How to Keep on Writing that Freaking Book!

Question: When is 9 months “a year”?

Answer: When the 9 months is spent in a manuscript class.

I teach a memoir manuscript class here in Seattle at Hugo House. The class runs 9 months from September to June, and yet the class is called the Yearlong Memoir Manuscript Class. And right about now, these writers are feeling the yearlong slog of it all. They have two more months to go and an hugo_house_picture_2anticipated 25,000 more words to write. How will they keep on keeping on?

Last class meeting the group members shared with each other the strategies that are keeping them motivated and writing. I’m sharing the list they generated here as I think there are a ton of great ideas here and probably at least one or two you can use. The key is, of course, using strategies. I myself like to read about helpful strategies and can be a wee bit lethargic about the actual implementation, but maybe you’re not like that. Maybe you’re an implementer.

The Hugo House Yearlong Memoir Manuscript Class’ Best Tips:

  1. Separating generative writing time from editing time (To guard against endless editing).
  2. Working with a small writing group that meets monthly in which members take turns sharing pages.
  3. Sending work to willing and supportive readers.
  4. Writing what captivates me.
  5. Keeping an “idea book” and jotting ideas in it when they arise.
  6. Setting backup production goals (word count/quarter) as well as aspirational ones.
  7. Printing out my work (some place new pages in a binder as they’re produced).
  8. Reading work I love (sometimes over and over again). Recognizing that some writers are truly your teachers (even if you’ve never met them). These particular writers have something to teach you as a writer so rereading their work is great use of your time.
  9. Creating regular times to talk with others about writing.
  10. Resisting the urge to focus on structure (instead of generating new pages).
  11. Writing without fear of reproach. Telling myself, “This is my story to tell.”
  12. Reading the The Autobiographer’s Handbook: The 826 National Guide to Writing Your Memoir.
  13. Writing in the morning or late at night when household is quiet.
  14.  Not looking for the perfect thing to write next. Just jumping in anywhere.
  15. Using the Priscilla Long prompt that begins with listing five things you’re interested in writing about right now. Prompt can be found on  page 19 of Long’s book The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life.
  16. Doing planning activities (but not letting them replace generative writing time).
  17. Book proposal writing.
  18. Using Brooke Warner’s ebook How to Sell Your Memoir Proposal.
  19. Progoff journaling: Writing your book’s history as if it already exists in the world
  20. Getting out of the house and writing in a cafe or bookstore.
  21. Scheduling writing into your week.
  22. Doing Lynda Barry’s 4-Minute Diary.
  23. Listening to the voice that says, “This is what I need to write right now.” (even if the topic choice seems illogical).
  24. Capitalize on times I feel inspired and use those times to write.
  25. Telling myself “just get the stories down.” Don’t worry how they’ll form a whole during the generative period.
  26. Listening to podcasts that model good storytelling, especially during commutes.
  27. Not being stopped by the fear of self-reproach. Using the Cheryl Strayed “Fear is not an option” strategy.
  28. Reminding myself, “It seems to me if you lived through this, you have the right to write about it.”
  29. Letting go of worries about structure and generating more.
  30. Getting away from the computer when stuck and writing by hand.
  31. Taking breaks.
  32. Looking at what I wrote at the end of every day so I remember it the next day and don’t have to use my writing time rereading.
  33. Moving on to a new topic in the book when bored.
  34. Go straight to the writing each morning (after walking the dog).
  35. Delaying fact checking until generative work is done.
  36. Asking myself, “If I don’t write this, who will?”

About Theo Pauline Nestor

Author of Writing Is My Drink (Simon & Schuster) and How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed. Learn more about my courses, editing, and coaching at
This entry was posted in Memoirists, More Stuff for Writers, Writing Tips. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to How to Keep on Writing that Freaking Book!

  1. Carole Mertz says:

    Thanks, Theo, for your 36 points, which is helpful and even yet, not exhaustive. I’ve just gone through your Writing is My Drink and appreciate the new inspiration it engendered. I’m carrying it with me to Portland tomorrow, and wish I could scoot on up to Hugo House. 🙂

    • Theo Nestor says:

      I will pass the thanks onto my students as I was just their scribe for this list. I am so happy to hear you were inspired by Writing Is My Drink and that my book gets to go on a trip to Portland. Thanks, Carole!

  2. Theo!! This is fantastic. Do you mind if I FB share it? I have a new client for my HR consultancy-Hedgebrook. I’m so excited.

    Also saw Emily St. John Mandel last week at Town Hall. She was impressive in he recounting of the research impulses behind Station Eleven and her writing process in this new almost genre novel.

    Hugs to you.


    Carmen D’Arcangelo Page Senior Consultant HR Strategies International 206.226.8833 [HRSI Blue Logo]

    Currently reading: “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown, my writer’s website architecture

    From: Writing Is My Drink <> Reply-To: Writing Is My Drink <> Date: Monday, March 28, 2016 3:35 PM To: Carmen D’Arcangelo <> Subject: [New post] How to Keep on Writing that Freaking Book!

    Theo Nestor posted: “Question: When is 9 months “a year”? Answer: When the 9 months is spent in a manuscript class. I teach a memoir manuscript class here in Seattle at Hugo House. The class runs 9 months from September to June, and yet the class is called the Yearlong Memoir”

  3. Thanks for adding this to the information I already got from your wonderful book. It already lives in Portland. Wish I could come to your class but Seattle is out of my reach these days. I’ll make do with this and your blog.

  4. says:

    Well written

  5. bschreiberin says:

    Thank you so much. this helps me to carry trough with my book which is due end of June. I have to mix generative writing and editing since texts are at different stages of completion. Limiting editing time is a great idea, though. After all, I know I can do it on time if I have to. And: For the process of editing I can get help from friendly first readers and colleagues, too. So thanks again for helping me limit my fear of failing.

  6. Penelope says:

    I know this list is about writing, but I think many of these ideas can be applied to any creative endeavour. Absolutely one of the most heartfelt and amazing lists I’ve ever seen … I will be referring to it often to keep me inspired and actively creating. Thanks so much for posting!

  7. Theo Nestor says:

    Thank you for your comment, Penelope. It is a very heartfelt group in this class. They have developed an earned trust, and it was very touching last week to see them generate this list together.

  8. evie gaughan says:

    ‘If I don’t write this, who will?’ Never thought of that before – great motivational quote! Thanks 🙂

  9. Thank you for this post! I needed to read this! Hope you’re well 🙂

  10. Jenny Bartoy says:

    What a great list! Thank you for taking the time to write it out and share it with us. I particularly love #23 “Listening to the voice that says, ‘This is what I need to write right now.’ (even if the topic choice seems illogical).” and #15 about Priscilla Long’s prompt. It’s been too long since I last opened The Writer’s Portable Mentor. I needed these reminders right about now.

    • Theo Nestor says:

      Yes, Priscilla Long’s book is a terrific one. Great explanations to topics that are often mysterious, such as collage, braided narratives, and dramatic arc.

      Thanks for your comment, Jenny!

  11. mothererased says:

    Thanks for the tips! I feel I’ve been writing my memoir for years…oh wait, I have.

  12. Amber Wong says:

    Theo, a big “thank you” to your class for capturing all of these great ideas! And an especially heartfelt thanks to you for clarifying that I only need to use one or two of these ideas at a time. I’m an implementer, and you can bet that I was trying to figure out how to do all 36 of them.

    • Theo Nestor says:

      Yes, don’t overdo it! Use the ideas gently and one at a time : ). I find the tip of keeping a notebook with you at all times to be an easy one to use and v. fruitful. Hope all is good with you, Amber!

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