11 Memoir Writing Prompts to Try in 2011

by Matilda Butler on January 4, 2011

Writing Prompt LogoPost #71 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Memoir Writing Prompts to Inspire You All Year Long

I recently took a train trip and realized that it was the perfect source of inspiration for this list for writers — a list of 11 memoir writing prompts to try in 2011. I hope you’ll read and try them this year. Let me know if they prompted you to think and write about your life in a little different way. At the end of the list, I’ve added a bonus prompt.

Memoir Train trip through your life

11 Train Stops Through Your Life, All Aboard

memoir writing, memoir writing prompts, lists for writers, memoirMEMOIR TRAIN STOP #1: Describe the station where you boarded. Write for ten minutes about the place where you began life — not the hospital or home where you were born but the city, state, and part of the country. What was the place like when you were born. Were you born into the hustle-bustle of a busy place, the silence and remoteness of a rural area, or something in between? Do you still live near that place, revisit it, or never intend to see it again/ Sometimes you can stay near a physical place but emotionally move away, distancing yourself from family members and old friends. Life’s experiences can change the way a place looks and feels to us now versus when we were tiny children.

Write, if you like, both about the physical place of your initial station using sensory details and your current feelings about that place reaching into your emotional state.

MEMOIR TRAIN STOP #2: As the life train moves out from the station, it slows and then stops near an open field, green from the recent rains. Looking out the window, you reflect on a time earlier in your life when you felt free, spacious, open. This could have been when you were young and you loved feeling the breeze on your face when you rode your bicycle through familiar neighborhoods — your entire future with unlimited possibilities — in front of you. Maybe your most expansive time was during college when you could make your own decisions rather than defer to your parents’ wishes. For some a work career represented not drudgery but creativity. And still others find that their sixties and seventies are the time when they can choose when and what they want to do, certainly one definition of freedom and openness.

Write for 10 minutes about the time or place in your life when you felt the most open to possibilities and the most freedom to pursue them.

MEMOIR TRAIN STOP #3: It is a long distance before the next stop. As you look out the wide windows, you reflect on the weather outside. Today it is raining, but it is gentle with a mild western wind causing the droplets to catch briefly and then slide down the glass. As someone who has just moved to Oregon, I’m aware of the weather in a way that a true Oregonian would not be. At least that is my assumption. In conversations, I find that most people have a favorite kind of weather.

Write for 10 minutes about your favorite weather and one time you remember the look, the smell, the feel of that weather — a storm, a day on the beach, walking in the rain as a child, playing in the snow.

memoir-writing, memoir writing prompts, memoir, autobiography, journalingMEMOIR TRAIN STOP #4: Soon your thoughts turn from external weather to internal weather. What is your mood right now? Are you happy? Sad? Angry? Joyful? Depressed? Excited?

Write for 5 minutes about your mood. Feel every aspect of the mood including the way it influences your thoughts about yourself and others, the way it makes your body feel, the way it restricts or expands your perspective on life. Write the way you would describe that mood to your best friend who knows you almost as well as you know yourself.

MEMOIR TRAIN STOP #5: Your train pulls into the next station a few hundred feet after you saw an automotive junk yard on the east. In one area you noticed more than 50 disembodied hoods stacked in an orderly fashion. There were wrecked big cars and small cars, accidents being no respecter of size. Rusted shells are nestled close together as if sharing stories of better times.

Write for 10 minutes, describing the car you remember most fondly. It might be the first one you bought for yourself. It might be the car you got to use in your teenage years. It might be your current car. Be detailed in your description — describe the car including color, model, make, year, how you got it, why you like it. What was a favorite place you went in the car?

MEMOIR TRAIN STOP #6: “All aboard,” and the train smoothly glides out of the station and you’re on your way again. On your right you pass by several agricultural fields. Strawberries grow in one, grapes in a second, and what looks like cabbage in a third. The notion of fresh fruits and vegetables makes your mouth water.

Write about your favorite fresh fruit or vegetable and a memory of where you got it, when you first tasted it, when you last had it, a favorite method of preparation, etc.

memoir-writing, memoir rice field, memoir writing promptMEMOIR TRAIN STOP #7: It’s true that rain has been falling regularly outside, but you’re still surprised to see agricultural fields under water. Then you notice the thin grasslike leaves planted close together and realize the field has been deliberately flooded because rice is growing. Some plants, such as rice, grow well in an environment that would kill other plants. The same is true of people. Some do well in a relaxed climate while others seem to thrive in a high stress environment.

Write about a time in your life when you survived, even did well, in what otherwise would have been an adverse situation.

MEMOIR TRAIN STOP #8: Right after the train leaves the station, you look out the window across the aisle and see a large orchard. Your seatmate tells you those are Filbert trees, sometimes called Hazelnuts.

Write about a time you behaved like a nut. Did it turn out okay? Do you wish you could go back and behave differently? It’s okay to not have handled every situation perfectly. Who has? But sometimes we can learn by looking back.

MEMOIR TRAIN STOP #9: By the time you finish writing about a nutty time in your life, you notice a field getting closer. It is laid out in long rows and … Oh wait. Those must be Christmas trees.

Write about a wonderful Christmas holiday. Who was there? What did you do? Were there any family traditions that you still follow? Describe in detail (the scents, the sights, the smells) of the featured meal of the day.

memoir, memoir writing prompt, autobiography, life storyMEMOIR TRAIN STOP #10: During the stop, a number of school kids board the train reminding you of your junior high and high school days. Back then, everyone was tracked. Some were put into vocational courses while others were tracked into college preparatory classes. Once in a track, it was difficult to make the switch. Have there been times in your life when you felt you were tracked? Tracked into marriage? Tracked into having children at a certain age? Tracked into a job that others thought you should take but that wasn’t what you wanted?

Write about being tracked. Were you able to break out? Did you finally like the track you were on? Describe the specifics of why this seemed like a track to you.

memoir writing prompt, memoir writing prompts, memoir, writingMEMOIR TRAIN STOP #11: FINAL STOP (for now). The train arrives home to a lovely old station with marble walls and tile floors. Unique carvings grace the ceiling.

Write for 10 about your favorite home and tell why. Some homes are so important in our lives that they seem to have a personality and become like another character in our life story. Be sure to say where the house was, what it looked like, why you loved it, when you lived there. If it had a personality, then describe that as well. If it is not the house you live in now, have you ever been back? Did it look the same? If not, what are the changes. Did the changes affect the way you feel about the house?

Bonus Memoir Writing Prompt

As I got to the end of my train trip, I started thinking about First Class memories but that idea didn’t fit into the Memoir Train Stops theme of the writing prompts. One thought led to another and I remembered all the wonderful Three Perfect Days In … articles that I’ve read over the years in the United Airlines in-flight magazine. That caused me to suggest you write about the 11 best days in your life. You might do one a month in 2011, savoring the day in all its details, sights and scents.


Be sure to join us tomorrow in the next of our 11 lists for writers in 2011.

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Amber Lea Starfire January 4, 2011 at

Wow, great writing prompts! They all work well as journal writing prompts, too … add some reflection about feelings, things learned, how those memories impacted you at the time and how they still impact you. Thanks!

Jenny January 4, 2011 at

These are wonderful. I believe it is the ability to experience the sensory awareness and nostalgia of times and places that is the first step to good writing.
Cute idea using a train trip I love train rides!

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