Am I too young to write a memoir?
It's a second book deal! 🎉
In this Unearth Women newsletter: it’s a second book deal! With your paid subscriptions we support non-profits, including the Lilith Fund, World Central Kitchen, Refugio Animal Holbox, Womankind, Girls Write Now, Women for Women, Heart of Dinner, and Black Mamas Matter. If you’ve found your way here but are not yet subscribed, let me help you with that:
I am right now in the throes of writing my second book, this time for the Hanover Square Press imprint of Harper Collins. Unlike my first book, Wanderess — an exhaustive and collaborative women’s travel guide published through the Clarkson Potter imprint at Penguin Random House — this book is a touch more personal. Yes, dear readers, I am writing a memoir…specifically, a travel memoir meant to detail the transformative and tumultuous years of my twenties, set against the backdrop of globetrotting.
While Wanderess literally fell into my lap — thanks entirely to my brilliant editor, Gabbie, who believed Unearth Women could inspire a book — landing this book deal was a different experience entirely. After handing in the Wanderess manuscript, I began to turn my attention to the next book idea (because truly, I don’t know how to take a break). I had always hoped to pen a novel that would pay homage to the women-driven travel memoirs I had spent the better half of my twenties reading. I’m talking about Eat Pray Love, Wild, The Lost Girls, and What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding — books I’d hold against my chest while I slept, like a salve to the heart.
The hallmarks of each of these memoirs were more or less the same: a young woman unmoored in the choppy waters of young adult life, exhausted from paddling in the direction of societal expectations, would eventually jump ship and shirk responsibilities to find herself. What I love about these memoirs is how they transport a reader abroad and celebrate real women navigating the messiness of real life.
When I connected with my now literary agent, she saw merit in my book, which — it must be said — was about as fully formed as a bowl of warm jello. To say I approached my agent with “I want to write a travel book about myself. What do you think?” is not an overstatement. To her credit, rather than shrug me off as another aspiring author destined for the sludge pile (where cold-submitted manuscripts go to die), she encouraged me to develop the idea a bit more.
It took months of working on my book proposal, which challenged me to think about my memoir chapter-by-chapter. I will always tout the necessity of the book proposal phase because — beyond being needed for getting a book sold — it remains a life raft I cling to while writing the damn thing. After months of sitting squarely in the book proposal phase, my memoir was sold at auction to the Hanover Square Press imprint at Harper Collins earlier this year.
Now, if you’re anything like my parents, you may cock an eyebrow and beg the question: “aren’t you too young to be writing a memoir?” To which I will first say, “thank you” for calling me young because 34 going on 35 can sometimes feel anything but (especially in the presence of my very young and very hip 20-something sister). But as far as whether I’m too young to be writing a memoir, all I know is enough time has passed between my crazy/scattered/messy twenties and my now hyper-organized/Netflix/white wine/in pajamas by 10 pm 30s.
It’s cathartic to go back in time and see how much I’ve grown and how absolutely idiotic I once was. Re-reading love letters to men I had met in hostels and SWORE I’d never ever stop loving (lol) is as entertaining as it is severely cringe-worthy. Pouring through journals in which I seem to make the same whiskey-fueled mistakes 50x in a rotating list of countries, makes me grateful for the calm and clarity of my thirties.
I am learning a thing or two about the process of creating a memoir and, let me tell you, it’s a vulnerable experience. I often compare my story to other memoirs (Crying in H-Mart was so good, it stunted my writing for a month) and constantly question how much I want to reveal and how much is actually pertinent to the story. In the end, I’ve come to hold tight to this mantra: everybody has a story to tell and, moreover, a right to tell that story. This one just happens to be mine.
Speaking of memoirs, read This Might Be Too Personal, which is a collection of essays by New York Magazine sex writer, Alyssa Shelasky. Shelasky’s candor is so brutally honest that it’s making me rethink the first seven chapters of my book. If you’re a true crime fanatic, watch the new Netflix docuseries, Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey, which looks at fundamentalist Mormons and the disturbing abuse that happened under their so-called prophet. Finally, read this interview that Fodor’s recently had with the one and only Stanley Tucci!