Memoir Writing Prompts: Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

by Matilda Butler on July 5, 2011

Writing Prompt LogoPost #95 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

MEMOIR WRITERS: SAY WHAT YOU MEAN AND MEAN WHAT YOU SAY

As I look out my window on a(nother) rainy June day in Oregon, wondering when summer will finally arrive, my mind wanders back to my February birthday get away to sunny, warm Mexico.

memoir, memoir writing, memoir writing prompt, journaling, autobiography, craft of memoirOne day, we took a tour of Mazatlan and several nearby villages. As we were driving out of town, our guide said, “On your right, you’ll see round signs each showing an E with a line through it. This means no one can park a car here.” When a fellow traveler asked why the street was lined with cars, the guide replied, “Oh. If you are in the Navy you can park here.”

Odd. But okay.

The guide continued on and drove us out of the noisy, bustling city and through the tranquil countryside to the Colonial town of Malpica. Before parking the van to show us how the local tiles are made, he drove us around most of the streets of this small village. At one point he said, “This town is a good place to live, very safe. It has no beer. You cannot buy beer here.” Just then, many of us looked to our left and saw a flashing neon sign “Beer.” The guide, also seeing the sign, said, “Well, just in this one place … (wait several beats) … and in two bars.”

Definitely odd.

I am quite willing to ignore our guide’s unintentional misdirection and lack of precision because he was speaking a second language. Readers of our memoirs are not as forgiving. At best, the wrong word is an eye-stopper. What does the author mean? At worse, the reader will discredit you and your story and leave the book unread.

All the time you put into ensuring that you have carefully chosen the right words is worth it.

Memoir Writing Prompt

1. Think about the sentence:

“She galloped over to see her friend, three blocks away.”

Assuming she doesn’t own a horse, does this make sense? If not, rewrite the sentence. Rewrite it two or three times. What different impressions will the reader get from each of your variations. What version seems the strongest to you?

2. The next time to write on your memoir or even in your journal, take the third sentence in your first paragraph. Pull it out. Study it. Is it clear? Is it powerful? Does it move your story forward or clarify a situation? Think about the words you have chosen and rewrite it two or three times. Which version is the best? Why?

Probably no one can devote loving attention to every word in every sentence. (Okay. Poets do.) However, by examining sentences and word choices at various times, you will begin to more routinely think about your use of words.

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Other Women’s Memoirs Writing Prompts that you may like:

FInding Your Writing Style

Where Will Your Words Take You?

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