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A Different Approach For Women's Nonfiction And Memoir

Written by: Alice Sullivan, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


In the world of story, the hero’s journey reigns supreme. Even if you’re not familiar with the name “hero’s journey,” you’d surely recognize the sequence of events that form the structure.

hero businessman standing and looking from alley to modern city

Take, for example, The Lord of the Rings. Frodo leaves the Shire, scales treacherous mountain passes, escapes orcs, makes friends, finds a mentor, and ultimately throws the ring into Mordor.

Most stories in today’s media follow a similar pattern. The hero leaves home, embraces the call to adventure, faces challenges, and comes home transformed.

However, while this story resonates with many of my male clients, it doesn't always capture the contours of women's life journeys.

In my 22 years as a ghostwriter of 60 books, I've found that the hero's journey is not a one-size-fits-all structure, especially regarding women. In the interview process, where I began to tease out the themes of their life stories, I realized the call-to-adventure transformation doesn't align with their lived experience.

It's not that these women's lives don't include adventure or trials. On the contrary, the women I've worked with have overcome huge obstacles. The books we've written together will have you biting your nails and flipping pages late into the night. They've faced hardships and become wiser and stronger on the other side. As a reader, you witness their transformation.

It’s just that their lives don’t always proceed in a linear fashion like in the movies or in our favorite books.

Instead, many women I work with have a more circular life story. Their progress is usually two steps forward and one step back. I call this alternative structure the heroine’s journey. They often repeat the same cycles—whether of bad relationships or people-pleasing or self-sabotage—multiple times before they have an “aha!” moment and break free.

In the Netflix series Maid, based on the book by Stephanie Land, the main character Alex, finds herself following such a pattern. The show opens with her sneaking out of her abusive boyfriend's house and escaping into the night with nothing but her toddler and her beat-up car. Alex claws her way to a better life, scrubbing toilets, sleeping in her car, and sometimes fainting from lack of food.

She's worked so hard to free herself of his toxicity that it's hard to believe she'd ever return. But one night, when Alex's mother disappears, Sean, her ex-boyfriend, helps Alex find her mom, and, in her vulnerable state, she has sex with him. The cycle begins again.

I recently worked with one client who I'll call Claire. Claire had a difficult childhood and, as a result, made poor choices in relationships. She consistently chose men who "love bombed" her initially and then abused and manipulated her soon after. When she left one such man, she soon became intertwined with another. It took years of this cycle before she learned to value herself. She stopped dating abusive men, committed herself to therapy to bolster her self-esteem, and soon found herself with a completely different type of man who is kind and supportive, not controlling and demeaning.

Another client I'll call Jasmine was forced into an arranged marriage, and even though the abuse started almost instantly, she stayed for years to appease her parents and the cultural norms of her upbringing that all too often include wives relegated to property and their children used as pawns for power. She endured nearly 20 years of abuse before she freed herself, speaking out against the generational patterns that greatly impacted her.

So, why don't women's stories often proceed linearly? It's a question I've pondered many times in this work. Women are socialized to be caretakers, timekeepers, and rule followers rather than conquerors. It's hard to set off on a quest, freeing yourself from a toxic situation when you must be home by your child's naptime or take your elderly mother to her eye appointment. We've also trained women over generations to see their value in terms of what they can provide for others rather than encouraging them to blaze their own trail. Thankfully, this trend is changing.

Just because women aren't slaying a series of dragons to reach their prize at the end of the path doesn't mean their experiences are less valuable than men's. I love ghostwriting women's memoirs! These books are rich with hard-won self-knowledge and wisdom. Women's journeys often involve more self-reflection and more healing. They build alliances and create communities.

I love walking alongside women as they discover their strengths, experience life-changing revelations, and embrace the unique currents of their stories. It's like we're strolling the beach together, searching for a path, and discovering sand dollars along the way, gathering little gifts of insight and wisdom.

This honest process of transformation is contagious and is part of the reason that people love to read a memoir. As much as we long for a good story, we also long for honesty and self-reflection.

Are you interested in diving into your own life's story to discover the jewels of wisdom? Reach out to me today.

Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Alice Sullivan, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Alice Sullivan is an award-winning ghostwriter, collaborator, and 11-time New York Times bestselling editor. A natural-born storyteller, she’s written 60 books and edited over 1,300 titles. She specializes in nonfiction—specifically memoir, self-help, and personal growth. She helps clients identify their goals and messages while creating engaging content to connect with their target markets. Her favorite projects are those that challenge her point of view and expand her knowledge.



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