10 Tips for writing about your memories

Dear Fellow Journalers,

Memory journaling can be tough. Retrieving a memory is not like opening a document stored on a hard drive or pulling a file folder out of a cabinet. We all “file” our memories but sometimes we embellish the truth of them. We think we’ll remember the depth of feeling we’ve experienced or the way the event unfolded but we don’t – not even close. As we age our memories fade. That’s why memory journaling is important not only for us but for our families. So here are 10 useful tips on writing about your life:

  1. Use memory triggers. Flip through photo albums, greeting cards you’ve received, yearbooks, home movies.

  2. Thoughts and memories match moods. So, if you’re trying to remember your wedding, Don’t write about it when you are sick or upset.

  3. Sometimes if you visit the site of your memory more of the events you are trying to remember will be easier to recall. More often than not, this is not possible. When it is, take advantage. I have tried over the years to revisit my hometown and have discovered many happy memories I’d forgotten. Oh yes, many of the stores on Main Street are different but have you noticed – street names remain the same.

  4. Have you heard of the term “autobiographical memory?” This comprises both memory and general knowledge pertinent only to the individual. If you were to make timelines for each of your “spheres” of your life and list important events such as weddings, graduations, awards, births and deaths etc. your life would be unfolded in front of you.

  5. Pay attention to what’s distinct. Some of our memories are hazy, fragmented or seemingly trivial. Each one, however, make up YOUR life. Even if the memory seems difficult to understand, work with it.

One of my memories concerns the writing of this blog. I had a lot of technical questions and sought help from a new friend. I remember how I was hesitant to admit that my concepts were not completely formed. After contemplating that memory I realized that her gentle guidance helped me form the basis of all my blog writing since then. Now, every time I post an article I think of her and her advice.

  1. Don’t try to remember events from your early childhood. Few of us remember first grade jitters!

  2. Describe events as you remember them. Do the facts match up to how you lived, where you lived and your day to day life as it was then?

  3. Remembering is not like looking at a picture or even watching a video. These are triggers. (See #1). Relieving the memory is a sensory thing. You feel and “see”  and react to the memory. I grew up in a small New England town. I was a “tom boy” and spent my youth climbing trees, riding horses and reading a lot! I also grew up watching western tv shows. I  ‘re-watched an episode of Laramie ( a tv western produced in the early 1960’s) the other day. In the scene, the character’s horse started galloping down a hill. Suddenly I was “transported” back to a dusty corral in New York state. The afternoon Sun was hot on my face and I could feel the perspiration sliding down my shirt. The feel of my horse’s muscles were beneath me, my feet were firmly planted in the stirrups and my instructor ( a crusty old gent) said loudly, “use your legs” and “I don’t want to see daylight between you and that saddle!” I learned how to canter that day and it was a feeling I remember now so vividly.  I was glad I remembered it and could share it.

  4. It’s not to late to start your journal of memories. Your future self will thank you.

  5. Be as honest as you can when writing about your memories. Names of birthday clowns are trivial but dates and names are not.

Final note: This is YOUR life – what are you waiting for?


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