Memoir Writing, Journaling
by Amber Lea Starfire
You’ve decided to write a memoir, or at least to record some memories on paper, and you have a general sense of your reading audience. Perhaps you’re writing a legacy of story for your children and grandchildren, or you hope to publish your stories for a broader audience. Either way, you need to understand your reasons for writing and what you hope to gain from putting your life stories on paper.
The basic—Why are you writing?—may also give way to more complex questions, such as, What’s different about your story? Why will anyone want to read it? What will your family think? Aren’t you afraid of revealing family secrets?
Fortunately, journaling can help you clarify the purpose for your writing and the form it will take. Journal writing is, at a basic level, an informal letter writing practice, but instead of writing to someone else the intended recipient is yourself. You can use the letter writing form to its full advantage by making it a more conscious, intentional, and focused practice.
Letter writing—a lost art in this day of electronic communications—is an empowering, expressive act. It encourages honesty and straightforwardness, as well as a more natural written voice. Used creatively, writing letters from different points of view can help you gain understanding about different aspects of your story, including setting and character development. And it can help resolve confusion about which direction you should take.
If you need a little clarity about your memoir writing—and who doesn’t?—try one or more of the following journal/letter writing prompts. The results may surprise you.
- Write a letter to your memoir audience telling them what to expect and why they should read your story.
- Pretend you are writing to a friend. Tell her your story in the letter.
- Write a letter to a family member you plan to include in your story, explaining what you will write about and why. Address that person’s concerns about how he or she will be portrayed and how you feel about it.
- As the narrator of your story write a letter to the real life you explaining the narrator’s point of view and time-frame used for the story. Will you narrate the story in the present or past tense, from a point near or distant in time? Will you analyze and reflect or allow scenes to speak for themselves? Explain your position to the real-life you.
- Write a letter of advice from your future self—the self who has completed your memoir—to your “today” self about the process and benefits of writing your story.
- Write a letter to an editor defending the facts of your story.
- Pretend you are one of the characters in your memoir. Write a letter to the narrator or to another character, expressing your point of view about the story’s events.
After you’ve played with one or more of these prompts, I invite you to share what you discovered about your story, a character, or yourself, by leaving a comment.
For creative ways to use your journal, as well as writing tips and prompts, be sure to connect with me on Writing Through Life.
Image Credit: Arslan