First of all–if you are writing a memoir, don’t be discouraged by my answer. I’m embarrassed to say it took 10 years. If you are disciplined and make a plan, if you devote yourself to your project regularly, it won’t take 10 years. And if you find that sometimes illusive through-line early in the process, the writing goes more quickly. That said, perhaps it is only through the writing that it comes to light.
In the beginning I didn’t do any of that. I was learning on the job, so to speak. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t really have a clear plan until I asked a writing coach for help. I gave her a completed manuscript that she returned with a five-page typed evaluation of strength and weakness of the work. Fortunately, she sprinkled her notes with enough positive comments that I didn’t get discouraged. I also attended several of her workshops on scene writing and character development. I’m adding her name here.