We all fantasise about sitting down to write the perfect memoir – typing out gorgeous and eloquent sentences as if channeled from the literary gods! But those who actually manage to complete manuscripts know the truth: flawless opening chapters, in fact any good chapters at all, require the foundations of MANY imperfect first drafts.

This week on Instagram, I saw a great quote from the American actor, comedian, writer and director Jordan Peele who says:

“When I’m writing the first draft, I’m constantly reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box, so that later I can build castles.”

Talk about hit the spot! Sand in a box! Castles! Yes!

Too often writers yearn to build, and build quickly, beautiful towering creations without doing the dirty work of hauling material. But dream castles require deep trenches filled, at first, with loads of shapeless grains.


Writing a rough messy early draft serves that necessary grunt work. You need to shovel mounds of raw memories and messy unstructured words onto the pages without self-judgement. Allow waffle, inconsistencies, fear, nonsense, disbelief and clichés for now. A misshapen mess gets molded later.

Wanting it all to be perfect is paralysing. You need to get lost in forward momentum before perfectionism stalls your efforts!

Once your foundation exists, towers rise as you rewrite, edit, rewrite and edit. And you’ll gain in confidence about your writing, what it is you’re trying to say, your story and your ability to tell it.

The craft is a graft and persisting, despite these necessary shaky beginnings, will make you as a memoirist stronger and will cement your voice – the most important element of memoir.

Every great memoir manuscript crawls before walking.

Cling to encouragement from the greats. Jordon Peele knows what he’s saying – he won an Oscar for best original screenplay for the film Get Out. He built a castle.

But he shoveled sand into the box first.

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Dear Marnie