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Five Mistakes I Made While Drafting My Memoir: Mistake #1

Memoir Incubator writer Elisheva Trenk details the mistakes she made while drafting her memoir. Check out Mistake #1.

By Elisheva Trenk

October 03, 2022

After four years of working on my memoir, I (with the help of the Memoir Incubator!) finally finished my first draft. Truth be told, I spent more time freaking out about writing my book than actually writing it. In that time, I learned what strategies make writing a memoir easier and what can make the process a lot harder. Like, unnecessarily harder.

In the hopes of helping out my fellow writers, I’m sharing the top five mistakes I made that slowed down the process of writing my memoir and made me feel pretty cruddy while doing it.

Mistake #1: Comparing Myself to Other Writers

Instead of using mentor texts as inspiration for my book, I found myself using others’ successes as reasons to doubt myself. When I read mentor texts, it was almost too easy to find reasons why my memoir could never stack up to theirs. There was always something they had that I didn’t. For example:

  • Her resolute fearlessness: How can I ever compete with Cheryl Strayed’s adventurous spirit in Wild?
  • His hard-knock childhood: Compared with Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, won’t my own childhood make me seem as privileged as a Kardashian?
  • Her well-deserved renown: Without a lifetime of star-quality journalism to back me up, à la Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, why would anyone even pick up my memoir?

What You Can Learn From My Mistake

What if instead of comparing yourself with your favorite authors, you analyze their writing and glean what you can from it to make your book even better? For example, when reading Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, instead of feeling intimidated by her encyclopedic knowledge of goshawk training, I took inspiration from her passion—and reminded myself that I, too, have my own unique pockets of knowledge I can share with my readers.

For my next drafting no-no, stay tuned next week for Mistake #2: Getting Lost in a Rabbit Hole of Memories.

Elisheva Trenk has been published in The Jewish Press and NY Jewish Week. She is currently working on a memoir about her strong and sparkling (and very well-dressed) mother.