Mining Your Memories

I’ve been gathering writing prompts and tips for my upcoming Chautauqua workshop on Mining Your Memories and thought I’d share a few. Writers who want to craft authentic works must be willing to dive into the well of personal experience. Whether you’re crafting fantasy or nonfiction, your experience matters . . . especially your emotional experience. To write authentically, you must be willing to tap into your emotional past.

  • Accept that your experiences matter. This is tough, I know. But only one person will ever live the life you’ve lived: you! If you don’t tap into your life’s experiences, no one ever will. My first kiss was in a friend’s playhouse. I must have been about six years old. Where was yours?

  • Get in touch with your body’s memories–every experience that has affected your body, from a bruise to a birthing, is remembered at a cellular level. Take a deep breath and ask your body’s aches and pains to share what they remember. For example, my neck has been stiff for more than ten years from an auto accident. I can write about what it feels like to keep going despite a chronic pain.
  • Write from your shadow self as well as your acceptable self. We all have a shadow self . . . the parts of ourselves we’ve labeled “unacceptable” because parents, society, church, school, or some other entity told us those parts were not OK. Ask your shadow self to come out of hiding and use what it remembers in your writing. For example, my shadow self once punched someone in the nose. Since I’ve experienced that, if I have a character do such a thing, I know what it feels like, emotionally and physically.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Kathy Doherty says:

    Your post did not fall on deaf ears. I read it and studied it and reread it. Now I will make an effort to apply it!


  2. kimgriswell says:

    Great to hear, Kathy! Since you’re listening, here are a few more tips for mining memories:
    1. Take out that box of old photos. Choose one from your childhood. Write from where it leads you.
    2. Try to remember a swimsuit you wore when you were young. Write about the girl in that swimsuit.
    3. If you kept any written materials (diary, poems, cards, journal) from when you were young, reread them. What emotions do you find there? Choose one and write from that emotion.
    4. Firsts often stick in our minds. Brainstorm a list of firsts (day of school, teacher, church, boyfriend, friend, pet, bad grade, Halloween costume, broken bone, argument, defeat, broken heart, etc.). Write from the ones with the strongest emotional memories. (Don’t be too literal about the “first” bit. Use the first of each thing that you remember . . . whether it’s the true first or not.)

    Some of these will just be exercises for you, but some won’t want to let you go until you’ve written them into stories or poems or books or blogs. Go with the ones that hang onto your shirttail, or tap you on the shoulder, or tug at your heart!


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