I’m Writing a Memoir…

I’m writing a book, a memoir to be exact.  I am extremely fortunate to have a contract with Simon & Schuster, one of the world’s premier publishing companies.  But I also have a May 31 deadline to get the completed manuscript to my editor.  And yes, I did say a May 31 deadline.  And that’d be why you haven’t heard much from me lately.  Because it’s a May 31 deadline, for a whole book, like you know, 85,000 words – due May 31.

I’ve been writing in 800-word snippets for two decades.  I attended the Folio Show for magazine editors back when I was the editor-at-large for a magazine and I remember the editor of Rolling Stone saying, “If it can’t be said in 800 words, in today’s world of short attention spans, you may as well not say it at all.”  I’m not sure if anybody from the New Yorker was there.  If so, I kinda doubt they were in agreement, given their propensity for publishing articles that require a short vacation to finish reading.  But 800 words sounded good to me.

I wrote a weekly back-page column for the  magazine for 12 years, roughly 600 columns, all somewhere between 375 and 475 words.  Since I started my blog, most of my posts have been in the 800-1000 word range.  It seems I’ve gotten verbose.

It is not easy moving from writing in short bursts to writing long form.  I have written a first draft of seven chapters of the book, and honestly, I’m not sure much of any of it will survive.  My last TEDxMileHigh talk, completed in November (and probably headed to YouTube very soon) had 36 edits.  About a month before the talk, Briar, the head TED coach, suggested I start with a blank page.  I saw her at a party last night.  She said, “But I said it to you in the nicest of ways.”  Briar says everything in a really nice way.  I don’t know what I’d do without her.  I don’t respond well to people who say hard things in a mean way.

A TED talk is fewer than 1800 words, or to put it in perspective, one 47th of a memoir.  My blog posts are about one 100th of a memoir.  Do you see my problem?  It’s like asking a gardener to take care of a 160-acre farm.  I might be in a bit of trouble.

All of this to say I’ve got a feeling I’m not going to be able to keep to my weekly schedule for blog posts, or maybe not even the every-other-week schedule I’ve been holding to since I began writing the book.  I’m sorry about that.  I can assure you I’ll be back to a weekly schedule by July.  I have to write.  It’s air to me.  I’ve been writing a weekly magazine column or blog post since 2003.  I’m not gonna stop now.  But for a while at least, you won’t see as much of my writing.  You’ll have to wait until sometime in 2021 for the book to be published.

If you’re the praying type, I’d appreciate a few prayers for the writing process.  Writing a memoir is like pulling out your own teeth with a pair of pliers.  You go into it hoping it’ll be cathartic, but at this point, it just hurts.  You’re constantly riding that D. H. Lawrence line, “A writer sheds his sickness in his writing.”  You want inspire your reader, not depress them.  You want the pain that leads to redemption, not the pain that leads to drinking.  You’re always walking that ridgeline between triumph and disaster.  I feel pretty good about the introduction, and chapter one.  Well, maybe chapter one.  And maybe chapter three.  Maybe.

In addition to my excellent editor, I have a few readers who are honest but kind.  With their help, maybe I’ll find the right tone for the memoir.  We’ll see.

If I ever say I want to write another book, please give me a call and talk me out of it.  I’ll be greatly appreciative.

18 thoughts on “I’m Writing a Memoir…

  1. “ You want the pain that leads to redemption, not the pain that leads to drinking.” Amen!! That’s just true for life. 😉 I love reading or listening to anything you have to communicate. Praying for perseverance, courage, and ultimately, catharsis.


  2. Oh Paula, you really let me down this time. I’ve read your blog ever since hearing you speak at a PFLAG meeting in GREELEY, Colorado some time back, and if there’s one writer’s trick I was certain you had mastered, it was the “call back”. Imagine my disappointment when you failed to end this piece with the following: “If I ever say I want to write another book, please give me a call and talk me out of it. Just please do it in the nicest way.”

    Good luck with the book. Can’t wait to read it.
    Craig Montgomery


  3. Will definitely pray!

    Holy Spirit who speaks the heart and Word of God, gift Paula and all who are writing in coming days clarity of heart and voice, so that life-giving conversations can emerge—and continue. Amen.


  4. I’ve been writing my teaching memoirs for years. There just aren’t enough hours in the day while I’m still teaching. Hopefully when I retire. Best of luck on this endeavor. I’m confident you will do great!


  5. I wondered where you were. I was going to ask Debbie. Now I know. You have a lot of energy. I am tired reading all you are accomplishing. Good luck and prayers your way. I wish you enough. Jeri


  6. Hi Paula, As of a year ago, I’m now the mother of a transgender daughter. I’ve been holding you up to her as a model of someone who’s made a successful transition. I CAN’T WAIT to read your book. Blessings on the process.


  7. Prayers storming heaven just opposite the Great Barrier Reef where we’ve received 7” of rain in 3 days. I feel certain that you’re the right woman for this job—you have the distinct ability to reach hearts and minds. Take care and be thankful you don’t have to write by tallow candles in stinky bars like Shakespeare. Best, Sally


  8. Hi Paula. I just stumbled across your TedX talk and loved it. I’m a professional writer and editor and married to a transgender woman and I can tell you something you probably already know or at least have heard and I hope you’ve internalized it! One’s “voice” is key in writing memoir and you have an extremely likable voice. (I’m also envious of your female voice,but that’s another matter.) Please ask your publisher’s publicist to put me on the press list. I’d love to try to help with publicity. Best of luck in getting it done.


  9. Paula,
    I just came here to thank you.
    I’m at work in my office and while I compile and format data, I’ve been watching/listening to your TED talk (posted on YouTube Dec 2017).
    A couple of years ago I came out to myself and most everyone but my family that I am non-binary—a demiboy. I was just walking back into my cubicle here after being in the Mens room looking at my body in the mirror. Some joy, some despair and disdain. I don’t even know what my ideal gender presentation would be, but I sure wish I had a private bathroom.
    I’m starting to tear up listening to your talk. Thank you for the grace and power you share, and I hope to listen to and read more of your experience and wisdom.
    It’s so important to not feel alone. I’m not a woman, but I lived as a man for a couple of decades, and I pass virtually always, to my chagrin.
    With love and gratitude,


  10. Paula, I have left comments for you previously. I ALWAYS read your blogs and constantly check to see if a new one has appeared! I just completed once again reading the book of Esther. I love that book, possibly one of my favorites. As I read it and contemplated the way God is using you, I have been meditating on the possibility that perhaps it could be said of you also that, “who knows whether you have not come to the ‘kingdom’ for such a time as this?” I do not presume to know the mind of God, except as it has been revealed in Scripture; but I can’t dismiss the thought from my mind as I contemplate how God has directed and used your life from it’s earthly beginning to the present! Blessings to you.



    • Oh, thank you so much Jim. It’s difficult having much objectivity about my journey. I hope I am able to lessen some suffering now and again, and I do still believe that the call toward authenticity is sacred and holy and for the greater good.


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