Help on writing my memoirs-Jerry Payne
Occasional Ramblings and Musings


Can Anybody Be a Writer?

May 16, 2024

Some writing is so bad, it’s beyond the help of even the best editor. This idea reminded the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal of a dry cleaner’s receipt he once read: “Some stains can be removed only by the destruction of the material itself.” I read this gem in Joe Moran’s wonderful book First You Write a Sentence: The Elements of Reading, Writing…and Life. I heartily recommend Moran’s book, but after reading it, I found myself wondering if this advice should be applied not just to writing, but to (would-be) writers themselves. Are there some people who just shouldn’t try to write, whose entire body of work is beyond help?

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Why You Should Write a Memoir (It May Not Be Why You Think)

March 22, 2024

People have all manner of reasons for writing a memoir (or their memoirs). If you’re reading this article, you may have your own reasons. Maybe you’re writing your memoirs because you want some record of your life to survive you after death, a lasting mark that you were here, something your grandkids and potentially great-great-grandkids might one day read. Well, that’s a fine reason.

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Make Sure Your Ghostwriter Has Plenty of This

January 8, 2024

“I want to be a writer,” an acquaintance said to me recently, “but I just don’t have the time.” I nodded understandingly. But what I really wanted to say was this: “Then you don’t really want to be a writer.” Writing takes time. That’s just the nature of the beast. It requires commitment, just like any discipline.

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Are You Writing a Memoir? Here’s the Mistake You’re Probably Making

November 10, 2023

The material in a memoir is personal in a way that material in other genres doesn’t even approach. And if you put yourself out there personally, you want to make darn sure people are getting what it is you’re saying. You don’t want to take the chance that they might misunderstand you. You want to be very clear. And that, of course, means leading the reader by the hand and spelling everything out to him or her. That seems like a logical approach doesn’t it? The only problem with it is that it’s the exact wrong approach.

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Everybody Keeps Saying You Should Write a Book. But Should You?

August 20, 2023

You’ve had an amazing life. Or an especially difficult one. Or an inspiring one. Whatever kind of life you’ve had, every time you begin talking to someone about it, you’re met with the same reaction: “Wow, you should write a book!” But should you?

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Marketing Your Book

May 11, 2023

I’m asked quite often for ideas on how to market and promote a book once it’s been published. I always make it clear that I’m a writer, not a marketer. That said, there are a few things I’ve noticed that some of my more successful clients have done that have helped them sell lots of books. Here are five winning ideas on how to effectively get the word out about your book:

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Have You Read These Memoirs?

January 3, 2023

About a year ago I wrote a blog listing several great memoirs that I think every budding memoirist should read. The list included The Liars Club, This Boy’s Life, A Moveable Feast, Darkness Visible, The Year of Magical Thinking, Good-bye to All That, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Girl Interrupted, Black Boy, The Crack-Up, Speak Memory, and Wild. Since then, I’ve heard from a lot of you extolling the virtues of other classic memoirs and so I feel the time has come to amend the list.

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Why Won’t Simon & Schuster Publish My Book?

October 30, 2022

People thinking of writing a book are often surprised when they learn how difficult it is to get the attention of a major publishing house. The assumption is that if you have a great story and write a great book, publishers will beat a path to your door, ready to sign you to a big-dollar contract and distribute your book to bookstores all over the world. Alas, the assumption is magnificently naive.

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Leave the Publishing to Me

July 1, 2022

Exciting news, folks. Over the course of the last several years, many of my clients have asked me to help walk them through the tricky process of self-publishing. I don’t mind admitting that I’ve become rather adept at it and lately it occurred to me to officially add that service onto what I already do for my ghostwriting clients. And at no extra charge.

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The Ghostwriter I am Not

April 5, 2022

Sometimes I wish Mr. and Mrs. Payne had raised their youngest son with just a tad fewer scruples. Morality. Ethics. I could be wealthy if I didn’t have these burdens weighing me down. Case in point: the impossible promises I could make for the sake of selling a prospective client on signing a ghostwriting contract with me.

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The Undeserved Stigma of Self-Publishing

January 7, 2022

The New York Times book review section made big news back in 2012 when it published, for the first-time ever, a review of a self-published book. There was talk that maybe this would set a new precedent, that maybe self-published books would now be taken seriously. Alas, there have been precious few self-published books that have been reviewed by the Times since. (Have there been any?) So what’s wrong with self-published books?

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Thinking of Writing a Memoir?

October 3, 2021

Are you thinking of writing a memoir? Here’s the best piece of writing advice I have ever been given: To write great literature, read great literature.

