How to write a memoir of mental illness

Cover1correctIf I remember correctly, my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, brought Sebastian and me together a year or so ago. He then began commenting on my blog, and I resonated with him because he is a young man struggling with his mental health demons. Unlike my son Paul, who succumbed to the pain he felt due to his bipolar disorder, Sebastian is a survivor.

Sebastian’s memoir Please Save Me From Myself was released at the end of July 2014. It is about his struggles with mental illness. In describing his book, he says,

“My upbringing was pretty good. There were a few fucked up moments and I didn’t learn any helpful coping skills that would suit me as an adult, but I wasn’t locked in a cage and fed baby birds to eat. The first part is about those few fucked up moments and my family dynamics taught me some messed up coping mechanisms such as lying about my emotions until they exploded in my face. I also talk briefly about how the genetics of my family attributed to my mental illness because mental illness is a combination of environment and genetics. I do talk briefly in this part about how I cross dressed in my sister’s clothes once in a while when I was a teenager. You should read it just for that tummy tickler.

“In Part 2 I move into my early college years where I struggled with psychotic thoughts, mild bulimia, unstable identity, had a suicide attempt, stayed in a mental hospital, had multiple therapists and more.

“Part 3 focuses on my time in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and trying to understand myself. This part includes the time when a therapist talked me out of suicide.

“Throughout the journey I am labeled with depression or possible borderline personality disorder or bipolar or emotional dysregulation disorder. Pick a therapist/psychiatrist from my past and each one will have a different diagnosis for you. All I know is that I was struggling to survive. It is quite dramatic parts, so maybe I’m histrionic. I once use to believe I was the reincarnation of Ted Bundy and I would kill a bunch of people so therefore I needed to kill myself before that happened. That’s the kind of “weird” things you can expect in this book.”

I asked Sebastian to write about his writing process. I’m so pleased he did. Please welcome Sebastian Aiden Daniels.

There are writers out there who love to write.

“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” –James Michener

Screw that. That isn’t me. I do not enjoy the process that much.  For the most part, I am not passionate about sitting down to write. The reason why I write can be summed up by Lord Byron.

“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” –Lord Byron

I have a ton of stories in my mind that I need to get out. That is one of the major reasons why I write. I need to get them out. I also need to get my thoughts and feelings out, which is why I wrote a memoir and why I journal. I found it very cathartic.

Another reason I write is because I am addicted to “have written.” I love the feeling that I have created something that can affect another person and that I have accomplished steps towards a goal. I will force myself to write or edit for two hours in order to feel great for at least the next 24 hours.

Madeline wanted me to write about my writing process. Here are the things that I have learned about writing.  Feel free to disagree. As with everything in life, take it with a grain of salt.

Read a lot.

Don’t just read books, read about what other writers say about writing too.

Soak up everything you can about the craft. You will find that there are so many different opinions on how to approach writing. The beautiful thing about learning all of it is that you can eventually form your own style based on a combination of other writers’ style.

Write fast and get out a garbage draft. 

Do not get stuck rewriting the first chapter of a book for months. Even if the plot doesn’t make sense, don’t worry about it. Get it all out. Then once you get a full draft, you can go back and edit the hell out of it. The important thing is to finish it.

Try to write every day if you are aiming to write a book.

Aim for at least 250 to 500 words a day. I write 1000 to 2000 words in about two hours when I write every day on a book. Get in the habit of writing when you aren’t inspired because you won’t be often, unless you are coked out or something. You will not be a prolific writer if you expect to only write when the muse comes. You probably won’t edit well either if you wait to be inspired.

It should be noted that editing sucks. At least I believe so, but it has to be done and it has to be done well. It is where the real work gets done.

Get a professional editor, especially if you are self-publishing.

I know the urge that once you finish a book you want to get it out there.

Don’t.

