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

{ 5 trackbacks }

Why Write? Journaling for Memoir — Writing Through Life
March 31, 2011 at
How Journaling Can Help You Write Memoir — Memoir Writing Blog
May 28, 2011 at
Journaling for Memoir: Uncovering the Heart of Your Story — Memoir Writing Blog
December 10, 2011 at
Journal Writing & Memoir: Using Your Journals For Research « Kat Collins
August 29, 2012 at
» Journal Writing & Memoir: Using Your Journals For Research Writes & Bites
November 16, 2012 at

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon Lippincott February 20, 2011 at

I usually ease into deeper topics with a few preliminary notes about general events, maybe the weather, things like that, but I don’t think I ever mention news. Except when the Steelers make it to the Super Bowl (very strange from someone who doesn’t know a quarterback from a running forward or whatever). At least once a week I’m going to schedule news update days when I make extra time for including material such as you mention.

I do document the soap opera lives of a couple of close friends, and other close-range news, so I’m probably in the mid-range of context capturing.

Janet Riehl February 21, 2011 at

When I first started a new journal, I numbered every right hand page. When the journal was full, each one was indexed. In the back of my journals–especially when I traveled–I included what I’d spent, books I’d read, movies I’d seen, friends I’d visited.

I did a month in review and a year in review parceled out in categories such as “social,”spiritual,” or “work.” That way I could see trends and progress.

Every entry needs to be dated, of course. You can also add a “dateline” as newspaper articles do. This might be a city and state or country. Or, it might be where you are writing the entry–in the library, the kitchen, in bed.

Janet Riehl

Amber Lea Starfire February 21, 2011 at

Sharon, thanks for your comment. I love the idea of documenting the “soap opera lives” of your friends. Had a good chuckle over that one :-)

Amber Lea Starfire February 21, 2011 at

Janet, what a wonderful idea! I have only recently begun the practice of compiling a list of significant events and life passages at the end of each year. But an index of books, news, movies, friends … very cool. Next on my to-do list.

Rachel | pen-to-paper journaling February 21, 2011 at

Coincidences! This is something that I am going to start to incorporate into my journaling. My mom has a coincidence journal. Every time she experiences a coincidence, big or small, she records it. She believes that coincidences are the creator’s way of letting her know he’s there. So she can re-read it and be reminded of how present the creator really is and that she is being taken care of.

Amber Lea Starfire February 21, 2011 at

Rachel, thank you for the suggestion. Coincidences … another wonderful addition. Years (months or weeks) later, we’ll be able to look back and see how one thing led to another.

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