Friday, July 10, 2015

How Far Back Does Your Memory Take You?

I read a most interesting article the other day about being able to remember events, places and people far back in your life--even to your toddler years. You can read it here. The article was posted where members of my online writers' group could read and discuss. I found it quite interesting that some could delve very far back with memories while others could not. There seemed to be two distinct groups.

When my first Chicken Soup of the Soul story was published, more than one person asked me how I could remember that far back. For me, it was easy. I was seven at the time the event took place and when I thought about it as an adult, I could see where it happened, see my dad working on my Valentine box, see the boxes lined up on a wide windowsill in my classroom. As time went on, I realized that I've been blessed with the ability to remember long-ago events quite clearly, even in my very early years. I often cannot remember what I came to the grocery store to buy but my memory of years back is quite fine.

Memoir and life stories are quite popular now. To write them, you do have to reach far into your memory bank to come up with the actual happenings. Not made-up or written the way you wish they'd occurred but the real thing.

One of the best ways to do that is to use memory triggers. I googled and found that there are many articles about using this technique to help you write memoir stories. Read a few of them for more detailed information.

I've often posted lists of memory triggers--questions about long ago-- when posting about writing your family stories. A discussion at the holiday family dinner table can bring back something that happened long ago. Looking through old photo albums or scrapbooks is another way to bring you back to times gone by. Reading a historical fiction novel can spark something that happened to you in your childhood. Or a movie might have one scene that brings you back to your own childhood.

When these memory triggers pop up, take advantage of them. Jot some notes, or if you have time, write a paragraph or two. Quite often, when we see a sliver of a memory, the door opens wider and we are treated to a whole host of memories. Maybe 'treated' is not always the case as some of our memories are sad or tragic ones but perhaps we do need to revisit those times, too, for a better understanding.

I urge you to read the article linked in the first paragraph. You will find it most interesting. The article itself might act as a memory trigger for you.

Even fiction writers occasionally use realtime events in their lives for the basis of their made-up  story.  So memory triggers are of use to more than just memoir writers.

One more point--you may not remember dialogue word for word, but you'll remember the gist of what was said. It's alright to then write the dialogue following the main idea of what had been spoken by each person.


  1. Good article, Nancy. I'm working on writing my memories for my children and grandchildren. As a child, I moved frequently, so it is sometimes a challenge, but well worth it. Thanks for the link too!

  2. Always pleases me to hear that others are writing memories for family.