My Writing Life – The Beginning of a Memoir

A little over two years ago I decided to write my memoir.

At first, I planned to write two books (a lofty goal for someone who had not even written one book yet!). I wanted to write a family history for my children and grandchildren about my adoptive family and what I have come to learn about my birth family.

I also wanted to write a book about adoption. I consider myself blessed in that I have been reunited with family members on my birth mother and birth father’s side of my family and I have geneology dating back to the 1600s; not many adoptees can make that claim. I believe that as more of us who were denied basic things like access to our original birth certificates, medical, and geneological history, write about the impact these losses have on us, we become change agents for the future.

I believed Maya Angelou’s words “when we know better we do better” and I wanted to contribute to the collective knowing better.

It wasn’t long before I decided that one book at a time was enough for me to focus on and I shifted all my attention to the adoption memoir. I started with a few vignettes I had written for classes, pulled out photographs and letters, put together a timeline, and considered the story I wanted to tell. I bought a large roll of white paper and put it up on my wall. Then I put photographs of key people on that sheet of paper and made notes and drew lines to illustrate relationships and experiences. I pulled out family trees I had drawn many years ago; I drafted a rough outline.

And then I wrote.

And wrote.

And wrote.

And I am still writing. Here I am over two years later working on the sixth draft. The structure has changed, some of what I wrote in the beginning has been left behind in earlier drafts, I’ve gone down roads I hadn’t originally intended to and I have learned about myself. I have learned a lot about myself.

I don’t know for sure how long it will take to get to the point where I am ready to turn it over to an editor, for that is my planned next step. I set goals for myself, if I miss one I don’t beat myself up about it, I just keep moving forward.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” (Lao Tzu) and the journey toward writing a memoir begins with one word.

How did you begin your current work-in-progress? What reasons did you have for starting? What tools did you use to get started?

I have decided to share pieces of my writing journey here. I hope you will comment; I hope we can get a dialogue going about the process of writing. Whether you write memoir, fiction, or don’t write at all, I invite you to participate in the discussion. We can all teach; we all have something to learn.


I’m a writer, reader, and creative. I thought by now I’d have things figured out, but I keep coming up with more questions. I think that’s okay. I’m here most mornings pondering ordinary things and the thin places where faith intersects.
  1. it is great that you are sticking with it…look forward to seeing the final product

    1. Thanks, Deb!

  2. Six drafts in two years–that’s great. You’ve done a lot of work. I like your idea of putting up photographs to help structure your material. And I admire your perseverance.

    1. I have found that going through old photographs helps spark memories and also is a great help in putting myself in the place and experiencing it via the senses.

  3. I also have a memoir manuscript, one that closely weaves my life with music and the concerts I’ve attended since my high school days. It’s amazing how writing it had such a different feel to the process than writing my fiction manuscript did. The process was a lens, really focusing on so much that is important to me. I’m querying the manuscript now, and enjoying that process too!

    1. Good luck with your queries, Joanne. I look forward to reading your memoir!

  4. I’ve been curious about your memoir, and am thrilled to read about your process here. I actually started mine five years ago because I felt my story was interesting and unique and would help other people searching for spiritual meaning. I finished the book (several drafts later) queried agents, and realized it wasn’t the story I wanted it to be. I’m now working on the first major revision of my second attempt to create the book I believe needs to be written. Regardless of what my story has to offer others, the writing of it has been tremendously healing and revealing. Looking forward to continuing the conversation with you.

    1. I was talking with my critique sisters this morning about how much we learn about ourselves via the writing process. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your book and having more discussion with you. I’m hoping to do a weekly post about the writing life so I hope you come back to contribute to the conversation!

  5. I think that you are revising so much and changing so much is a good thing. You are being careful and choosy. The end result will be better!

    1. I hope so, Terri!

  6. I can sure relate! I began in 2001 to pen such a piece, but since 2003 it has been sidelined while I live out some more of life in order to remember it 🙂

    When the day & time & content all conspire in just the right sequence, I’m thinking we’ll all hear your “Hooray”!


    1. Kathleen I look forward to reading your work when you complete it and hearing your “Hooray” too!

  7. I was adopted by my stepmother and lived with her and my dad, so I knew who my biomom was and is – but, when I requested my original birth record, they wouldn’t give it to me – perhaps I should try again? That was a while back that I tried.

    Two hearts one baby -when I saw that, it made me want to cry.

    1. Ah Kat…{{hugs}} to you. Isn’t it crazy that you were denied your original birth certificate? Ya gotta wonder what the reason is for crazy rules like that.

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