detailed advice on what is and isn’t working in your writing, and how to improve where needed. The advice will cost, but for a project as important as this, it can be worth the investment. Alternatively, if you prefer to plough through and come to us with a complete manuscript, we’d be delighted to work with that, too. We’ll tell you whether your writing is the sort that a literary agent or publisher might be interested in. If it is, then we can advise on next steps regarding agents. 6: Enjoy Don’t let writing your life story become anything but a pleasure and a joy. This is your story. Enjoy telling it and be proud of it. You deserve it. Your Life Story If you’ve come through to this page, you’ve perhaps been through challenging times and have a story to tell. As far as publishing that story goes, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the market for inspirational true life stories (also called inspirational memoirs) is still fairly hot. The bad news – you guessed it – is that competition is intense and only the best manuscripts are taken on by literary agents. If you have a story to tell, please ask yourself these questions first: How will you feel if your story never gets published, or even accepted by a literary agent?How will you feel about commercializing your story?Can you tell your story in an emotive and unique way to connect with readers?How will you feel about doing PR and other publicity work? If your responses to these questions are negative, then ponder before going any further. If your answer is that you still want to go ahead, then read on. Cathy Glass Shares Her Tips Cathy Glass is bestselling author of seventeen books. True life stories, or inspirational memoirs as they are also known, have enjoyed so much success in the last ten years that they have become a genre in their own right, often separate from biography. My own first book Damaged, in which I told the story of a child I fostered, spent three months at the top of the bestseller charts. Since then Please Don’t Take My Baby, and Will You Love Me? have also been at number one, with all my other fostering stories going into the Top 10 for weeks. To date, I have sold millions copies of my books around the world, and they have been translated into ten languages. Is there a formula for writing memoirs like there is for Mills and Boon romance? One that I can pass on? Not a formula as such, but having spent some time pondering how I write these books, I have come up with a few suggestions which may be of use if you are about to embark on memoir writing (more covered in my book). If you are writing your own memoir, as opposed to ghost-writing for someone else, you will know your story better than anyone, and here lies your strength. Write straight from your heart. Think back and remember. When, and where did it all begin? Where were you? What could you smell and hear? What could you see through the window? What was going through your mind? Be there and relive it, although this may be very upsetting if you have suffered; but writing is cathartic and writing it out is a therapy in itself. Have an aim for your book (a remit) – a message you want to impart to your readers. It may be one of courage, faith, hope, or sheer bloody-mindedness. And remember when writing a true life story you have an emotional contract with your reader. You owe your reader honesty, and in return you will have your readers’ unfailing empathy and support. I have been completely overwhelmed by the thousands of emails I have received from readers who felt they knew me personally and were part of my family from reading my books. Their words of encouragement have been truly wonderful and are much appreciated. Some of these emails are on the blog on my website. Write scenes, not a monologue. Although the memoir is true it doesn’t have to be a diatribe of abuse and suffering. Write it as you would a gripping novel, building scenes, creating tension, and using cliff-hangers at the end of chapters to keep the readers’ interest. There will be highs and lows in your story, so keep the reader on a roller coaster of emotion. There will be some very sad scenes, some horrendous incidents, and some funny incidents. If there is constant and unrelenting degradation and abuse the reader will soon become desensitized and lose empathy, and therefore interest. Make your book episodic, describing in detail events that are of interest or highly poignant to your story. Leave out the mundane unless it is an intrinsic part of building the scene. You can kaleidoscope years into a couple of lines, or spread half an hour into two chapters as necessary. Your memoir should be approximately 85,000 words in length, with double line spacing, using a word processing package. If it is your first memoir, the agent and publisher may also want a detailed proposal, even if your book is already written. For writing a proposal, there are guidelines to follow, as there are for getting a literary agent. Read other books in the same genre, and consider how and why these books work. Good luck with your writing, and most importantly, enjoy it! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

What Is Creative Writing In Non-Fiction?

