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  • Miriam Diaz-Gilbert

My Journey From Textbook Author to Memoirist: Part I

Updated: Jan 27


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Update: This article was originally published in Medium in June 2019. In December 2022, I accepted an offer of publication for my memoir - Come What May; I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times - forthcoming 2023. Stay tuned for Part II of my memoir writing journey and what it took to get a book contract and to get my debut memoir published.


Inspiration

Writing my first book was a walk in the park. Everything fell into place. The inspiration for my book — English for Pharmacy Writing and Oral Communication — came from my university students in my ESL (English as a Second Language) writing class.

It all began at the start of class one day when I told them, all pharmacy majors, that they could not BS their way through the writing proficiency exam, a graduation requirement. They looked at me like deer caught in the headlights.

It occurred to me that they might not know the meaning of BS in the context I was using. So, as I wrote on the whiteboard — You cannot BS your way through the writing proficiency exam — I asked, "Who can tell me what BS means?"

One student raised his hand and confidently replied, “bachelor of science.” “Yes, that’s one meaning. But not in this context,” I said. I went on to explain that BS in the context I was using refers to ‘bullshit’. I explained the meaning of ‘bull’ and ‘shit’ and ‘bullshit.” We all laughed.

A spontaneous teaching moment unfolded. The 50-minute class was devoted to teaching, and to my eager and curious students learning language that they need to know as future pharmacists, and language that patients use.

I went on to explain feces, poop, crap, diarrhea, constipation, bowel movement, shit, pee, urine, and so much more. The white board was filled and alive with bodily functions idiomatic language.

Hanging on to my every word and on the edge of their seats, my students wrote copious notes of everything I wrote on the whiteboard in their notebooks. When class ended they swarmed around me like bees on honey. They wanted more.

One student wanted know which is best to use — shit or poop — when referring to the bodily function of a baby and a dog. I went on to explain further. She wrote my every word in her notebook while standing like a reporter at a press conference.

My students left happy with new knowledge. And they learned that they can’t BS their way through the writing proficiency exam by making things up.

I left the class energized and inspired. They had planted a seed in my head for a book idea. Not long after, two research grant opportunities presented themselves. I was nominated for both. I was awarded both, totaling $17,200, in the same month.

Book Proposal

With one grant I researched the health and pharmacy related vocabulary knowledge of pharmacy students whose first or best language is not English. With the other grant I researched the writing skills of sixth-year pharmacy students whose first or best language is not English.

Both research studies were published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. I presented my research at a conference. There was a need for my book.

With published evidence-based need for my book, I began researching how to write a book proposal. I studied book proposal samples on the internet. I studied the book proposal submission guidelines of a health, medical and pharmacy education publisher.

I addressed all that a good book proposal requires: the scope and intent of my proposed book, the need for my book, the relevancy and timeliness of my book, my audience, how my book is different from others, why I’m the best person to write it, my competition in the market, and a table of contents.

I began writing my book proposal. I wrote everywhere. I wrote in my office. I wrote at home. I wrote while my students wrote in-class essays. I wrote in my mini-van or on the sidelines during my children’s sport events.

Book Contract

I submitted my 18-page book proposal in November 2005 for a 13-chapter textbook to Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, an imprint of the publishing conglomerate Wolters Kluwer. In March 2006, I received a book contract.

I began submitting two draft chapters every two months beginning in September 2006. Then revisions every two months in 2007. I did this while raising a family, teaching full-time, directing a writing center, and working on my second graduate degree.

The book was published in July 2008 and continues to be used by students and pharmacists through out the world. It's now available as an e-book.

My first book experience, from idea to proposal to contract to draft chapters to revisions to publication, was a smooth ride. I had excellent support from the editor, managing editors, and all involved with the production of my 400-page book.


My Memoir — A Work in Progress

Eleven years later I’m working on my memoir. My hope is that by July 2020 I’ll have a book contract and a publisher. I began writing my memoir in 2011 after I ran my first 100 mile ultramarathon — the Philadelphia 100. The goal was to write my running memoir in 100 days. I was hallucinating. My endorphins were in overdrive.

But I kept writing chapters about the meaning and purpose of running in my life, and my experience at my marathon and ultramarathon events.

I wrote chapters about each 50-mile ultra I ran and a chapter on my Philadelphia 100 experience. Since then I have run two more 100 milers, three more 50 milers, and seven 24-hour hour ultra events.

My memoir was put on hold when life threw me a few curveballs: workplace bullying and intimidation; a surgical error that almost took my life; more harassment and intimidation when I returned from my medical leave; the loss of my university teaching and administrative position; and my husband’s stage 4 cancer diagnosis.

