Memory Writing


Writing about Memories


Like millions of Americans, I keep a journal in which I write recollections and reflections of my life. And, like millions of Americans, I find it a very therapeutic way of embracing emotions and coming to grips with events that have shaped my world. It’s cheaper than therapy, and it’s easier than driving over to a friend’s house to giving him a good, swift kick for being so stupid.


If you keep a journal or do any sort of daily chronicles, you too may understand the powerful effects of writing about your memories. You may even hide a dusty cardboard box full of torn spiral notebooks in the back of your closet. Often, the memory books go unnoticed, but you know they’re old friends who you revisit on lonely winter days or at times when you need to reconnect with your past.


If this doesn’t sound like you, this next unit could help you begin the process of connecting with yourself. 


Why Write About Memories?


Everybody has a story. I'm of the opinion that our past shapes our future. It amazes me to think where I might be today if I hadn't done some of the things I've done or not met some of the wonderful people who've helped me shaped my life. A great quote sums up my philosophy, "Every day that I draw breath, is yet another opportunity to continuously create myself."  Of course, my memory is so poor that I can’t remember where I lifted the quote, but I find it true.


So what about you?  I’m sure somewhere in your life you did something or met someone who altered your life path. Maybe it was that time when you were in fifth grade and first got drunk on Slo’ Gin with the group you played street football with. That event caused you to swear off the strong stuff forever.  Or, maybe getting picked up by the cops for throwing a mannequin off the Grand Ave. overpass and into oncoming traffic caused you to re-evaluate playing practical jokes. Still, maybe you learned a valuable lesson about what a bad idea it is to move in with a best friends that day when you came home and found your living situation had been turned into War Of The Roses, and your best friend had wiped Poison Ivy on your toilet seat.


Whatever the event, it is important enough to write about. It shaped who you are, and you should do it justice by chronicling it.



But WHY?


There are three main reasons for writing about memories. And without turning all Dr. Phil on you, they are:


To come to grips with a past event.  Sometimes something happens in our life that is just too horrible to think about. So, we bury it in the back of our minds. However, after a while, it’s sure to manifest itself, and we’ll have to deal with it. Writing about memories helps us speed up the process. It helps us embrace our pasts, so we can move into the future with a little less baggage.


To teach others a lesson.  When I was growing up in Iowa, I sure wish someone had been around to recall his memory about the negative effects of urinating in rural areas. But, I had to learn the hard way to watch out for modern technology when I met up with an electric fence while relieving myself. Without getting into much more detail, let’s just say that recalling a memory and expressing it in written form could teach people a valuable lesson, so they don’t have to learn it the hard way.


To bond with others. If you’ve ever felt all alone and like no one has ever gone through what you’ve gone through, recalling your memories could help. Humans engage in story telling (memory sharing) all the time. We often think it’s fun, and sometimes we walk away with new or stronger friendships because of the practice.  Telling your memories helps the reader realize that he/she is not all alone in this great big world, which is seen as a requirement for a more fulfilled life.


Which Memories Work Best to Write About?


Choosing a memory of significance is often the most challenging part for students who are embarking on memory writing. The other task, pulling them out of the recesses of our minds, is also difficult. I’ll tackle both challenges in this document.


Best Memories:


Stereotypically there are two categories of memories that typically work well when writing about the past --firsts and traumatic events. Everyone has had one or the other in his/her life. The first kiss, they first child, the first car accident, are all examples of memories which stick with us the longest and are easiest to access.  Go through your own mind and see if you can recall these firsts: 


Your first time getting caught stealing was ______________.


Your first girlfriend/boyfriend was ___________________.


The first teacher who made a difference in your life was ____________.


You first pet was _______________________




Now, see if you can connect with any of these traumatic situations:



I learned about death when _________________________.


I got beat up when I was ___________________________.


I was part of or saw an auto accident_______________.


My partner cheated on me ___________________________.



For some reason these less-than-happy events also stick with us for a very, very long while, and sometimes recalling them causes us to feel emotions similar to those we felt at the time of the trauma. That’s why they’re such great ones to write about.






If after going through your memory core you still draw a blank, here are some tips which are sure to elicit a memory or two that you may want to write about.


Take a Whiff: Dig through your bathroom cabinet and find some cologne or perfume you haven’t worn for a while. Or, go to a shop and find some smell-good your partner once wore. Smell it!  And, as you do, let your mind take you back to the last time you remember smelling that scent. Money has it, you’ll see a snapshot or an entire scene from your past.


