This guest post comes to you from Mr. Denis Ledoux.
I first met Denis in a teleconference when I was learning to write my own memoir. I’ve since stayed tuned to his invaluable tips. I’ve also personally referred him to two of you—one, a friend, Brad, who as an older gentleman is writing his life story for his grandson. My other friend, who has seen hard times in losing loved ones wants help in writing her story—here too, I suggested Denis.
It is for you if you like to:
- Write about your personal experiences
- Write about your family history
- Would like to leave a written legacy to your family
- Enjoy exploring who you are through the creative art of writing.
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Please note: The following post, MEMORY LISTS was developed by Denis Ledoux and the Memoir Network team at www.thememoirnetwork.com.
It is being used with their kind permission.
People who attend Turning Memories Into Memoirs® workshops will sometimes say, “I want to write my stories but I have forgotten so many details. Is there any way I can get them back?”
I spent a whole week making lists! Was that lifestory writing?
—Turning Memories Into Memoirs® workshop attendee.
There is one tool above all others that makes the experience of lifewriting successful. That tool is the Memory List. No other exercise opens up the process of lifewriting as quickly and as surely as the thoughtful and thorough compilation of the Memory List. It’s simple, and as a first step, it’s crucial.
Memory Lists Are the Backbone of Writing Memoir
In this lesson, I will talk about the Memory List (a general term for your list of memories), the Extended Memory List (its widest, most all-inclusive version) and the Core Memory List (the list refined to the ten most important memories).
Your Memory List is always a work in process because the more you remember and jot down, the more you’ll recall. You will return to and rework your Memory List again and again as you write your lifestories.
The Extended Memory List
The Extended Memory List consists of short memory notes (three to five words is sufficient) of people, events, relationships, thoughts, feelings, things–anything–from your past. The list is usually random and always uncensored. Each line lists a different memory. When you write a different memory, start a new line. Do not feel compelled to write in full sentences. (In fact, I urge you not to write in full sentences!)
I’ve never been a very observant person. Things just happened around me, and I didn’t really notice them. So, what do I write about?
- Let the logic of creating a Memory List be internal. Do not force yourself to be chronological (“everything I did when I was sixteen”) or thematic (“my father”), and do not strive for
cause-and-effect relationships (“because this happened, that followed…”) unless the memories come that way spontaneously.
- Do not censor your memories. As soon as you find yourself thinking something like “Is this
really important enough?” you are censoring your memory and compromising your Memory List. Censoring can result in a list that is less comprehensive—and therefore, less useful to you as a lifewriter–than it would be if you allowed yourself to be free-flowing and uncensored. Let yourself go where your imagination takes you.
- A Memory List includes both big items and small ones. Any of the following are “on target” for a Memory List:
- brother Stan died
- green wallpaper
- stage coaches and buttes
- Sister Marie Gertrude fell on stairs
- my parents divorced
- blue Schwinn bicycle
- The list is for you, and you’re the only one for whom it needs to have meaning. No one else will see it unless you share it. Include enough data to make the notes understandable to you at some future time. Don’t fall into the trap of writing something cryptic like “cap.” In a month’s time, you may not remember which “cap,” or whose, you were remembering. But, if you wrote “Bob’s Red Sox cap/1970,” it is likely you will have enough of a cue to recall what you meant.
Your stories are waiting to be told. Your task is to let them emerge from the depths of your memory.
- The Extended Memory List ought to be fairly long. It is not unusual for a writer to spend two or three weeks or even months compiling it. You will find yourself adding to it regularly in the months ahead as more and more memories come to you. This Extended Memory List will go in your three-ring binder. It will serve as your source of writing inspiration and be a tremendous time saver. Whenever you sit down to write, you won’t need to spend time coming up with a topic. All you have to do is pick an item on the list and write about it. (Write everything you remember about the “blue Schwinn bicycle” you mentioned on your list.) With your Memory List, you need never again have writer’s block. With an extensive list of memories to pick from, you will always have a ready prompt.
