And Still More on Nostalgia and Memoir Writing: Part 3

by Matilda Butler on March 29, 2016

Writing Prompt LogoPost #228 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Matilda Butler

Even More on Helping Your Reader (and You) Remember

Memoir writing requires us to dig deeply into our past, to take an honest look at what we have done, to decide what to share with others. Memoir writing is time consuming and often difficult. That said, delving into our memories also brings forth fun and light memories.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been using photos to elicit a sense of nostalgia, nostalgia that brings out memories. If you missed the previous posts, just click on the links below:

Part 1: Nostalgia and Memoir Writing

Part 2: Nostalgia and Memoir Writing

The bigger lesson behind this three-part mini-series centers on the use of details in writing. Details help you remember and bring your reader into your scenes. I’ve chosen photos for this set of writing prompts that relate to childhoods.

Memoir Writing Prompts

memoir writing prompts and pick-up sticks Pick-Up Sticks. I remember many games of pick-up sticks. Sometimes my sister and I would play on the floor in our bedroom where there was a carpet. Other times, we’d play on a smooth table. These became almost like two entirely different games since the carpet was much more forgiving.

If I were writing a scene taking place in my childhood bedroom, I could say that my sister and I were playing and that would be all right. But the scene becomes more dynamic and brings the reader into the room if I describe an ongoing competition with pick-up sticks. How many sticks have I successfully removed? How many does my sister have? You wouldn’t need to write more than one or two sentences, but the room and the two sisters come to life.

Memoir Writing Prompt #1. What indoor games did you and your siblings play? Who usually won? Did you and your siblings agree on games to play together or did you prefer to play with school friends? What is your best memory of a game you played as a child? Was there a game you wanted and finally talked your parents into buying?

memoir writing and toys Using Jacks. When I was in elementary school, jacks was a favorite game of skill. Most of us had our own set consisting of a small rubber ball and 10 metal jacks. Sometimes we’d combine sets to make the game more challenging. The large elm trees in the school yard had pushed the sidewalk this way and that so that our games were rarely played on a level surface. But we didn’t care. It just added to the challenge. Hum. Eggs in the Basket anyone?

Memoir Writing Prompt #2. Did you play jacks as a child? Were you good? Did you play with other girls or did you play in mixed games. Back when I was in elementary school, I primarily played with girls. But even then, our games were spiced with competition. What other outdoor games did you play? Did you have a small number of friends that you stuck with most of the time? Did you ever move and have to change schools? Did knowing certain games, like jacks, help you fit in?

memoirs and school supplies School supplies. As a little girl, I loved the approach of September. Back to school was exciting. But it wasn’t much of a shopping time. School supplies? I’m sure there were some but our elementary school teachers handed out almost everything that we would need…pencils, paper, worksheets, even crayons. I didn’t even have a lunch pail although some of my friends did. My mother made a sandwich for me each morning, wrapped it in wax paper, and put it in a plain brown paper bag. I carried it in my hand along with any books that I had taken home. I didn’t have a backpack and I don’t think any of my friends did either. But while I didn’t shop for school supplies, my mother did take me to the store for a new pair of shoes and to the department store for a new dress or two. I had an older sister so there were always plenty of hand-me-down clothes that were new for me even if they weren’t new from a store.

And so while I didn’t go buy many school supplies, I remember many of the ones that we used…scissors with rounded points, pink erasers, #2 yellow pencils, and crayons. As I got older, I remember the wide-ruled three-hole punched paper. And the gummed reinforcements shown above? Yup, the reinforcements kept my pages from slipping out of my binder. Remember what the binders looked like? Most of them were covered in a plain blue fabric. Times have changed. My daughter-in-law shows me the long list of school supplies that she has to purchase each autumn.

Memoir Writing Prompt #3. What memories are evoked when you think about the first day of school each year when you were in elementary school? Did you wear a new dress? Did your mother make your clothes or did she purchase them? Did you get to pick out your new clothes or did you mother bring them home without consulting you? What supplies did you have to provide when you were in elementary school? Do you remember the paste you used? At home, my mother always made up a glue from flour and water. She tried to keep costs as low as possible. I even remember making kites out of newspaper and small sticks. We used some of that flour-water glue to attach the newspaper to the sticks. Did they fly? I don’t really remember. Most of the effort and time went into making them and that was probably what my mother intended. What about school supplies you purchased for your children?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk down memory lane. Whenever you write, remember that specific details engage your readers.

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