Open You Ears: One thing I regularly do when I want to take a trip down memory lane is to pop an old tape or CD into my player. Listening to Ratt or Wham takes me back to homecoming dances. Hearing Dolly Parton makes me remember long road trips with country-loving family members. And, the sound of “Whoop There It Is,” pulls me back to an incident I encountered at a football game a few years ago.  Regardless of what memories your oldies elicit, they’re there, and you can write about them.


Take a Peak:  If you’re still stuck, try this won’t-fail technique for those of us who weren’t homeschooled. Go get your high school year book--you know the one you did from all your girlfriends or boyfriends because of that mullet hairdo you were sporting.  Leaf through it slowly, and let your mind find those memories you stuffed far away. They may not all be pleasant, or they might bring back fun recollections of frantic times or fanatic friends.  Then, write about one of them.


If these don’t work, then call your mother. She’ll likely recall an embarrassing moment or seven. She might even drop by with a few  photo albums, full of naked babies, a whole section devoted to Weird Cousin Albert, or that UFO you swear is right there.


Regardless, have fun!



"Once upon a time . . . and they lived happily ever after!" Remember the tales we grew up with? Everybody enjoys a good story. There are stories everywhere - in children's books, in newspapers, in magazines, in TV programs - wherever there are people doing things. Good stories appeal to the imagination.

Not only do we like reading and hearing stories, we also like to tell them - and we are encouraged, often compelled, to do so. "So, what happened in school today?" "What happened to your homework?" Stories tell what happened and telling what happened is called narrating, or narration; stories are narratives.

Because it organizes events and information in time order, in chronological sequence, narration is both logical and simple. Narration has a beginning, a middle, and an end (a bit like life, which has a beginning, a muddle, and an end - ah yes, we also sometimes find writing with a muddle in the middle). It also must have characters, setting (where it took place, the surroundings, the mood, the time of day, year and month), action, and dialogue.


So, to write narration, one just tells of events in the order they occurred, including strong details about setting, characters and dialogue where appropriate. Sometimes, to make a story clearer, writers need to refer to an event that happened before the story they are telling; such an interruption is called a flashback.

In most narratives there are elements of conflict and suspense. These elements grab and hold our attention; they make a story interesting; we want to find out how it all comes out in the end - how conflict is resolved, how an obstacle is overcome, or how a problem is solved.

To help yourself think logically through narration, you must determine what information is necessary and what is not necessary to your story. What must the reader know for the story to make sense and to flow smoothly?


So, here is a PLAN for writing narration:


·        1. Choose a memory that has STRONG SIGNIFICENCE for you, and try to pair it down to one that can be retold with strong description in three to four pages.


·        2. Jot down a sequence of events, that involve you or someone else.


·        3. Decide your purpose for writing.


·        4. Create sentences that lay out the action sequence.

·        5. Freewrite strong description about your main characters. You should be as detailed as you can about them, so the reader can really see them.


·        6. Use appropriate quotations from the characters to give a sense of reality -- of "being there" -- to your tale.


·        7. Link the sentences together using time-order connecting words.


·        8. If your story has suspense, save the climax (how it "comes out") until the very end, if possible.

·        9. Check sentences, spelling, punctuation, and word quality to finish the narrative.


·        8. Read your composition aloud to learn how it sounds. Does it satisfy you?


·        9. Revise and proofread final copy.



Reading a narrative is like watching a motion picture -- the story action unfolds continuously. Writing narration is like making a movie - you have to decide what comes next. The key to goo narrative writing is to SHOW THE READER--JUST DON’T TELL WHAT HAPPENED.  Really use strong description to SHOW!


Credits: This information modified and reprinted with permission by Martha and James Reith of Remedia Publications




So, EXACTLY how do I put together this assignment?:

Narrative Paragraphs Assignment

The point of these narrative paragraphs is to tell a story which supports your topic sentence about an incident you have experienced that gave you some point or insight. The stronger the point or insight, the more interesting it will be to the reader. Do not forget about using specific details you just learned about in the descriptive paragraph assignment.

A great topic is often one in which you learned an important lesson; just be sure you have conflict. Also see the attached page for a model narrative paragraph. These paragraphs must have a point and tell a story with conflict, characters, specific details, dialogue, and a closing. Your paragraphs should be about the same length as the sample (one page), but it is okay if it is a bit longer.

Narrative Paragraph Structure

1. Beginning: Write a topic sentence in which you state the point of your story and your view (how you feel about it). An example could be, "I would never have guessed that the calm, cloudless, blue sky of
June 14, 1988, would lead to a dramatic incident that showed me what I wanted to do with my life."


