Continuing our September series of writer interviews, today Karen Walker shares her experience writing a memoir. Her book, Following the Whispers, is about finding inner peace after a childhood of abuse.
Welcome, Karen! Why don’t you start off by telling us more about your book.
Following the Whispers began as a story about losing custody of my then four-year-old son. But as I moved through the process of writing and rewriting, I realized there was much more to it than that. It became apparent that many of the poor decisions I’d made came from not paying attention to internal wisdom. That became the “golden thread” of the memoir,
what ties it together.
The memoir takes a reader from the very beginning — a dysfunctional childhood and early childhood sexual abuse incident which caused me to shut down — through adolescence, young adulthood, marriages and divorces — each part showing the consequences of not listening to Spirit. It is also a story of healing — how I learned to overcome the effects of my childhood and live a happy, satisfying, fulfilling life.
What made you decide to write your story?
I’d begun keeping journals in 1978 when I lost custody of my son. The journals were a healing tool that I truly believed saved my sanity. For years after, I had it in the back of my mind that I would write the story someday, but lacked the self-confidence to even begin. As I learned how to write while working as a marketing/public relations professional, and as I worked on myself in therapy and other ways, I gained enough self-esteem to quit my job in 1999 and write full-time.
How long did it take you to write it? What was the process like?
It took me 2 1/2 years to go through hundreds of journals, deciding what should be included and what should be left out. I ended up with a 700-page manuscript, which I called a self-help tome. But when I hired an editor, I was told “you have a book in you, Karen, but it’s not on these pages. You just need to tell your story.” I didn’t know how to do that, so I went back to school to get a bachelor’s degree, taking every creative writing course the University of New Mexico had to offer. That took four years. Then it was another two years to write the memoir, from scratch.
What publishing route did you take? Are you satisfied with your choice?
Once the memoir was completed, I spent almost two years trying to get an agent, unsuccessfully. I’d spent almost 10 years on the project and wasn’t ready to let it languish in a drawer. My primary motivation was that I believed my story could serve as an inspiration to others dealing with similar issues. That led to self-publishing. It was not my preference, but faced with not publishing versus self-publishing, it was an easy decision. I’m very comfortable with the choice I made and the company I used.
What advice would you give to someone considering writing their own memoir?
First of all, be clear about your intention. What are you trying to say with the memoir and who are you trying to say it to? Then write and keep writing until you feel you have said everything you want to say. Get a first draft down on paper. After that, edit it yourself. Is it what you wanted to say? Does it say it as well as you possible can say it? At that point, you might give it to a few readers for feedback, or hire an editor if you can. There’s a lot more I can say here, but I’m trying to keep it short and sweet.
Above all, if you feel compelled to write a memoir, by all means do it. We all have stories to tell and even if others have written about similar issues, yours will be different because we all have our own unique voices.