A Writer’s Biography, Author’s Notes Part 1: Yeah, this is turning into a memoir

Since this is about my history, this was my childhood home in Muscatine, Iowa, where I grew up and spent 19 years of my life. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

I had sort of feared that during the course of a few years online, as I slowly began to be more of a blogger and getting into my personal writing life and my experiences, that some of those blogs, which I have been gathering here under the title of A Writer’s Biography could possibly become something bigger than I expected. Before I had realized what was going on, I had compiled more than twenty posts about my past life and its relation to writing1. I had thought that might be the case, but as often happens in these circumstances, I put off doing anything about it for a little bit2.

After a while, I returned to what I had written and started considering it again. Had I, almost by accident, at first, started writing an honest-to-goodness memoir? And if I was on my way to writing an actual memoir, didn’t I have the responsibility to see it through and see what it could become?

So, I had to consider the situation. I believe that writing is like the profession of teaching. There is more than a little art in both the act of writing and teaching. Artistic considerations have to be made in both cases so that what you produce is not lifeless and missing your personality.

However, data is also part of both writing and teaching, and you ignore it at your own peril. In teaching, assessment data, when those assessments are correctly given, can give you a look at what your students know as well as if they understand the concepts that you have been teaching them.

In writing, data might not seem to be as important at first glance, but it has its place. To give just one little example, late in my journalism career I had my editor point out that I had been consistently misspelling the names of people I had written about in my stories. Once I became aware of this trend, I was able to put measures into place to all but eliminate that problem for the rest of my time as a reporter3.

Later, as I was trying to restart my writing habit, data came to be useful when trying to set my daily goals. Because of my experience with National Novel Writing Month, I knew you could write the first draft of a modest-sized book in a month if you wrote at a brisk 1,667 words a day. With that in mind, I decided that a daily quota of 500 words a day was a nice, solid number that wouldn’t require me to write like a maniac unless I was really feeling the spirit. Likewise, after I noticed how much time typically it could take me to get to 500 words, it made sense for me to say that 30 minutes of revising old writing or planning new writing would be a good equivalent quota for that type of work. And also, me looking at my past years of writing productivity gave me the idea that a 200,000-word yearly goal, as well as a 70-percent daily quota success rate, would be challenging but quite reachable goals for 2022.

As a result, I decided to apply this data crunching to this idea of whether I had enough material to attempt a memoir. In case you were curious, 5,000 to 10,000 words is considered to be the range for a short story. Such a short story could be as low as maybe 1,000 words and avoid being classified as short short fiction. A novella is considered to be in between a short story and novella, so somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 words. From my research into memoirs and their lengths by other writers, a length of somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 words is considered optimal.

Once that was done, I decided to gather all of the entries from A Writer’s Biography into a single place. As of this moment, there are 24 “finished” entries to the series. For those who haven’t followed this or haven’t been noticing it, I’ve organized the entries into three different volumes. Volume I covers my writing and reading experiences from when I was a kid, from my first coherent memories of such things to about 18-20 years old. Volume II covers my writing experiences as a young man, from roughly the end of my college years to somewhere around 40 years old. Finally, Volume III covers my experiences since that time, as I have worked to expand my writing productivity, consistency, and quality. I gathered them into a single document, threw in a short forward section, and hit that word count button.

There was part of me that was expecting the count to be pretty low, maybe 10,000 words at most. What did I remember about my past? It certainly didn’t seem like enough to be within reaching distance of a full-blown memoir, especially since I was just screwing around online.

Then I checked the word count. I did it again. I clicked it for a third time just to make sure I was looking at it right.

It read 22,736 words.

That’s a big batch of words from just screwing around online.

And that’s not even close to the amount of possible words I could put into this project. I know for a fact that I have ideas for at least four more entries sitting in my drafts folder. I think there could be many more than that if I really thought hard about it.

As I did a quick read-through of the full rough draft, I also know that several of those existing sections could be easily expanded. If I expanded every existing entry by just 500 words on average, that would get me another 12,000 words without blinking.

Well, this is no longer a theoretical exercise. I’m now writing a memoir, just because I could. I’m going to get to that 60,000-word goal. And eventually, I’ll have to publish it. If you have any good wishes, send them my way as I continue to contemplate this craziness.

Footnotes:

  1. It’s grown since then, too, with more to come.
  2. A little bit, in this case, being more than a year (lol).
  3. My system was to ask anyone that I would interview to write down their names in my notebook. I would either do that or in the case of public officials or other people, I would copy and paste their names from their official sites. After triple-checking the first use of the word in the story, I would copy and paste it whenever it was used in the article. It was a relatively simple procedure.

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