2. Middle: The body of the fist narrative paragraph and the remainder of the second is written to support your topic sentence and to tell the story of what happened. Support your point by telling the reader when and where the incident occurred, who was involved, what happened (conflict), how it happened, and what those involved and you said (dialogue) while the incident was happening. Dialogue makes your story more vivid and exciting (and it is required for this assignment). Don't forget about specific details! See the sample paragraph for examples of a narrative body supporting the point and view:

When/Where: senior year, June 14, at
Clear Water Lake, Who: I, a 30-year-old male stranger, a 16-year old girl. What: "He pinned her against the wall" Dialogue: "Let her go!" I yelled. “Make me!” he retorted. Conflict: Fight Climax: Abusive man is knocked out cold. Lesson learned: career choice

3. How to split the paragraphs:  When you make a major shift in the scene, or when one of your characters does something spectacular, start a new paragraph. Think of it like watching a television program. When the camera cuts away to focus in on something different, that’s called a different shot. Your paragraphs do the same thing—they split your writing into different shots as well. See sample for help.

4. End: The end of the second paragraph –the last couple sentences--should explain the resolution or what resulted from the event. Also, it should give the paragraphs a satisfying finish by reflecting on what you learned from the conflict/incident. See the sample paragraph. Example: "I decided at that point to become a Tae Kwon Do instructor so I could train women how to defend themselves against attackers. "

*A few more suggestions: Double check the sample paragraph and the "CHECKLIST FOR YOUR NARRATIVE PARAGRAPHS"  before submitting your drafts to me. Also, don't forget to proofread and edit for effective and correct sentence structures and word choices, and for grammar and mechanics before you turn in the assignment. Always check your spelling last!



CHECKLIST for your memory paragraphs


My name is on the writing.________________
These paragraphs are products of my own work. ________________
My writing is required length.____________
My paragraphs are typewritten and double spaced.______________
My two paragraph writing has a topic sentence which explains my main point for sharing this memory.____
My writing is about a focused topic (a specific memory of a specific important event)._____________________
My writing focuses on a  memory dealing with a person/animal, place, object or event.________
My writing approaches the subject from an interesting or original angle. _________________
My paragraphs are heavy with description.____________________
My paragraphs have a beginning, middle and end.__________
My paragraphs contained action.________________
My paragraphs had two or more characters in it.__________
My paragraphs contained dialogue between the characters or a quote.____________
I used my senses to develop the details in this writing.___________________
I did not have any run-ons, comma splices, incomplete sentences adjective or adverb problems or subject/verb agreement errors in this writing ._______________
I did not have any tense shifts in this writing because I stayed in past tense (unless cleared through the instructor first). ________________
I considered my audience, purpose and tone when writing this essay.___________________ 

Sample Two-Paragraph Memory:

Scared Again

 Being a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, I thought I was beyond being frightened; however, I learned I have some fear left in me a few years ago when I spent the first night alone in my new apartment. I became aware of this weakness one bitterly cold December when I was home by myself for the first time since moving in with Beth; she was away on a business trip, and I assured her I was not a bit nervous about being in the big, dark, drafty house all by myself.   “Buck up! You can make it through one night,” I told myself through the pitch black darkness as I crawled into bed, got comfortable and began to just drift off. Just as the deep purple waves, surreal voices, and red ghostly images from my past danced through my mind’s eye, I was pulled back into slight consciousness by the bedroom door creaking open. I knew I was alone, so I was a bit alarmed at the sound. However, the light, sweet smell of Velocity perfume, which immediately filled the room, told me nothing was to fear.  It seemed that Beth had returned from her trip early, for she loved me so.

So, there I lay and pretended to be asleep while I listened to the memory of our last conversation echoing in my head. “I’ll be back before you know it and with a surprise,” her sweet, honey-melon voice whispered in my ear as she was leaving to Chicago.  “I’ll try to not be too afraid without you here to protect me,” I joked in return. Clearly she had returned to fulfill her promise of a surprise. Without opening my eyes, I could tell Beth was closing in on me—her slight steps on the floor coming ever closer. Next, a gentle caress upon my left leg, from my toes to my knee, told me she was happy to see me. A short while later, her hair brushed softly against my ear, nuzzling.  Then suddenly, her quiet breathing blended slowly and sensuously into a low and husky purr.  Husky Purr?  Shock grabbed me as I was startled into awakeness.  THIS WAS NOT BETH! My heart clawed its way into my throat as my right arm swung wildly for the light, and my left hand came down hard on the form next to me.  And, as I shielded my eyes from the suddenly painful brilliance, Bob, our too-fat, rust-colored tabby spat out a heavy growl. He leapt off the bed and dashed out of the room.  Feeling slightly foolish, I followed him out of the room only to discover the broken, orange-and-white lettered women’s perfume bottle in a puddle on the bathroom floor. Unfortunately, I’d also discovered that despite my Tae Kwon Do training, my fear had never completely left me.