99% of the time it isn’t ready. Don’t put poor quality material out into the world. I edited my book 5 times before I dropped money on a professional editor. It was the best thing I ever did for my writing. My editor’s feedback greatly improved my book, but it also improved my writing in general. I learned more from my editor than I ever learned in a writing class.

Edit Ruthlessly

After I got feedback from my editor I edited ruthlessly. I cut 15000 words from my final draft.

Be Concise

This is the most important thing I learned from my editor. Don’t put useless information in your book. Put just the right amount. Make every word count.

We all have a finite amount of time and don’t want to read a book that is boring at times. You want to hook your reader and make them want to continue reading. The way to do this is to make everything count. In fiction, everything you do needs to push forward the action or the relationship in some way. In a memoir, you have more leeway and can make insightful comments on a past event or make a joke.

In short the advice I suggest to any writer about the writing process is,

Make your writing concise, impactful, and emotional.

Hope this helps.

Thank you so much, Sebastian. You’re words are so helpful and important for writers at any level and writing in any genre.

About Sebastian Aiden Daniels

With James Dean

With James Dean

Besides having just released his memoir, Please Save Me from Myself, Sebastian recently started a website called Personal Growth 4 Life, after undergoing over a year of intensive therapy. He says he’s spent a lot lot lot of time in therapy and learned that personal growth is something that is a lifelong journey – something you have to work on continuously. He warns that it is very easy to step back into old habits.

The goal of Personal Growth 4 Life is to help others in their journey and to meet other like-minded people. It is a website that focuses on self-improvement and relationship topics. It also reviews books that are related to the self-improvement industry.

Where To Find Sebastian and his memoir:

Personal Growth 4 Life website
Amazon
Smashwords
Barnes and Noble Nook
ibooks – type in Sebastian Aiden Daniels on Itunes.
Twitter
Facebook

Everyone, please do yourself a favor and read Sebastian’s letter to Robin Williams at Personal Growth 4 Life.

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Comments

  1. I totally agree with the editing experience. That time w my editor was like a personalized writing class / tutor. My book got edited, and I got the learning time. Win-win!
    P.

    • Madeline Sharples says:

      I agree too. I think Sebastian’s writing process is spot on. Thanks for coming by, Paige.

    • Editors definitely make a huge difference Paige. You can learn so much while improving your writing to the next level.
      I’m probably going to be applying to MFA programs in the fall, so it will be more chances to work on my writing. Only MFA programs though that pay for the tuition hehe and you just have to be a TA.

      Thanks for allowing me the chance to guest post Madeline : D.

  2. Excellent tips, Sebastian. I agree,professional editors are essential. You’ve written a brave and important story and I have no doubt you will touch many and give them hope. Best wishes on getting your story out there.Thanks for introducing us to Sebastian and his memoir, Madeline.

  3. Sebastian, excellent tips on the writing process, and I don’t disagree with even one of them. And as for editing, yes, it sucks big time! I’m not sure I’ve ever met a writer who enjoyed editing.

    Thank you, Sebastian, for guest posting on Madeline’s blog. I haven’t read your book yet but will, but I want to express how much courage I know it took to put your story out there. However, with your underlying desire to help others, it must be gratifying to now have your book published and hopefully making a difference.

    Madeline, thanks for bringing Sebastian and his memoir to our attention.

  4. I have to contact Seb for a pro ed’s contact. His tips are great and so is his book which l must review on my blog before I know some peace. I just got back to Brussels from burying my brother and I feel like I couldn’t even help my own brother with all what I was learning and my own experiences etc. Thanks once more dear M and S.

    • Madeline Sharples says:

      Dear Marie, I am so sorry for your loss, but please don’t blame yourself for not being enough for your brother. I’m sure you did what you could. Now is the time to take good care of yourself. xoM

Trackbacks

  1. […] can also read what Seb had to share on writing his memoir right here: We met on that blog when I was hosted by the very kind Madeleine (I am yet to do a review of her […]

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