Journal Writing for Memoir: Things You’ll Want to Include

by Amber Lea Starfire on February 19, 2011

catnav-journaling-activePost #30 – Memoir Writing, Journaling – Amber Starfire

bridgeDo you want to use your journal writing — either past or present — as a resource for memoir writing? In this column, I’ve previously written about using your journal to practice the writing craft — storytelling through the use of scene, recreating real life characters, introducing conflict — as well as thinking about how you want to store your work.

All of these writing practices help make your journal entries more vivid and real to your future memoir-writing self. Still, your journals may not include all the information you’ll need when you’re researching a specific time in your life. For example, I’ve had periods in my life when I was journaling through something emotionally traumatic, like a divorce. Later, I wanted to write about that time and discovered that I’d written so much about my feelings and fears and dreams, I’d omitted the very context within which all that was happening. I didn’t have enough information for my memoir vignette, forcing me to spend time researching to fill the gaps. Time that could have been spent writing.

In addition to creating vivid journal entries, here’s what you’ll want to include on a regular basis. (You do not need to include all these things in every journal entry. That would be tedious!):

  • Daily Activities: Sometimes we forget to include our regular daily activities in our journals, such as walks, time at work and play and meditation, because they seem too mundane and unimportant to write about. Yet it’s these small things that make up the fabric of our lives.
  • Relationships and family events: Who’s in your life right now and who’s most influential or important? What kinds of dynamics are going on between you and others, and between others (family feuds for instance)? Include birthday parties, births, illnesses, deaths, and other landmarks of life. Include your observations and feelings about all of these things.
  • Cultural Context: What’s happening in local and world events? What most affects you, your neighbors and family? What movies are in the theaters? Who are the authors and artists in the news? All these things, whether they affect you directly or not, are the cultural context within which you live. Even if you don’t read the newspaper or watch TV, you are indirectly influenced and affected by social trends. Try to be aware of what’s going on around you and jot down these cultural markers.
  • Internal influences: What nonfiction and fiction books are you reading? How are they changing the way you think and/or behave? Do you have friends whose thoughts on politics, spirituality, and art affect your thinking? How? What else?

Exercise: With the above points in mind, pull out an old journal and begin reading. If you were to write about that period in your life, what do you wish you’d written down that would help you now? Make a list of what’s included and what’s missing.

Journals are only as wide and deep or narrow and shallow as we make them. Occasionally, as you write, take a moment to ask yourself how journaling today can help you recover memories in the future. Your journaling practice will be that much richer as a result.

I would love to hear from you. What kinds of things do you regularly make sure to include in your journals? What have I left off this list that you’ve found helpful?

_______________________________

reflective journaling

Image credit: Flutterby

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