Writing a Memoir—Your Journey Into Memory

Writing a memoir means exploring who we are and where we came from, entering the unknown on our journey and discovering ourselves. We strike out for the gold of truth and honesty, as we explore the spiritual journey that leads us away from known territory deeper into who we are. We use the tools of memory, creativity, and writing.

To find the road and have a focus I use the technique called “turning points.” These are the most important moments of your life, when nothing remained the same after the event. It might be meeting a new person, moving away from your home town, encountering danger, an accident, an illness, or receiving an award or a scholarship, losing a loved one to death, a natural disaster, a birth. Falling in love.

Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina, says to write “Where the fear is, where the heat is.” That invited us to delve into the heart of our stories, of the high and low points in our lives. Emotion and memory guide us into our journey toward truth and honesty. Judith Barrington says that the memoirist, “Whispers into the ear of the reader.” When we read a memoir, we feel that we are being invited into the secret heart of a person, a family, a time and a place.

When I was little, my great grandmother and my great aunts were busy. They’d wash and hanging clothes on the line to dry in the sun, or cooking—my great grandmother still used a wood cook stove—even in the summer! They’d can the bounty from the garden, or were busy with their needlework. They belonged to quilting bees, and would sit around the quilting frame, chattering and stitching by hand. They cut out designs and patterns using pieces of old clothes, creating ripples of colors as the separate patches came together in a design. As we gather our turning point stories from our memories, we write vignettes in any order. Later they will be quilted together into a work of art.

Another guide on the journey is creating a timeline. After you list your turning point stories, plot them on a timeline that you create out of an 18×24 inch piece of paper. Your memoir will be composed of a couple of major themes from your life but you will no doubt want to write more stories than will end up in your memoir. Look at how your turning points cluster on the timeline –you might find new insights into your life as more memories surface. You can Xerox photos that go with the various turning points, and create a vision board, where you weave the colors and the images.

The more you write, the more you develop your turning points and the sensual details of your life, the more you will remember. And you will weave magic as you write your memoir.

The stuff of memories will be explored today on the Free National Association of Memoir Writers Free Roundtable with Sharon Lippincott, author and advisory board member. Sign up to get the audio!