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The Narrative Arc in Memoir Writing

July 22, 2021

In an earlier blog, I wrote about memoir as story. A memoir, I wrote, should be more than just a dry recitation of the facts of a person’s life. A life is more than the sum of its parts, after all. Lives, carefully examined, follow plotlines, just like the most intricate plays. They come with joy, tragedy, humor, pathos, drama, suspense, and everything else a good story comes with. They should thus be presented that way. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to examine what we writers call the “narrative arc.”

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An Ear for Good Writing

February 23, 2021

People come to me to take advantage of my ghostwriting services for a wide variety of reasons. Most have great ideas for books but they just don’t know how to go about writing them. Some people can’t seem to organize their thoughts sufficiently to structure a book properly. Some don’t have the self-discipline to be able to see the writing of a book through to its completion. Some simply can’t write.

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Writing What You Don’t Believe In

December 21, 2020

Recently, someone asked me if, as a ghostwriter, I would help someone write a book touting a position with which I completely disagreed. It was a great question and, fortunately, I haven’t had to face such a decision very often. But it brings up a couple of larger questions; namely, what exactly is the role of a ghostwriter? And should a person who assumes the role of ghostwriter as his or her primary occupation allow his or her personal convictions to influence the decision to take on a client?

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What to Look For in a Ghostwriter

October 17, 2020

Hey, I’m not naive. There are more than a few of us ghostwriters out here. For people looking to have a book ghostwritten, the choices are becoming more and more plentiful every day. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean all the choices are good ones. Frankly, some are lousy. How do you make sure you’re not making a mistake when you hire a ghostwriter? Here are a few things to look for (and some to stay away from).

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Memoir as Story

July 3, 2020

What makes for a compelling memoir? More than anything, it’s often what’s called in the biz the “narrative arc.” The plot! Great memoirs are told as stories, drawing in the reader and making him or her wonder what’s going to happen next. A good memoir, like a good novel, is a page-turning affair, filled with interesting characters doing interesting things. And yet, the idea of a strong narrative arc seems to be an afterthought for most beginner memoirists. Why?

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Why Do We Read Memoirs?

March 18, 2020

Recently, I read a very gratifying review of my book (Writing Memoir: The Practical Guide to Writing and Publishing the Story of Your Life) that nevertheless offered up one major criticism: I had, in quoting from Susannah Kaysen’s classic memoir Girl, Interrupted, dared to use an especially “distasteful” profanity in my book. This was patently offensive to this particular reviewer and tarnished an otherwise “five-star” effort.

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So What Exactly Is “Literature”?

December 20, 2019

Recently, I had a conversation with a literary agent about what she looks for specifically when it comes to memoir. “Powerful and nuanced writing,” she said. This, for this particular agent, was more important than even the storyline. And this points to an important distinction separating one type of memoir from another type. It’s the difference between literary and commercial.

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Why is (Good) Ghostwriting so Expensive?

October 7, 2019

My profession comes with a little bit of sticker shock. People are surprised to learn that for a decent-sized book, a good ghostwriter’s fee can be upwards of thirty-thousand to fifty-thousand dollars. Or more. (There’s one guy I’ve seen out there charging two-hundred thousand per book. Keep in mind, that doesn’t mean he’s getting that. He’s just charging that. Big difference.)

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Elements of the Ghostwriting Contract

May 23, 2019

It would be nice to imagine you could do business with just a handshake, wouldn’t it? Alas, it doesn’t work that way in the real world. Not that people are necessarily dishonest. Most disputes over verbal contracts aren’t because somebody’s trying to take advantage of somebody else. Most disputes happen because of genuine misunderstandings or honest differings over what was said at the time of the agreement. Hence, the need to get things in writing. And when it comes to the standard ghostwriting agreement, here are some major elements that definitely should not be left out of your written contract.

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Writing a Book as a Public Relations Tool

February 1, 2019

Here’s something interesting I’ve noticed over the past few years: more and more people are writing books for the purpose of P.R. It used to be that if a client wanted to write his or her memoirs, it was to  simply make a record for posterity, or perhaps just to reflect back on a life well lived. Other types of books, like how-to books, were written for the single-minded purpose of selling the book. In other words, the book was pretty much the goal. But today, books seem to be written for a larger purpose. A book is often part of a bigger plan: to promote and publicize oneself or one’s business. And for that, a book can be invaluable.

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An Anonymous Life

August 18, 2018

As a ghostwriter, one question I get asked a lot is this: how can you stand to let others take the credit for your work? It’s a question that highlights an all-too-common misconception about ghostwriting. Just because I’m the guy who actually writes the words, that doesn’t mean I’m the one who does the work. And by work, I mean the imagination and effort required to sufficiently flesh out an entire book. Sure, there’s a lot of work and skill involved in the writing, thank you very much. But without the client and his or her story, there’s nothing to write.

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