MEMOIR and MEMORY

MEMOIR and MEMORY

Thanksgiving presents an excellent opportunity to reflect, which is a natural partner of memoir. Whether your memoir is about travel, coming of age, addiction, survival, accomplishment, or another theme, chances are a Thanksgiving may play a role. I hope many of you have been busy thinking about your theme and making notes. If not, it’s time to start.

A fear often asserted by aspiring memoir authors is memory failure. Over and over, I’ve heard, “I should write my story, but I’m afraid I can’t remember.” It’s a natural apprehension. Who could remember a lifetime off the top of their head? Rest assured, there is more memory in your head than you know. It only needs to be uncovered.

If you have settled on a theme, with that in mind, make a list of events, people, times, and places you expect to include, leaving enough space between to insert future notes. Don’t worry about knowing all the details to begin. Those will come later. However, include as many sensory reminders such as the emotion felt, visions, scents, and sounds associated with a scene as occur to you. Using those elements when drafting your manuscript will improve your memory. Two of the most powerful memory stimulants are music and aroma. While it may be difficult to recreate some scents, music is easy.

To find music associated with the time or event, use the computer. A Google search for music of a certain year will produce titles and artists. Through music services such as iTunes, most titles can be located, sampled, and purchased for a nominal amount. You Tube is also an excellent source of music.

For visual stimulation, your photo albums, souvenirs, and scrapbooks will ignite memories. If you do not have a great deal of memorabilia stored in your attic, strolling through an antique mall or surfing the Internet should produce a treasure trove of inspiration. On the web, check for images of related locations, fashions, films, books, magazines, and TV shows. Take screen shots, copy images, or download them. Use these reminders to create a notebook for quick reference to times and places in your story. When you are writing a scene, referring to your collected imagery can enhance your memory and provide rich detail to your descriptions.

Chatting, even interviewing, family members and longtime friends is a source of discovering forgotten events and details.

Last month, I mentioned items to use for stimulating your memory. In addition to those suggestions, the following table is a list of suggested memory triggers. Supplement with your own.

CHILDHOODTEEN YEARSADULT
Your family members – parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins
Places you lived – house, apartment   Your city, state

Your room or lack thereof   Special toys and games   Your friends   Your schools   Teachers you liked/disliked   Subjects you hated/loved
Pets
Injuries and illnesses
Things you wanted and never got
Events you attended (sporting, artistic)

Extra-curricular activities

Religious affiliation   Career aspirations  
Your physical appearance

Your schools

First celebrity crush

First girlfriend/boyfriend
First kiss
Favorite song/movie/book/TV program
Worst thing you did
Best thing you did
How you learned to drive
Skills you lacked
Most difficult accomplishment
Awards or prizes you won
Career aspirations
Turning points
Talents
Regrets
Your physical appearance

Your schools
Your first crush
Your first girlfriend/boyfriend
Your first kiss
Favorite song/movie/book/TV program
The worst thing you did
The best thing you did
How you learned to drive
Skills you lacked (swim, drive, etc.)
Most difficult accomplishment
Awards or prizes you won
Career aspirations
Turning points
Ideas
Talents
Regrets

When retracing times past, the Images of America book series published by Arcadia Publishing provides a look at many cities, counties, and states, as well as books on a variety of subjects. They can be found at arcadiapublishing.com; amazon.com; new and used book sites; and in public libraries.

Newspaper archives provide helpful information. Libraries offer many such collections. If you subscribe to The New York Times, access to their archives online is free. But it is also possible for non-subscribers to pay per article. See nytimes.com.

The genealogy site, ancestry.com, is also a source of extensive newspaper archives.

As you plan your memoir and collect your information, a good form of organization is a timeline. I like to use a word processing table to create mine, but you can handwrite on loose-leaf paper. Best to keep it modular for ability to add.

If creating a table in a program such as MSWord, use the “Insert” option, followed by “Table” and design a two-cell table for each decade something like the following:

DECADE – 1970-1979

YEAREVENT
1970Moved to Florida  
1971Bought a house  
1972Son born  

If you have never worked with a MSWord table, note that you can add as much text to a cell as you like, and when you reach the last cell on the bottom row, tabbing will generate another line. If working with a handwritten timeline, leave enough space on each line to add information. For your memoir, you will concentrate on the relevant time period, but having before and after information handy never hurts. Take the notes you’ve made and begin plugging in a summary notation on the relevant year.

While you may not write your memoir in a linear format, having your information organized will keep you on track and help avoid inconsistences in time. Once you’ve created a table of events, you have chronologically organized your material and can begin to determine what you want to include.

With material gathered, begin to write your first draft. Memoir is usually written in first person. By the nature of the genre, it is the personal story of the author. The style is usually the same as fiction, which I will explore next month. For some, making an outline is important. For some, it’s not. Follow your instincts as to which way you are comfortable writing. At this point, do not spend time perfecting your work. If you dwell too much on editing, it will interrupt the flow of your creativity. Overwrite or underwrite. Polishing comes later. All first drafts are flawed if not worse. Don’t expect perfection at this point.

Have a great Thanksgiving and take a little personal time to work on your memoir. The way to your goal starts with the just one step.   

© Judith Erwin

About Marianne Bailey

The owner of OnlineTechLessons and Publisher and Editor of The Hip Senior. Native Ohioan and world traveler.

Comments 0

Leave a Reply