Boyd Lemon is the author of the recently published memoir, Digging Deep. His memoir is unusual in many respects: the depth and candor of the material, his organizing structure and his decision to self-publish and promote it like crazy. In this post Boyd answers questions about his general writing process.
SL: Early in the book you mention that you’d been writing short fiction and decided to write about your marriages. What gave you that idea?
BL: My young writing mentor, whom I call Kate in the book, suggested it. I yearned to write a novel, after having written about 15 short stories, and when I mentioned it to her, she told me she thought I wasn’t ready yet to write a novel and suggested that I write a memoir about my three marriages. “There’s gold there,” she said. After thinking about it, I decided she was right.
SL: When did your idea of writing about your marriages evolve into a commitment to publish a memoir?
BL: After I finished the third draft, I thought about publishing it. I sent it to a beta reader who was a best-selling author. He read it and told me I should publish it. That encouraged me, and I hired a professional editor, who came up with the idea of putting the material about my writing the memoir in the present tense to make it less confusing. I did and thought that made a world of difference. At that point, I decided to publish it, although it went through several more drafts after that.
SL: Your editor was inspired. I especially admired the way you alternate present tense reflections and an ongoing account of your writing experience with memory flashbacks. Many readers may find inspiration in this structure. Did you give yourself a deadline for finishing the project?
BL: Not a time deadline, but I gave myself a limit on the number of drafts, because I am the type of person who could go on making revisions forever. My arbitrary limit was 10 drafts, which I never reached, surprisingly. I decided it was finished after seven drafts, except for correcting typographical and grammatical errors.
SL: You’ve mentioned that you are working on a second memoir. Will it be structured the same way as Digging Deep?
BL: I don’t think so, although I haven’t settled on a structure yet. So far I have just been writing whatever comes into my head, and I’m only about half way through the first draft as best I can tell, but don’t think the present tense looking back to the past will fit this one.
SL: What is your uber-agenda as you write your second book?
BL: It is about retirement, how I planned it, what issues I faced, what went right, what went wrong, what surprised me and how it changed me as a human being. I hope to finish the first draft by the end of October, complete the book by next summer and go on a cross country tour promoting both books next summer. However, if it doesn’t work out, I am not going to rush the second book. I’ll just go on tour with Digging Deep.
SL: What advice do you have for memoir writers?
BL: I think a lot of memoir writers have difficulty finishing their memoirs, probably because many memoirs are emotionally wrenching combined with fear of what others will think. However, I think that most of us who have finished a memoir have found them healing in the end. So I encourage memoir writers to keep at it and finish. Whether you publish it is another issue, but you don’t have to decide that before you finish it. The other advice I have is, above all, be honest. If you try to sugarcoat it, your readers will know.
Part Two of this interview is published on my sister blog, Writing for the Health of It. Click here to read Boyd’s answers to questions about the writing process as it relates to his ex-wives and children.