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How do you recall details from your past when you write memoir?
Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2013 10:41 AM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 427

I have always been incredibly tempted by memoir and its confessional, lyrical shades. 


What has kept me from jumping into it with both feet is the fear of remembering: most of my memories are a jumbled mess. How do I rifle through them, make them alive with sensory detail and immediacy, and eventually turn the discrete memories into the meaningful cogs of a narrative arc?? I find it intimidating. 


Experienced memoirist Beth Kephart has an interesting approach to researching the past: she says we should search for memories in photographs, scrapbooks, and letters, but go beyond that: 


One small thing can take us back—the taste, for example, of root beer. And then, if we give ourselves the room, if we trust ourselves in the stillness of remembering, taste becomes smell becomes memory.

What are your techniques for recalling memories to use in your memoir? 

Looking forward to your ideas and advice!

BC Coordinator

--edited by Nevena Georgieva on 10/10/2013, 10:41 AM--

Mel RJ Smith
Posted: Thursday, October 30, 2014 4:14 AM
Joined: 10/28/2014
Posts: 6

hi there

i have written my memoirs, i started in 2012, i seemed to remember so much from my past and my words just seemed to flow, once i got into it , how i remembered so much remains a mystery. i guess its all been locked in that tiny vault of that brain of mine.

Posted: Sunday, November 2, 2014 11:25 AM
Joined: 9/17/2013
Posts: 104

I haven't written memoirs, though I'm thinking about an account of my childhood as a gift to our three children. My mother died before they were born, and my father died when the first two were very young. A memoir would be a tribute to the grandparents that these children never knew. 

I do remember a lot of stuff and I've used it in my short stories and creative non-fiction. I don't have any techniques or strategies for remembering. When I'm working on a piece, I'm reminded of things in the past that will bring some context and interest to what I'm writing, and I will use those things.

A high school classmate (from 40+ years ago) is the librarian in a neighboring town, and I've talked with her about my short story collections. She said that as someone who loves books and works with books, you'd think she'd have a story of her own, but, she said, that is not the case; she can't think of a single story to write down. When I ask her about her siblings and her family when we were growing up, she can recall all sorts of interesting details about them, and about our community and the people who lived there. Maybe we're all wired differently. I don't need any prompts to start remembering. My classmate needs a little guided appreciative inquiry to get her going. 

Posted: Monday, July 6, 2015 3:35 PM
Joined: 5/12/2015
Posts: 1

  I am a brand new writer, and am extremely interested in this type of writing. When it comes to mentioning people in those memories, (real) do you include them or use one you make up? My experience, being brand new is like you stated a "jumbled mess" do you find your perception distorted sometimes? Or accurate? Some of mine from my perception is accurate. Please let me know. I started mine, and deleted the material I wrote. That being stated, in an attempt to start over I would be grateful for your incite. thanks in advance. Kevin

Posted: Monday, February 8, 2016 8:41 AM
Joined: 10/31/2015
Posts: 13

In 2007 I had written An Eye In Shadows;  my five year memoir then revised it for aspects I didn't have originally when I wrote it in 2007.  The Pattern of Diagnosis is a short story which has this as I wouldn't start from childhood because I didn't want to bore people so writing this I had gave the frameworking for what became my namesake anthologies and this reflected the publication of the first namesake when I revised it then I gave hints about the second namesake being published.   I wanted to keep the book as I wrote it in 2007 though as I wrote the book arranged in school years.   The thing when I wrote this book is I got dark about my school years and wrote this with an eye I came in when I edited Tabloid Purposes IV -- my classmates didn't liked the fact I went very dark about it as one before he died pulled out drawings of me when I was 11 years old.  I yelled at him because I was trying to keep a mystique to me.
Posted: Monday, May 2, 2016 4:46 PM
Joined: 4/28/2016
Posts: 2

I find that when I can't remember the exact details of a moment, I say just that -- that I can't remember. Memoir is inextricably linked to memory, but our memories are fallible. Everyone knows this. Saying what I can't remember lends to the tone of my book (which, to be fair, is generally sad, so loss of memory lends to that tone), while also remaining honest. 


I have a difficult time when I'm reading a memoir and it feels a bit too precise, like the author had a transcriptionist in the room when the scene was taking place. Noting the content of the conversation, the way I remember it, the way it felt at the time, what I took away from it afterward -- all of these things feel more important to me than consistent exactitude.


As for other details, if you can remember some things incredibly well and other things with difficulty, think about why that might be. Why did this knick-knack stand out to you when your mother's words didn't? Write about that. And so on, until a book is made. 


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