A Madison Magazine Reader’s Memories Become 
a Published Memoir
Dec 11, 2012
09:00 AM
From Memory to Memoir

Mine For Memories

Mine For Memories

There is an enjoyable aspect to writing a memoir that takes place far from the computer keyboard (or typewriter, tape recorder or pencil and paper). This is the research we do to stimulate memory recall, link our lives with social history and confirm factual details.

Some writers wonder if they even have enough memories to write a memoir. Others worry whether time has twisted recollections until they are more fiction than fact. There’s no such thing as a “correct memory”—everyone perceives, interprets and remembers events differently. As memoir writers, our first step must be to find and claim the truth as we recall it, so we can get on with writing.

Memoir writers visit places we’ve lived—even knocking on doors at old addresses, hoping for a peek into a childhood bedroom or back yard. We catch the genealogy bug and troll through historical records, following the stories of ancestors. We pull out boxes of memorabilia off dusty shelves and mine the cache of memory-triggers therein.

As you approach writing your memoir, plan on spending some time on research. In an earlier post I encouraged you to start a timeline of your life, looking for the branching points that shaped you. Once you’ve created that list of branching points, do a bit of research to verify what you recall.

You could:

  • Talk with others who were present
  • Track down records (marriage certificates, diplomas, scrapbooks, etc.)
  • Look up news articles about the events

To fill in gaps, contact friends, relatives, former coworkers, neighbors, etc. You could ask for copies of letters or cards you wrote them, photographs and other documents. Ask what they remember about you—you might uncover stories you have long forgotten.

With every thread you follow, whether it’s five minutes on the Internet or a week-long trip back to your old hometown, you bring yourself closer to writing your memoir, as truthfully as you can.

Photo: Sarah White at her high school graduation, 1974.

Sarah White is the founder of First Person Productions.

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About This Blog

Sarah White, author and personal historian, has written for a variety of markets ranging from business “how-to” books to consumer advice for teens. She applies her professional writing experience to help individuals preserve their life stories through workshops, community projects and one-to-one coaching. Born into a writing family, White graduated from Indiana University in 1980 with a Journalism degree. She has been a professional freelance writer since 1998. Her memoir essays have been published online and in print. She has taught memoir writing locally since 2004, helping dozens of individuals to complete and publish their life stories. She is active in the Association of Personal Historians (www.personalhistorians.org), currently serving as the organization's president. 

 Sarah White

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