‘Creative non-fiction’ is one of the trickiest terms in writing. Non-fiction means being factual. Creative means using imagination. Isn’t that a conflict? At one end, you have textbooks, how-to books, academic and professional work of every sort. In areas like this, factual expertise and clarity matters hugely. Imaginative writing and creative insight may actually get in the way. At the other end of the non-fiction writing game, you have some genuinely creative areas. Travel writing is one. Memoir and biography can be another. Factual reconstruction of particular historical episodes another. If you want to read a non-fiction book that reads exactly like a novel, then try Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. It’s completely true. But it reads like a novel. Capote, in fact, called it a non-fiction novel. It’s famous partly because of its genre-bending format. You can also find historians writing quite creatively (try Simon Schama’s Rough Crossings). And some of our own clients have used our help to achieve bestselling success in the memoir category, if you look for John Fenton’s Please Don’t Make Me Go, or Barbara Tate’s amazing West End Girls. Both these books had the freshness and creativity of novels. If you’re keen to write creative non-fiction, then you need to acquire a novelist’s skills but deploy them to your own factual ends. You can get a real quick survey of the core novelist’s tools on this blog. You can get a more in-depth guide to those skills by browsing our full set of writing resources. Either way, the core of creative writing in non-fiction is to create immediacy, to get close to character and to the drama of the unfolding moment. Using web-based resources is a good first step on the path to writing successful non-fiction, but it’s only a first step. Other bits of advice would be: Read a lot. You won’t succeed in non-fiction unless you know the market you’re trying to write for.Take a course. It’s one thing learning from books. It’s quite another getting personal feedback from a top tutor as you start to develop your skills. Courses these days can be quite cheap and can be done from home, so it’s not the hassle that it once used to be. We offer some brilliant courses, so check them out here. Depending on exactly what you’re writing, you may even find that a ‘how to write a novel’ course will be the right one for your particular project – but if in doubt, just ask.Start writing and get help. Finally – crucially – the only way you’ll learn how to write better is to start writing. Just get stuck in. You’ll learn masses simply by plunging in. Then, once you’ve got a good chunk of the manuscript written, you can get expert feedback on what you’ve done – what works, what doesn’t work, what you need to do to fix it. Using that support wisely can make all the difference between a book that publishers love, and one that just accumulates rejection letters. And whatever your project, good luck! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Is There A Market for Poetry Writing?

The first thing to ask about the poetry market: does it exist? Few make money from poetry. Seamus Heaney may have done, but he had a Nobel Prize. There is also, of course, the rise of the Instagram poets like Rupi Kaur, Lang Leav, Atticus, and so on. Here’s what you need to know. Selling Beauty Poetry remains a niche market. Even large bookshops will typically just sell acknowledged classics, academic anthologies, and a few books by today’s most famous poets. Few poets ever reach this level. More important for beginning writers are the specialist poetry magazines and poetry presses, the heart of the poetry scene. A collection of poetry might well only sell a few hundred copies. Few will make a profit. Poets themselves seldom make any money from their work. People who buy these books are poetry aficionados and will buy these books from ads in poetry magazines, from poetry festivals, etc. Getting Published It may be easier to walk across hot coals than to become a published poet. It’s fine to write poetry for yourself and friends, but suppose you really want to get published. What then? Agents rarely accept poetry submissions, and big publishing houses are interested in making money. Your ultimate aim should really be to interest the smaller poetry presses. Even if you aspired to be an ‘Instapoet’, it really is better to know if your poetry resonates with readers at the most critical levels, before you go and post online. In nearly all cases, these presses will only pick up a new poet if they have a track record of publication in the poetry magazines. As a rule, you should aim to have had 6-8 individual poems published in magazines before it makes sense to try and publish a collection. So start submitting good quality work as soon as you can. Poetry Magazines Some of our favourite magazines are The Rialto, The North, New Writer, Ambit, and Anon – but there are zillions of others. For a good place to browse go to Poetry Library, or The Poetry Kit. All magazines have their own submissions procedures, but as a rule, you should send out no more than half a dozen poems with a stamped addressed envelope for a response. It’s competitive getting accepted, so prepare for rejections before you get anywhere, and don’t expect speed either. Three months to get a response is normal. If and when you get 6-8 poems accepted by these, then is the time to start approaching publishers. Self-Publishing There is one other option, which is self-publication. This isn’t a fast-track way to get well-known, to make money, to get your work into bookshops, or anything else. It could lead to more, but it is a way to get bound copies of your work for you to distribute (or sell) to families and friends, at least. The easiest route for most poets is simply to go to your local printer. Get quotes for printing and binding copies of your work, and go with the best. This won’t be too expensive, and you won’t be ripped off. Beware of any ‘publisher’ advertising online for your work. Real publishers don’t solicit work. Anyone who wants you to pay to publish your work will print the work, but they will not publish it in any normal sense. Your work will not appear in bookshops. You will not make money from it. And there are lots of bandits out there. (You have been warned.) Who knows, though? Rupi Kaur self-published her poetry. Now Milk and Honey is published by Andrews McNeel. Good luck. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 
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