My original memoir idea morphed into a memoir with a different purpose. It’s a memoir about the health and other unexpected life changing challenges I have endured, how I coped, and how I overcame adversity during a seven year period.

My memoir is about three constants that helped me to remain resilient and joyful through out my ordeals — the grueling sport of ultrarunning, my faith, and writing.

Pitch at a Writer’s Conference

I continue to take steps to prepare myself to eventually find a publisher. While I have success writing query letters for popular and scholarly articles that get accepted for publication, I’m still working on writing a memoir pitch and query.

I have attended one writer’s conference where I paid to pitch my memoir to a junior literary agent. It was a long pitch. Not her cup of tea or a great pitch but she offered good advice — trim it.

If I had to pitch my memoir today, I’d say it is the story of one woman’s life of overwhelming challenges, how she overcame them, and remained positive and resilient. The story combines devastating loss and trauma with positivity-plus, endurance, perseverance, faith, and a joy-filled life as a disciplined ultraunner and a disciplined published author, blogger, and writer.

I joined a writer’s group and participate in monthly critique sessions. My chapters have received positive and constructive feedback.

Platform and Social Media

I wrote my first book proposal when the only social media that existed was Facebook. Podcasts didn’t exist. I became a HuffPost blogger/contributor in 2016 at Arianna Huffington’s invitation.

When I wrote my first piece for HuffPost, my son suggested I also create a website dedicated to my ultrarunning and writing life. He said, “You need to build a platform.”

Writing for HuffPost was a great experience. It enhanced my writing. I was writing for a new audience. I was ready to write content for my website. A year after 21 articles were published in HuffPost, I launched my website — ULTRAMIRIAM. When Arianna Huffington created Thrive Global, I became a Thrive Global contributor.

Establishing Credibility

My articles about my health and medical challenges —  how ultrarunning saved my life after a laparoscopic hysterectomy went haywire three days after placing third female in a 24-hour road ultramarathon, and how I got my running legs back after being diagnosed with myelopathy of the spinal cord due to severe B12 deficiency — were first published in HuffPost.

My Painful B12 Deficiency and How I Got My Running Legs Back is one of my most popular pieces. People from through out the world continue to reach out to me to tell me I give them hope.

Articles about how I continued to run ultras after surviving my medical nightmare, and the dangers of B12 deficiency for athletes are published in Women’s Running magazine.

My article about my husband’s stage IV cancer diagnosis and my role as a cancer caregiver is published on my website blog.

My story, Running in Sickness and in Health, is published in Chicken Soup for the Soul : Running for Good. The book contains 101 running stories by ordinary runners and New York Times best selling author Dean Karnazes, whom I interviewed.

To familiarize myself with running and endurance memoirs, I read and write reviews of memoirs written by ultrarunners and endurance athletes for my website blog. I also interview ordinary and elite ultrarunners.

Published and Discovered

Podcasters and publishers have discovered me on social media and have interviewed me about my ultrarunning and endurance life, and how my ultrarunning, faith, spirituality, and positivity have help me to overcome obstacles and adversity. I have been interviewed on several podcasts.

I am featured in the Ultrarunning Summit Series on YouTube.

Writing and Publishing a Memoir is A Lot Harder

The publishing world has changed. With the support of my research grants and my original research, I wrote a winning, evidence-based book proposal for my pharmacy English textbook. I landed a book contract. I wrote the book all by my lonesome but with tremendous support from the editors and publisher.

Writing and publishing a memoir is a lot harder. A memoir requires a platform, followers, and a social media presence to promote it.

I’m active on Instagram, Twitter, and my Facebook page. I have a YouTube channel. I have loyal followers. Sometimes it’s quality of followers and not quantity that counts. Followers tell me I am an inspiration.

I have been building credibility, a portfolio with published pieces related to themes and topics of my memoir, and a social media presence. Unlike publishing a textbook, publishing a memoir with a publishing house might require a literary agent. Self-publishing is another option.

But because I was spoiled and received tremendous support from my proposal reviewers, editors, and the publisher for my textbook, I want the same for my memoir.


Come What May; I Want to Run

My memoir, Come What May; I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Is provocative, positive, insightful, entertaining, and relatable. My story has universal themes and will show that out of challenges come good things. From adversity comes strength. Tough times don’t last; tough people do.

My memoir is a work-in-progress. I continue to write and draft chapters. Next week, I’ll pitch my story to a literary agent. And my journey, from a published textbook author inspired by my students to an aspiring memoirist inspired by the traumatic challenges I’ve endured, my resiliency, and my ultrarunning and writing life, continues.

My memoir writing journey is an ultramarathon of another kind.

© 2019

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