A Week’s Worth of Journaling Prompts: Using Your Journal for Memoir

by Amber Lea Starfire on September 12, 2011

Journal writing is good for so many things: emotional catharsis, sorting out problems, recording life events, self-reflection, and personal growth. It is also a writer’s tool, in which we write about our characters, explore possibilities, and practice writing dialog. Often, though, we don’t make use of previous entries. We mull over things in writing, and then forget about them.

What would you say if I were to tell you that your previous journal entries are full of treasure, just waiting for you to discover? It’s true, you know: our journals are wonderful places, where the seeds of meaning lie dormant, waiting for us to awaken them. In my recent article, Journal Writing for Memoir: Mining Metaphor, posted at womensmemoirs.com, I discuss how to mine your previous journal entries for images and metaphors you can use in your memoir, as well as offer several journal writing prompts to help you dig more deeply into their meanings (click the above link to read the post and then come back here to read the rest of this one).

Notice what you’ve written in your journal about a past event, particularly a memory from your childhood. Is there a specific, seemingly inconsequential detail that appears in what you’ve written? Something that stays in memory? Perhaps you keep seeing the cat cross the hallway during the time of the event, or the way the sunlight slanted across the living room floor, or the teapot on the table. These remembered images have significance.

This week’s journaling prompts are designed to help you further explore the meanings of images and metaphor extracted from past journal entries.

  1. Does your image have a color, a sound, a smell? What is it, and what emotions do you associate with those sensory details?
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  2. What associations does an image like yours have in mythology, fairy tales, or in stories you’ve read? How has it been used in movies? Do any of these uses resonate for you? If so, write about how it was used in the story or movie, and what about that use feels true for you.
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  3. If the image involves an activity — gardening, for instance — write about that activity using as much detail as possible. Write about preparing for the activity (putting on gloves, holding the pruning shears in your hand), what it feels and smells like (to dig into the loam, plant seeds, pull weeds). What part of this activity carries the greatest emotional charge, is most fulfilling, dangerous or exciting?
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  4. Think of someone in your life you’ve looked up to as a mentor or wise person. It could be a friend, relative, or teacher. Write a letter to yourself from that person, and in that letter have that person tell you what he or she feels the importance of that image to be.
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  5. What main concept does that image represent to you? For example, the image of a red skirt might mean defiance. The metaphor then is, defiance is a red skirt. Write five sentences that extend that metaphor. (For example, When worn short and daring, it may reveal more than you intend, or it shouts to be noticed.)
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  6. More metaphor extension play, using the _______ is to _________, as _________ is to ________ format. (A red skirt is to defiance as a blue skirt is to conformity.) Play with the second half of that pairing to explore other possible relationships of meaning with your original image.
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  7. Is there a person in your memory to whom you assign that image? For example, someone who wore a red skirt or someone who gardened? Make a list of that person’s physical and psychological characteristics. How many of these characteristics relate to that image, and why?

These journaling prompts are a start. I would love to hear from you: how have images from your past infiltrated your journal, and what meaning do you make of them?
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Related Articles:
Why Write? Journaling for Memoir
Blog Talk: Finding Your Writing Voice
How Journaling Can Help You Write Memoir
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Image Credit: Tricia Wang
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