Journaling for Memoir, Part 1: Why It’s a Good Idea

by Amber Lea Starfire on April 27, 2015

Journaling for Memoir

You sit down to work on your memoir. You’ve made an outline of significant life events, and you’ve identified where you want to start. Or you decide to just go through life events chronologically. As you write, you’re attempting to craft a story, but you don’t yet know where you’re going. You find that some memories are sharp, while some are as faded and torn as those vintage photographs you’re using as memory aids.

For a while, you dive into emotional pain and allow yourself to rant. Then you delete what you wrote because you’re thinking, Who wants to read that? You feel you have to fill in all the backstory so your reader will understand why your aunt or your father or your mother affected you the way they did.

All the while your internal editor is peering over your shoulder pointing out grammatical and spelling errors and whispering into your ear about how awful, how pedantic your writing is. You tell her to get lost, but she just shifts to your other ear. You delete and revise and rewrite that same first scene over and over, but can’t get it quite right.

Does this scenario seem familiar? Does your inner editor sabotage your writing sessions, or do you spend hours writing about events and backstory you’re not sure are going to be included in finished work? Do you struggle with developing realistic portrayals of your real-life characters? If any of these situations are true for you, consider using your journal to handle many of the pre-writing functions so necessary for memoir (or any kind of writing for that matter).

Journals come in many forms and shapes and are used for many reasons. A writer’s journal has a special purpose: it’s the place to explore and process emotions, memory, ways of thinking, descriptions, and writing techniques. Journaling for memoir deepens reflection, sharpens memories, and helps you get to the core of your story by using journaling techniques, such as long lists, creative clustering, sensory memory triggering, and targeted writing prompts.

Whether you’re working on a book-length work or a shorter personal essay or excerpt, your writing journal is a valuable tool.  Much — I will go so far as to say most — of what you write in your memoir journal will not make it into your final piece, but what you reveal and discover will. Your writing, and your story, will be better for it.

Stay tuned for  Journaling for Memoir, Part 2, in which I will share some of my favorite journaling for memoir techniques with you.


UPDATE – 4/28/15

My new class, Journaling for Memoir, starts May 11. Enrollment is open now. For course description and to enroll, visit the Journaling for Memoir class page.



Word for Writers, Part 3: Changing Document Defaults

April 13, 2015
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Do you usually change margins and font when starting a new Word document? For example, the standard for manuscripts formatting is 12-point Times New Roman font, double-spaced paragraph with a first line indent, and a 1” margin (top, bottom, left and right). However, Word’s defaults are 11 point Cambria, 1.15 line spacing, with a 10 pt space […]

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A Writer’s Life: Meditations On Aging

April 6, 2015
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I think I’ve figured out why old people talk so much about their aches and pains and bodily functions. It’s because, no matter how long they’ve been dealing with those aches and pains, they’re surprised by the effects aging has on their bodies. I’ve come to this conclusion because I, too, am surprised by it and […]

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Word for Writers, Part 2: What Every Writer Should Know

March 31, 2015
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In this post, the 2nd in a series on Microsoft Word for Writers. Last time, I talked about why you want to improve your Word skills. In this post, I outline the subjects I’ll be covering during the series. If your working knowledge of Word is limited, the list may seem overwhelming at first glance. But don’t […]

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Journaling Prompt: Is Life a Classroom?

March 18, 2015
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I’ve heard it said that each of us comes to Earth with a purpose, with something to learn and something to contribute. Certainly, we all learn from life as we live it, but the concept of life as a kind of spiritual classroom has always fascinated me. Think about it: if this idea is true, it […]

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