My mother, Gail Lee Martin, published this with eHow some years ago. She also used these tips with the memoir writing group that she taught at the Shepherd Center in Wichita, Kansas.
Vintage inkwell collected by Cynthia Ross, Gail’s daughter.
Write Memories More Vividly
Writing family memories saves them for your children and grandchildren to enjoy. Each person’s memories remain unique and there’s no single correct way to write them. Here are tips for enhancing your memory writing.
Pay attention to detail: How your dad looked milking the cow for instance, the sounds and smells of the barn, and Mother straining the milk and skimming the cream.
What did they wear, how did they move about, what time of day was it? Get the details down on paper.
Try to use all five senses in the writing. See the scene. What smells do you associate with it? What were the sounds? Think of touch and how things felt? What tastes go with the scene.
Remember to include See/Hear/Taste/Touch/Smell in memory writing.
Spark your memories with visuals, letters, photographs, newspaper articles, pictures from magazines etc. Look closely at these for tiny things you’d forgotten over the years. Get out a magnifying glass if you need to see background details in the pictures.
Make use of vintage photos to refresh your memory when writing.
Talk to family members or anyone of that generation to stimulate memories. Their memories might be quite different from yours, but will still inspire your mind to dredge deeper.
Consider who will read or listen to your stories. Are there things in the story that is outside their experience? If the writing is for your grandchildren, maybe they’ve never seen a butter churn. This means describing it in more detail. What was it made of, how big was it, and how did it work? Don’t make it a lesson; just work the details into the story.
Here’s the kind of churn we had when I was growing up (Virginia Allain)
Make the language active, not passive. Instead of saying, “I wanted to be with her,” say “I craved her presence.” See how much more power the second wording gives to the same idea. Usually if the sentence has some form of “be” in it, then it is passive.
On the other hand, don’t look for $40 words when plain speaking does the job. If he filled the milk bucket to the brim, don’t fancy it up to “he inundated the milk container to capacity.”
Tips & Warnings
Don’t get too wrapped up in the wording. The most important thing remains getting the memory onto paper. The exact words can be adjusted later.
To see how she applied these tips to her own memoir writing, you can read her memories of going to the theater in the 1930s, Saturday at the Movies.
Here are some of the comments on her article:
jackieblue said on 5/26/2009: This is great. Thanks for giving good tips to help people preserve the past in words. Five stars
kittycooks said on 5/26/2009: Lovely. Thanks for sharing your writing tips!
ScarlettOHairy said on 5/25/2009: Great tips for “remembering” better. Thanks for this thoughtful article.
miasavc said on 1/17/2009: I love this article. It makes me see myself when I write my journal. Sometimes, it scares me because I am so descriptive about everything I put down in paper that I get so vulnerable. Great one, by the way!