Memoirs are woven from memories, but many memoirists I talk to wonder if they have enough memories, or if their memories are “correct.” The important thing is to understand that memories can’t be measured or proven correct. What you remember is your raw material for creating your memoir–and there are a lot of ways to enhance your memories.
It can be helpful to do “research”– to gather with others and share memories around the table, to pore over family photo albums, reminiscing and remembering. Some people feel they don’t have enough memories to write a memoir while others are overwhelmed by them. Most people need to evoke their memories to glean details and specifics that bring the scenes in their memoir alive.
There are many ways to capture your memories. Memories exist as wisps of perfume, snippets of images, stories that haunt our dreams, fragments of our lives waiting for us to breathe full life into them so they unfold on the screen of story.
Streams of memory arise when we hear a song or when smells and sounds remind us of certain moments. Do you start to remember more when you visit your home town? To help me remember more details, I would visit the town where I grew up, flooded by a river of memory as I made my way down familiar roads and looked at the high school, grade school, and where I was first kissed. In my journal, I captured the rush of images and memories that seemed to arise from the cells of my body.
One way to encourage your memories: simply place your fingers over the keyboard and begin writing. Start with a piece of story, an image, or a sensual experience and listen to your body/mind as it spins out words. Allow it to flow through you, to take its own form. Some of you prefer a pen and paper. Just allow the words and image to follow in a non-linear way. You can sort it out later. Begin with a scene—place yourself in a specific time and a place. Being in a specific setting helps you to ground you as a “character” who is experiencing the moment as you lived it. Your body remembers.
Dreams help to reveal our stories and memories. Write down your dreams, and then keep writing to muse about the meaning of your dream. Write it in detail in the present tense. Your subconscious mind wants to help you!
Dive into the tough memories, the stories that scare you, the stories you don’t want to write. It is here that you will find gold. These are moments in your life you need to understand better, the things you are embarrassed about, the decisions that you regret.
What life lessons haunt you, that come back to you on soft feet in the middle of the night? These contain important points of your life, the times that tug at your heart and soul. These stories can form the emotional core of your memoir.
Remember, writing a memoir invites us to explore the meaning of our lives, the stories of our true selves, not just superficial moments. Memoir writing is about capturing the essence of an experience. We need to push for the deepest truths. We are not writing to justify our lives, we’re writing to learn about who we are, to explore meaning and make discoveries that we will share with readers. The most interesting stories are when readers discover who they are along with you. That means you are writing into the unknown!
Tips for Capturing Memories
- Write down memories on envelopes at the market, in the car—parked of course, or taking a walk. If you don’t write it down, it disappears.
- Record your thoughts on your smartphone or a small recorder.
- Send yourself an email of the ideas that come up on your hike or as you drive—pull over first!
- Get out photo albums and select the images that have the most meaning to you. Use the photo as a trigger to write about what was important for you. Write what you were feeling. Write about what happened before and after the photo was taken.
- Describe the photo in detail. Muse about what is hidden that the viewer can’t see.
- Talk about your memories with friends, and write down what you remember together.
- Family events can be triggers for your memoir file. Write things down or record them.
- If you have a computer, surf the web for memoir writing sites, memory preservation sites, war stories. It’s all out there.
- Write for 5 minutes, a short vignette.
- Next time, write for 10 minutes.
- Basic rule: do not throw away your early efforts. Keep them. The inner critic can be far too critical. Make a file called “saved early drafts.”
- Allow dreams, favorite memories and unforgettable moments to be your writing material. Allow the writing to flow through you without stopping.
- Write short vignettes you can quilt together later.
- Remember, you have your own story. Don’t let the point of view of family members interfere with writing YOUR story.
- Childhood can be a treasure of all kind of memories, both good and bad. Allow yourself to be in the body and in the sensory experience of the child and take dictation. Notice the voice, details, and language.