Writing a memoir is an excellent way to share your experiences with others and leave a lasting legacy. However, recalling past experiences may seem challenging and overwhelming. When I wrote Once Upon a Child, my memoir about my experience having multiple miscarriages, I had to reflect on many scenes. I wanted to be as descriptive as possible, but it wasn’t always easy. I tucked away many traumatic memories and wanted complete healing without feeling tormented by them. I knew I needed help processing much of what I experienced, and thankfully, my OBGYN and Therapist were instrumental in helping me unpack those feelings. Later, I wrote a book to help other women who experienced miscarriages. I knew I’d need to go back again to recall what happened. As painful as it was, it was a necessary part of telling my story.
Many of the authors I work with have decided to tell their personal stories, too, and one of the main concerns I hear about is that they don’t think they remember “everything” that happened to tell their story fully. I implemented a few strategies that worked for me, and I’d love to share them with you.
- Start by creating a timeline of your life events. This can help you remember significant moments that you may have forgotten. Note: It’s OK to add more events while writing. Once you start returning to old memories, more memories will return to you. This is very common. Your manuscript will go through many changes, and that’s normal!
- Use sensory details to trigger your memories. For example, remember what you saw, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt during a particular moment. We usually avoid triggers. But when writing your memoir, you may need them to help you remember what you felt back then. Don’t be afraid to remember the hard things. I also highly recommend having a trusted friend walk beside you in case you need them!
- Look at old photos or keepsakes to help you recall past events. Seeing visual reminders of the past can help jog your memory. I remember stumbling upon an ultrasound picture of a baby I lost. It hurt my soul, and what I felt at that moment was communicated in my book. It’s not easy. I had to breathe through it.
- Talk to family and friends who were present during the events you want to write about. They may have a different perspective that can help you remember details you may have forgotten. Be bold and ask your loved ones questions. “What was I like when I went through this?” “Is there anything specific about my behavior that you remember?” Ask uncomfortable questions and prepare for their answers. One of my best friends was honest about how a situation I encountered dramatically changed my behavior. I didn’t see it, but he did. That prompted me to look deeper and recognize my need for help, and when I was ready to talk about it, I could. I share more about this story in my upcoming book. Our loved ones pay attention to the details, and they may have many examples to help you remember.
- Write down your memories as soon as you recall them. You can always go back and edit later, but capturing your memories while fresh in your mind is essential. Keep a notebook handy. Write memories on your phone. Don’t risk losing the valuable details you are remembering!
Writing a memoir is a personal journey, so be easy on yourself if you can’t remember every detail. Write as much as you can remember; before you know it, you’ll have a memoir ready to publish.
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