Author Archives: Madeline Sharples

Photos and Poems and Quotes, Oh My!: How Other Creative Works Can Add to Your Writing

One of the first reviewers of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, said, “….The poetry and photographs add an extra dimension that is missing from most memoirs like this since as a reader you get much closer to the reality of what is being described on the page….” (Mark Shelmerdine, CEO, Jeffers Press). Another reviewer said my book is “poetically visceral.” Those statements helped validate any misgivings I had in adding other creative works into my manuscript.

I really hadn’t thought of putting photos in my book until my publisher suggested it. And of course I was delighted. At first she suggested photos interspersed within the chapters, but my book didn’t lend itself to that. So I picked out photos in groups: of my son Paul – the main subject of the book, of him and his brother, family photos, views of my office, garden, and one of the memorials to Paul – a bench dedicated to him on the greenbelt outside our home. At the time I had no idea what an impact these photos would have on the message of the book. However, I am currently reading Keith Richard’s memoir, Life. It has two photo sections. And I keep going back to these photos as I get to know more about the characters in his book.

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Inserting my poems was another story. I never even considered leaving them out. They were instrumental in my book’s organization. I had journal entries and other writings to draw from and a poetry manuscript, and I arranged my book’s chapters according the order of the poems in my poetry manuscript. However, I still worried about what others would think. So many agents state that they don’t look at poetry. A memoir workshop instructor wasn’t keen on the idea. However, one of the people who had read my poems several years ago now says he can relate to them better because of their context in the story. The bottom line is: I was fortunate to find a publisher who not only liked the poems I initially had in the book, but asked for more.

Because I collect quotes – I usually note them down when I read, and I continually post them on my Facebook author page – I decided to insert three quotes in my book– two from books and one from a song. And that turned out to be the biggest problem in finally getting my book to print. Since I felt they were integral to my story I was adamant, but it took months to get the necessary permissions. The main lesson is: if you want to include other authors’ words in your book, start getting permission early.

All in all I felt it was well worth the extra time it took to include other works in my memoir. My writing is very personal and I feel the photos, poems, and quotes helped deepen the personal message of my words.


For more from Madeline Sharples, visit her blog.

And You Thought You Were Finished: The Revision Process

My publisher advised me to revise the second half of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, almost entirely when she decided to publish my book. To that end I used many of the steps I learned while working as a writer-editor-manager of proposals to the U.S. Government to revise my book. Here is my revision process.

1. Plan before doing. I created a revision plan based on notes from my publisher and advice from my first reader. Then I got my publisher’s buy-in.

2. Read before revising. Since I hadn’t looked at my draft for almost two years, I read it front to back with my revision plan in hand. I marked up a hard copy with a red pen and made no electronic changes until I was through. Wow! did I find lots of things to edit, including typos, awkward sentences, repetition, and inconsistencies. I also noted where I needed to insert new material, move things around, and update.

3. Use storyboards. I set up foam storyboards along the hallway next to my office and pinned up a printed copy of each chapter as I electronically finished incorporating my first round of edits. Storyboarding allowed me see the book all at once and better spot redundancies, inconsistencies, places that needed cutting, moving, and expanding, and where each chapter best belonged. I highlighted problem areas in yellow so I could see text I needed to revisit again.

4. Get others to review. After I completed these edits and reworked the yellow-highlighted portions, I gave three willing writer friends an electronic copy. One person did a line-by-line edit. He also found punctuation and sentence structure problems. Another friend looked at the content for repetition, inconsistencies, and writing accuracy. And the person who originally helped me create my revision plan read it again for organization problems. She made suggestions about where to move, eliminate, or combine material.

5. Stay in control. However, I made the final decisions about whether to take my editor’s notes or not. Even my publisher, said,”… Others can only offer advice. Only you can write this book.” So I reviewed each comment and only fixed what I thought relevant.

6. Stay on schedule. Because I was reliant on other people’s inputs, I created a tight schedule. I allocated five months to complete everything, including incorporating my revisions and reviewer’s comments, merging the finished chapters into one document, gathering photos for the cover and body of the book, getting permissions to use quotes from other authors, and writing dust jacket copy.

7. Know when you’re finished. After incorporating review comments, I still felt the needed to make a few changes, add a few words, and edit a little more. Finally when I didn’t have any more changes or adds or deletes or reorganization ideas left in me, when my mind stopped living and breathing the book every waking moment of every day, and when I felt comfortable letting it go, I knew I was really finished.


For more from Madeline Sharples, visit her blog.