September is America’s traditional back-to-school month, and with it come renewed desires to finish that memoir you’ve been working on. Writers always ask me: How can I stay motivated to finish my memoir? Here are three tips:

   First, you must have a heart-to-heart with yourself…

            First, you must have a heart-to-heart with yourself about whether you want to do the work it takes to complete a book. Many people would love to have a memoir written about their achievements, their childhood, or difficulties overcome. But whatever the topic, the work is still the same, and beneath that work is the bedrock need for honesty.

           The act of writing a memoir amounts to hours of solitary tasks, one after the other, and often in repetition. There is much learning, both about the self and about the art of writing, some of which can be quite emotional, and in the end can add up to years of time spent—just to complete a first draft that may need more work. This can be a horrifying prospect for some people, and recognizing this early on will help you stop beating yourself up for not staying motivated to write your book. Perhaps you really do not want to do the work involved. And that’s okay.

            If you can say yes, to the apprenticeship, then read on to tip number two, but if you feel yourself yawning at the thought of the work, or skittering for the exit, that can be a sign you’d rather be doing something else. Again: That’s okay. You have been honest. What now? You can hire someone to write your story, and if that is not an option, you can join a group in your community for storytelling, writing, socializing and use that forum to tell your story. No, it’s not a book, but it’s still a way to have voice.

You must believe beyond all naysaying—the doubting voices in your head…

            For those of you who can commit to the work of finishing your memoir, tip number two: Dogged belief. You must believe beyond all naysaying—the doubting voices in your head, and the less-than-supportive folks around you—that your story idea is solid, worthy of all the labor, and important. You must believe this deeply. You must be stubborn about it. You must see yourself as the dog gripping the grand old slipper and refusing to relinquish, back on its haunches, teeth bared, low growl rumbling, as it works to keep its prize. It will take this kind of determination.

   You must keep a schedule.

            You must keep a schedule. It needn’t be every day (although that consistency, will aid in staying motivated), but it must be a recognizable schedule that you keep, against all odds. This very act of defying the complexity of life and keeping to your schedule will stoke your motivation.

            Honesty about commitment.

            Dogged belief.


            It’s that simple. Welcome back to school.

Lisa Dale Norton is an author and editor with a specialty in nonfiction and memoir. She works with writers to complete books for publication. Her literary memoir Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills, and her writing book, Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir are published by St. Martin’s Press. Lisa lives in Santa Fe.