Q: You have my completed memoir, (title deleted). Do I need to prepare a book proposal to present it to agents? Articles and books give different answers. It seems to me the proposals are for how-to books, not memoirs or biographies.
A: You’re seeing a variety of answers because it depends on the publisher or agent. Some agents and publishers want a proposal, especially if the book is not completely written, but many will take a strong query letter if the manuscript is completed; especially if it is professionally edited. While the manuscript is being edited, perform your research for agents you want to query and see if any demand a proposal for a completed memoir. If you don’t want to write a full proposal, choose agents and publishers that will accept a query letter instead. Next, write a strong short document explaining the book, your qualifications for writing it, the market for the book, and how you intend to market the book once it is released. If you put that information in your query letter, along with the word count for the book and the fact that the book was professionally edited, you may not need a proposal, which only covers that information in more detail.
Q: My ten-year marriage is ending. I don’t feel like writing. I have made only two entries into my journal. Do you have any advice on how to fight through the pain and write?
A: As a veteran of two broken marriages, I feel your pain. I’m sorry you have to go through it. Depression often leads to immobility. Many people need time to go from “overwhelmed” to “productive.”
Any loss results in grief, and grief that goes unresolved can lead to mental and physical problems. Instead of thinking of the issue as having to fight through the pain to write, think of the fact that writing helps you fight the pain. While immobility keeps you in a depressed state, doing something—almost anything—can get you out of that state.
When I was going through a divorce at the same time my mother experienced an episode I thought would lead to her death, I read On Death and Dying, a book by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. I hadn’t thought about my divorce as being a loss that would result in grief, but the book made me realize I was going through a double loss. Kubler-Ross defined the stages of grief, which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Give yourself time to experience your emotions and progress through the stages toward healing. Do what you need to do to work through these stages of grief. I hope writing will become one of those things, but do not be hard on yourself for not being able to write right away.
Journaling helped me a great deal, and it might work for you, if you can find a place and time that is conducive to writing. I started with “Day One” and wrote down what my then-husband said to our son about our separation and what my husband and I had, in reality, said to each other. I recorded my surprise that the information differed greatly. From the moment I started my divorce journal, I experienced relief that I could write my darkest thoughts without fear that my husband might read them. Writing my divorce journal did not make me want to write creatively right away, but I unintentionally recorded material I might have forgotten, otherwise. Years later, I returned to the journals and resurrected conversations, events, and emotions to use in stories and memoirs.
If journaling does not work for you yet, don’t push it, but sit for a portion of each day with pen in hand and see if anything happens. I mentioned finding a place conducive to writing, and I will reveal mine. I keep my journal in the bathroom. I have to sit for a while each morning anyway, so I multi-task for those five or ten minutes, recording my experiences, thoughts, dreams, plans, fears, aspirations, or whatever comes to mind. I like the confined space, the quiet, and the separation from others—including the dog—while I write and take care of my morning constitutional. See if the same ritual works for you.
You might also sign up for a class that gives writing assignments or look for places with monthly competitions and see if assignments and competitions inspire you to write. My free newsletter, The Writers Network News, has a monthly prompt called “Got Muse?” Subscribe to my newsletter and see if my assignments get you to write again. Join organizations for writers. Hearing other writers talk of their experiences may inspire you to write, but even if not, at least you will be out mingling with other writers.
As for me, deadlines inspire me. See if giving yourself a deadline helps, but don’t be too hard on yourself. You may set a deadline such as “I will write ten pages by the end of each month.”
Of all that inspires me, though, critique circles take the lead. When I am a member of an active critique circle, I must bring five new pages to each meeting, so I not only have a deadline, but I also receive encouragement and helpful feedback that keeps me going.
Try any and all my suggestions and see what works for you. On the bright side, your distress about not writing means you will get back to writing soon, either by using some of my suggestions or by finding your own inspiration.
Bobbie Christmas, book editor and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.