Memoir Writers, Surround Yourself with Details

by Matilda Butler on July 9, 2013

Writing Prompt LogoPost #178 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompts and Life Prompts – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

More Ideas for Writers from Artists

Recently, I wrote about Andrew Wyeth’s studio. He kept a mirror facing his canvas so that he could have a different perspective on his work. Everyone involved in creative endeavors–artists, musicians, writers, and others–often benefit from a new perspective on their creations. In May, I saw the work of another artist and found additional inspiration in the way he worked.

Of course, art is the more obvious way to be inspired. But I love the behind-the-scenes lives of creative people. Where do they work, what hours do they keep, what kind of goals do they set for themselves? When Kendra and I interview authors, we often ask them to describe their working space. These days we find an incredible amount of variation in the responses–from a favorite chair at Starbucks, to a desk facing an interior wall (no distractions), to a lightly remodeled attic room with a folding table for a desk (I’m not making this up), to a room shared with a sewing machine, to a “dream study” looking out over a lush garden with plenty of files in the room to store papers.

Inspiration for Memoir Writers from Charles Russell

Charles Russell Studio

So you can understand why I was intrigued with the above photo of Charles Russell working in his art studio. In early May, I was in Ft. Worth and visited the Amon Carter Museum where I saw not only many of Russell’s paintings but also learned more about his studio. During his life, Russell (1864-1926) completed more than 2000 paintings as well as hundreds of bronze sculptures. He became know as the cowboy artist and received national and international fame. But his beginnings were fairly humble. He worked on various ranches, mainly in Montana. During the harsh winters, when there was little to be done on the ranch, he spent his time drawing his surroundings. One year, the owner of the ranch where he was working, sent a letter to the foreman asking how the cattle had weathered the terrible storms of the winter. Instead of writing a letter, the foreman simply sent one of Russell’s drawings that showed a scrawny cow with a lean, hungry wolf looking on.

This was a classic case of a picture being worth a 1000 words. The ranch owner began to show the drawing around and soon Russell had numerous commissions. And so his career began. He traveled extensively in the West and spent time with a branch of the Blackfeet nation. His in depth knowledge of ranch life, cowboys, and even Indians created the basis of his paintings. He understood how to use details in a way that captured the essence of a scene. In the photo of his studio, you’ll notice that he also surrounded himself with various objects that he used in his paintings. He didn’t just draw on knowledge in his head. He wanted to make sure that he had the details right.

Similarly, you may want to use objects to remind you of details in the scenes you write. This reminds me of one of our students who was writing about her father when he was young. She had a photo and at first thought this was just a “nice” picture to have. Then, as she learned the importance of details in her writing, she really studied the photo and even noticed that he had button up shoes. That’s a details she never could have invented or even thought was a possibility. The photo gave her information that made the story she was relating that much more vivid. What else might you surround yourself with?

Memoir Writing Prompt

1. Write a brief story of when you were young — maybe a birthday party. Rely on your memory.

2. Then pull out a photo from that period — hopefully even from the day you are writing about. Study the photo — really study it. What new details do you now notice.

3. Revise your vignette, adding the newly discovered details.

4. Read your story and see what the additional details contribute. They may even help you reshape the message.

There are many ways to have makings of details surround us when we write. For some people music from a specific era helps to bring back memories. For others, cooking a recipe from the time being written about or walking in the woods or contacting a friend or family member can enhance the memory of details. Do whatever it takes. You are the artist of your creative endeavor.

Leave a Comment

Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category StoryMap Category StoryMap Category StoryMap Category Writing and Healing Category Writing and Healing Category Writing and Healing Category Scrapmoir Category Scrapmoir Category Scrapmoir Category Book Business Category Book Business Category Book Business Category Memoir Journal Writing Category Memoir Journal Writing Category Memoir Journal Writing Category News Category News Category News Category