Write it–Tips on Jogging the Memory

DSCN2065My plan was to get started on my fifth novel last autumn, then life events sent me heading in the direction of a memoir. Now, I harbored misconceptions about writing memoirs which caused me to avoid them.  First, I thought I had to conjure bad memories and write them down in a narrative fashion.  And I thought that if I wanted to please readers that required a deeply disturbing confession of some kind…

Well, I since learned that writing memoirs does lead to gut-wrenching moments of rediscovery, but readers are more interested in a story they can relate to rather than a confessional.  Besides, I’ve never had a reason to hide in a closet and I’ve never worked in the sex industry nor am I the daughter of a controversial or famous person.  In fact, writing a memoir of any of my life stories seemed absurd to me, mainly because I find my life stories boring.  That was until last fall.

While it’s easy for me to remember events from the past months, I realize that digging back into the past requires jogging of memory.  Authors working on memoirs worry about accurate dialogue (isn’t going to happen unless you recorded your conversations) and portraying past events accurately, that is if they can even draw enough on memory to write a 200 to 300 page book. So I’m including some memory-triggering tips below.

  • Bring out the old photographs and photo albums from the time period of your memoir
  • Interview friends, family member, co-workers and colleagues involved in your story
  • Reread journal or diary entries from that period
  • Look up historic or media events from that period
  • Listen to music (extremely important for jogging memory) from the time of the events or situations featured in the memoir
  • Have a conversation with parents or close relatives about how they remember the event (this could prove healing too)
  • If the memoir involves illness or an accident, look up medical record notes
  • If the event was featured in the media, look up newspaper clippings or news audio clips
  • Look up current events from that time period
  • Visit a qualified hypnotherapist to trigger memories

Don’t worry if you’re story isn’t completely factual or accurate. The purpose of a memoir is to write from the author’s memory and perception of events.  It’s not the same as writing a autobiography or an article. Authors who feel that they roam too far away from the actual events (poetic license) add a disclaimer at the beginning of the book explaining this.

I read two books recently on writing memoirs which include: Paula Balzer’s Writing and Selling Your Memoir and Bill Roorbach’s Writing Life Stories which I recommend.  Paula’s book gives you the nuts and bolts while Bill’s book provides exercises (which I found cumbersome since I don’t like to stop the flow of a narrative to do an exercise). Writing memoir workshops are often offered at community colleges and writer conferences.

I’m an Intuitive Coach for artists and entrepreneurs.  Sign up for sessions at Metaphysics for Everyday Living.  I’m currently working on a memoir titled Woman Sleeping on the Couch (One Couch Away from a Real Home).



3 thoughts on “Write it–Tips on Jogging the Memory

  1. Thank you, Patricia, for another good post, and this one’s timely. I’ve also been considering the memoir as a form for the next book and thinking just these things. Not sure yet if it’s the format I’ll choose, but your post seems a good nudge on the shoulder. I did come across Michael Ondaatje’s memoir, Running in the Family, and in its description it’s called ‘fictionalized memoir’ … so perhaps there’s a hybrid genre! Appreciating your posts. Blessings, Jamie

    • I can’t recall if I responded to this message. I hope you do write a memoir even if you choose not to publish it. The process is rewarding. Yes, there are different types of memoir with shades of truth and fiction in them.

  2. Yes, there are sub genres for memoirs which I’m learning about. I think authors want to cover themselves after a few were caught writing fiction posing as memoirs.

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