Jill Kelly is a freelance editor, writer, and painter. She’s published four novels and three books on recovery. She also coaches writers through the publication process as well as coaching women wanting to recover from sugar addiction Learn more about Jill at her author website and coaching website.
Creating a How-to Book out of a Memoir
Three years ago, I started writing a memoir about my journey through sugar addiction. I was comfortable with writing memoir as I had edited dozens (I work as a freelance editor). I had also written an earlier successful memoir, SoberTruths: The Making of an Honest Woman, which was a finalist in 2008 for the Oregon Book Award.
But the more I worked on it, the more I could see that memoir was only part of what I was writing, that I had many things to offer the reader beyond my own story. In finding my way out of sugar and food addiction, I’d learned a great deal of helpful information and supportive ideas that I could share. So I shifted gears and created a hybrid book of my journey (memoir) and suggestions for the journeys of others (how to).
Here are some things I had to keep in mind as I was writing:
~I’m not an expert on anyone but me. At the same time, I’d done a lot of reading and research on many related subjects.
~I’m not qualified to advise anyone on how they should live. My PhD is in French literature, not psychology or social work or counseling. At the same time, I could describe what has worked for me. I could share my experience, strength, and hope.
~Facts and statistics aren’t very interesting to most people and don’t usually teach us much. Stories teach us a lot. As human beings, we learn best from stories. I could focus on telling stories.
I started drafting the book by creating a list of close to 100 topics I could write about. Here are a few:
~Why diets don’t work
~What triggers us?
~How should we define abstinence?
~The need for a structured life in recovery
~How our culture sabotages the food addict
~Who this book is not for
Next, I began drafting something on each topic. When I’d written on all the topics and couldn’t think of any more, I set the project aside for about six months. I was working on a novel and it seemed good to shift to something else.
When I came back to the project, I worked first with the list of topics, moving them around and creating sections: my story, food-related issues, emotional issues, cultural issues; then I ordered the topics within the section.
Next I edited and polished, then asked several beta-readers to take a look and make comments. Then it was on to creating a Table of Contents and index, getting the book proofread, and hiring a designer for the production stage. I knew what I wanted for the cover: my two-year-old sugar-addict self.
There are as many ways to approach a nonfiction book as there are novels and I find it is an equally creative process. The most important part of the writing though is for me to remember that it’s much less about what I want to say and much more about what I want the reader to know and consider.
Candy Girl: How I gave up sugar and created a sweeter life between meals
Are you like I was? You often eat more than you intend to. Once you start eating sweets, you can’t stop. Food is the most frequent and constant pleasure in your life. If you don’t have the foods you love, you feel panicky.
Sugar and food addiction had me in its grip for decades. Then I discovered that food wasn’t the problem. How I was living my life was the problem. So I learned to build a sweeter life between meals, lost a lot of weight, and put food in its proper place. Part memoir, part how-to book, Candy Girl describes how I got off the merry-go-round of food compulsion and obsession and how you can too.