The art of remembering is the core of my approach to memoir coaching. The more alive and detailed your memories, the more compelling your writing.
We don’t generally think of remembering as an art. But in remembering— as in art—we draw on our creative skills and imaginations. As we hold images from the past in our minds, we creatively engage with them. We learn to appreciate memories for their emotional power and, sometimes, also their beauty.
When we’re writing a memoir, remembering is not a passive activity. We need to actively respond to the moods and textures of images from the past. If we allow memories to confront us and move us, they show us who we are, then and now. If we listen to them, they speak to us of what Mary Oliver famously called our ‘one wild and precious life’.
Even the slightest memory can become significant. It’s a matter of taking time to explore it and plumb its depths. A compelling story depends for its power on the quality of our remembering. When we intentionally go back into our past, we see, hear, taste, touch and smell again the details of scenes. We recollect their mood and temperature, and we feel again the emotions of that time.
Imagine you’re standing in front of the house or apartment building you lived in at the time your memoir is set. Walk up to the front door. Walk through the rooms. Go to the room where you were most yourself. Start writing. What is happening in that room at this moment? Who is there? What are they doing? What can you see? Hear? Smell? What are you feeling?
Let yourself write whatever comes to mind. This memory might take you to another memory. Let yourself follow it. Write for as long as you feel the momentum of the writing. This memory will connect you to the self of your story. You will see yourself as you were then, distinct in some ways from who you are now.
These reclaimed details are the stuff of your writing. They give it energy and colour. They turn the pages—for you and for your readers.
As I wrote my story, my memories revealed myself to me, and I was intrigued. I’m still amazed by the power of memories. When you turn remembering into an art, people from your past come to life. You appreciate who you are and what really matters to you. But most importantly for memoir writing, remembering is the source of your story.