Memoir Writing: 11 Top Tips To Supercharge Your Memory
Memoir Writing Involves Collecting Memories
When writing a memoir for a client, I’m sometimes amazed at the clarity of their memories.
Last week, I interviewed an 85-year-old grandfather who recalled precise details of the furniture, colour scheme, sounds and smells of his childhood home in Broken Hill.
He even remembered the titles of the ‘78’ records his father played on the gramophone every Sunday morning in their lounge room after Sunday Mass.
But most of us struggle to remember with the same lucidness. I know I do.
We store all memories with a sensory component—sights, sounds, smells, taste and feel.
Evoking sensory memories leads to vivid details in your memoir unique to you. Memories are patterned by images, symbols and metaphors, and if you enter your story via sensory memory, you stimulate the creative right side of your brain.
In my memoir writing workshops, I share several tips to help you recall sensory details. Here are my top 11:
11 Memoir Writing Tips You Can Use For Greater Recall
In my experience of helping my clients to write their memoirs, I’ve picked up several tips you can use to supercharge your memory.
We all know how challenging it can be to reflect on things that happened a few weeks ago, let alone 20+ years ago.
But when you’re armed with the right tools, it suddenly doesn’t feel as tricky:
1. Immerse Yourself In Old Photo Albums
Looking at old picture albums is a fantastic way of jogging your memory and helping your memoir writing. It’s amazing how memories start to flood your brain when you’re shown a visual cue.
Looking at old pictures helps us recall what was happening at the time, what the weather was like, and so much more.
If you’re trying to remember the past, whip out some old pictures, close your eyes and remember.
2. Sit Back With Some Home Movies
There’s no better way of remembering events than reliving them. Home movies provide an excellent chance to discover what was happening in that period.
It opens you up to conversations that were happening, people’s mood, and so much more. All of these things are invaluable for recalling memories.
When you’re struggling to find inspiration for your memoir, try watching some old videos. You’ll be surprised how many extra details you can pick up.
3. Read Through Old Journals
Granted, the art of keeping a journal is slowly dying, but it’s something that many of us used to do on a regular base.
Reading your journals will help you remember how you were feeling in a certain moment.
Because you get a better understanding of how you were feeling at the time, it helps you to convey your emotions to your readers.
4. Collect ‘Memory Joggers’
Close your eyes and immerse yourself in memory joggers such as favourite objects, music from the time you’re writing about, foods you ate, perfumes you wore, memorabilia, clothes, jewellery, books, TV programs and films.
When you look at photos, notice the looks on peoples’ faces, where they stand in relation to each other, what they are wearing, and whether they wear hats, gloves or scarves. All these details help bring a person’s distinctive personality to life.
Even smells can whizz back memories of your childhood. Still today, I can’t smell freshly baked bread without remembering the time I first baked bread with my grandmother.
It’s incredible how using memory joggers can change the way you remember the past.
5. Draw Pictures Of Your Childhood Home
Drawing activates the brain and brings back memories, so draw a picture of your childhood home. When you draw the rooms, add furniture and the games you played in each room.
Who was with you when you played the games? What could you see and hear? What food did you eat in each room? What colour was the carpet? Did the room have curtains or blinds? Were the windows big or small?
Asking yourself all of these questions will help you identify more of the story.
6. Tap Into Your Sense Of Smell
Tapping into our sense of smell is a powerful way of accessing memories. Aromas take you right back into a scene, so writing the names of fragrances will bring back memories for you.
By remembering the pure smell of her baby’s skin, a mother can recall specific events when her baby was young.
When I try to recall my primary school days, I just have to imagine the smell of squashed banana or hot sardine sandwiches in my school bag after Friday’s lunchtime Mass to bring back vivid stories of Friday afternoons in the playground.
7. Recall Textures
The sense of touch is also a critical memory trigger. The soft skin of a baby evokes powerful memories for a mother, as does the way different people hug you.
Or maybe, feeling a specific texture will remind you of your grandma. Memories are connected with our senses. The more senses you use to your advantage, the easier remembering becomes.
8. Interview Others For Your Memoir
Before you write your memoir, interview your friends, family or colleagues to help you remember what happened at the time you are writing about.
Other people may have a different memory of an event, and their descriptions may help to jog your own memory.
9. Take Trips To Childhood Haunts
While writing your memoir, take a trip back to your childhood homes, your schools, the place you had your first date and your other favourite places.
Remember the sights, sounds and smells. I can still recall the smell of my primary school classrooms or the gym change room in vivid detail, and it is these sensory memories that bring back memories of my school days with great clarity.
10. Make A Memory Journal
Here’s the final tip I have for remembering parts of your life. A mind journal lets you put a timeline to your memories.
The best thing about this technique is, every time it helps you remember something, you can add it to your ever-growing timeline.
It’s surprising how remembering one thing from a specific time period can snowball into hundreds of memories.
11. Visit Your Local Library
The library is an excellent source of local information and historical details.
If anything at all, it will help you remember significant events that happened; this should feed more memories to appear.
Remembering what happened though your life is challenging; no-one can deny that. We’ve all lived through so much, and remembering all of it is unlikely.
But, when you use the right strategies, it can be truly amazing what you can remember. What are you waiting for?
Get in touch today
Memoir writing can be difficult and so can remembering. If you’re writing your memoir but struggling to remember precise details, please feel welcome to contact us, and we will help to jog your memory. Drop us a line at [email protected] or send us a message here. We would love to hear from you.
Memoir Writing FAQs
What Makes A Great Memoir?
The key to memoir writing and what differentiates an extraordinary memoir from an average one is the storyteller’s ability to reflect on events, as opposed to reporting them.
For a truly excellent memoir, the writer must be able to connect experiences with their future endeavours. But more importantly, they must reflect on their adventures to give the reader a more in-depth understanding.
How Many Pages Should A Memoir Be?
Memoir writing doesn’t come with strict rules and a memoir doesn’t have to be any particular length. That being said, the average memoir ranges from 250 to 400 pages.
But don’t feel too restrained by how much memoir writing you do and the book’s length. You’ll find that once your memoir writing starts, the words will flow.