We offer much in the Memoir Education area, but if you want even more, check out the our Learning Memoir Writing programs: Write Your First Memoir Draft and Writer’s Time: Management That Works.
[Denis Ledoux offers this, found on his website at www.thememoirnetwork.com.]
The Core Memory List
The Core Memory List is a list of the crucial relationships and events which have shaped your life. It contains just ten or fewer items.
This is because Core Memory Lists are about the relationships and events which, had they not occurred, your life (or your mother’s or father’s, etc.) would have taken a different turn, and you would absolutely have become a different person from the one you are.
If life teaches us anything, it’s that we don’t have inexhaustible energy and time. It is perfectly possible to run out of both before we get all our stories written. With this in mind, because you have compiled the Core Memory List, you can identify your most important lifestories—the ones about the prime relationships and events of your life—and concentrate on writing these first. These few core memories serve well as the backbone of your longer lifewriting project. The peripheral stories can be dealt with later–as time and energy permit.
What kind of items will appear on the Core Memory List? The answer is: only big items. Here are a few Core Memory List possibilities:
- a major illness or a death in the family
- the arrival of a sibling
- the community
- the town or neighborhood, the ethnic, religious or social
group you grew up in
- a significant fire, flood, car accident or historic event
- a formative relationship with an older person or a peer
- a failure or success at school
- scholarships, sports or arts awards, a decision to go or not go
to the university
- conflict with a teacher, having to leave school for work
- boyfriends/girlfriends, deciding to marry or to not marry
- marriage and relationships
- children and family life
- career choices and changes, successes, failures
- religious and spiritual quests and experiences
Limit your Core Memory List to ten items. Limiting yourself to ten—admittedly an arbitrary number—forces you to evaluate and select the most significant material to start writing about.
The items on your Core Memory List are almost never splashy events: not the time when you met someone famous briefly and superficially (e.g. Elvis Presley kissed you goodbye on the cheek when you both happened to be at the same airport in 1965!) but something essential like deciding (or deciding not) to move away or marry, or like winning a scholarship and going to the university instead of going to work at the mill (or vice versa).
One way to create a Core Memory List is to analyze the Extended Memory List you have already compiled. You may notice that a number of seemingly separate items are really part of a single category and might be grouped together into one story.
Instead of scattering, or listing separately, the names of the men (or women) you dated from your eighteenth to your twenty-fourth year, you might cluster these relationships under a Core Memory List heading like “Getting ready to meet my husband/wife.”
In this category, you might make a sub-list of the more significant relationships you had. This would create a natural occasion for you to write about how your understanding of what you needed in a mate matured over those years as you dated each of these people until you were finally ready to marry. By grouping extended Memory List items, you can discover core stories and make it easier for the reader to understand or evaluate your experience.
Compiling a Core Memory List will make it easier for you to organize your material early in the writing process and assure that you write your most important stories first.
By identifying core influences in your life, you can focus on them quickly in your lifewriting. In this way, you will develop a body of stories that depict the person you are and have been. If your time and energy is limited, you will not squander either one on writing about secondary events in your life. Perhaps you and your friends were impressed, at the time, that Elvis kissed you at the airport, but how has this influenced your development as a person?
If you have the interest and the time, later on, you can write about the secondary events in your life. Otherwise, you may find yourself having “run out of wind” on the unessential stories before you commit your core stories to paper.
Start Your Memory List Now!
Write down at least twenty memories to start off your Memory List (fifty would be better, and a hundred preferable).
- Place these pages in your three-ring binder.
- Every day, continue to add memories to your list. Do not stop until you have five hundred items. (Yes, five hundred!)
- Take your time to mull over your Memory List. Add or delete, combine or expand until you have a list that represents your life.
Whatever you do today, write a bit on your memoir.
Denis Ledoux and the Memoir Network Team.
A NOTE FROM ELLE:
Thank you, Denis. As you taught me, I like to remember, “Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. Yard by yard, it’s hard.”
Friends, please share in the comments below of your writing journey with memories. If this post has helped, please share how. And I believe Denis would enjoy it if you’d visit his website. -Elle-