How Memoir Pushed Me to Be a Better Writer

By Diane Anderson-Minshall

Queerly Beloved 300 DPI

As of this week I have five books to my name, and because four of those five were co-written by my husband (the transgender journalist who shares my last name) I always get asked about the process of writing and until now the answer had been fairly simple.


When I write alone, as I did for my solo book—the lesbian romantic thriller Punishment With Kisses—I lock myself in a hotel room for a weekend and do nothing but write, stopping only briefly to snack and sit in hot water (a bath, a Jacuzzi if there is one), which is where I get most of my inspiration.


When it came to our mystery novels—Blind Curves, Blind Leap, and Blind Faith—Jacob and I had a great process nailed down. Basically we work on the same manuscript, saving it in Google Docs, each of us taking turns so we replicate one of those 24-hour factories where the staff changes shifts but the work keeps rolling out. I’ll work on the manuscript in the morning before I go to work, then Jake will write on it during the day, then we each end up with another “shift” in the evening after dinner.


We wrote from beginning to end, rather than in sections, and whoever had the manuscript could take the story any direction they want. Sure, we’d update each other on what the characters did that day (“wait, she slept with who?” one of us would say in shock) and sometimes there was catch up to be had (case in point: a character I imagined was a swarthy Greek, he imagined as a blond surfer dude) but generally those surprises kept the story engaging for us throughout the writing.


And at the end, reading the story was a singular experience, each of us often assuming the best written chunks were written by the other but neither of us being able to tell really who wrote what.


Well it turns out this was a fine system to have when we were writing fiction, but when it came to writing our new memoir, Queerly Beloved,Queerly Beloved 300 DPI we needed to throw out all that experience and do something new, something that freed us up to say anything.


So with this book, we each spent what spent like eons but was really a couple of years writing our own story, getting down the bones of our relationship, focusing on our own feelings and thoughts and memories of what it was like to fall in love as a two little baby dykes and end up where we are 23 years later as husband and wife.


We don’t keep big secrets but with us we each had something that we knew the other didn’t know, that we had to struggle with whether to reveal. We both knew we would include these unshared feelings or experiences. I asked Jacob, do you want me to tell you  now or do you want to read it in the book? And he chose the latter. We both did.


So we wrote our story, assembled it into sections that matched general themes (the time we were homeless, when we started the magazine, etc.) and then we just read, each of us marveling at the lens that the other person viewed our shared experiences through.


Turns out there weren’t a lot of surprises, but there were  little conversations we needed to have, responses that were important to share, so we both took turns then almost “replying” to what we were reading. The whole process led to long conversations we’re still having today. In fact yesterday, a reporter interviewed us for a magazine, an hour long chat where we bandied back and forth about the ideas in the book. It went on long after the reporter had hung up, each of us discovering that ever since we turned the manuscript in six months ago, we’ve continued to evolve who we are  and what that means for us.


All I know is we remain in love. And flexible.

7 Responses to “How Memoir Pushed Me to Be a Better Writer”

  1. 1 Sharon Rawlette May 20, 2014 at 8:26 AM

    Wow! The process of co-writing sounds awesome! I know there are surely just as many bumps in the road as with solo writing, but I have to say, the way you describe it makes me want to find a co-author. Somebody with whom to share those glorious literary epiphanies!


  2. 2 Andrew J. Peters May 20, 2014 at 8:30 PM

    I have written some short memoir pieces, but I’m afraid this has confirmed for me that I’m not a long-form memoir author. That’s counter-intuitive I guess since we’re taught to write what we know, so it should be easier than fiction. But the process sounds brutal. I’m sure the end product you created was beautiful,

    On the other hand, co-authoring does sound like fun!


  3. 3 VK May 21, 2014 at 7:58 AM

    Co-authoring definitely works for you, but what struck me most while reading the book was your last statements in the blog: “All I know is we remain in love. And flexible.” That shines throughout your memoir. I applaud you both for having the courage to tell your story so honestly. It’s an informative and entertaining read.


  4. 4 S.A. May 21, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    Wonderful blog, thanks for sharing! I haven’t encountered many consistent author-pairs, and I find it fascinating that you write your fiction stories linearly in shifts. Sounds like a very organic process. Does either of you sometimes get upset when the other takes a character/plot line in an unexpected direction?

    Production of the memoir sounds like it was an insightful journey for each of you; I’m curious to read it and see what insights the journey can provide for the reader, as well.


  5. 5 Nora Olsen May 21, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    Very cool! What a harmonious system.


  6. 6 Devlyn May 21, 2014 at 9:25 PM

    Your ‘system’ of writing seems to work very well for you as your books are seemless. I am looking forward to reading Queerly Beloved as someone very dear to me struggles with their decision to transition or not.


  1. 1 The Haps! | Women and Words Trackback on May 25, 2014 at 9:02 AM

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