How to Write Memoir If You Have a Rotten Memory

If you decided to write a memoir, is there one big, important memory that you’d want to write about? Let’s share in the comments!
 
Memoirist with a Bad Memory
By Joanne Huist Smith

When I decided I wanted to write about the weeks following my husband Rick’s death, I decided to develop my own memory jogging techniques. It was a slow process, but the kids and I created this book together, one memory at a time.

I am that woman who goes to the grocery store to buy a single ingredient, spends $100, and comes home without the one thing I needed. I may have visited a friend’s house two dozen times, but still need to ask for directions. And, if you expect to receive a card from me on your birthday, better send a yearly reminder.

So, how can someone with such a poor memory write a memoir?

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I am not a doctor or a psychologist. I have never studied the brain. I don’t even know how memory works and likely wouldn’t remember for long if I learned.

So when I decided I wanted to write about the weeks following my husband Rick’s death, I decided to develop my own memory jogging techniques. These are some of the tools I used to help me prepare:

Journal like you want to remember.
I have surrendered my heart, screamed my frustrations and chronicled my joy in the pages of a journal since I was in fourth grade. These bound volumes are my confidants, and they have unfailing memories. If I try a new hairstyle or color, I record it there. Stubs from movie or concert tickets, photos, business cards (I ask for two, one for my card file and one for my journal) also have a home in my journal along with newspaper clippings, post cards and other mementoes. Each entry is a snapshot of my life at that moment. These entries jogged my memory much better than exercising, though I did lose 25 pounds while writing the book.

If you write memoir, or hope to, start keeping a journal immediately.
Fifteen minutes a day will be worth the time spent.

Organize family/school photos and videos.
How tall was Megan in 1999 when her father passed away? Did we have that hideous green couch that Christmas or had we already replaced it? I found the answers to these questions and many more by organizing family photos chronologically and by child. With the photos before me, I wrote a detailed profile for each of the characters in my book, including myself. I had to get to know these people again as they were that Christmas.

Visit a library.
While most people turn to the Internet when looking for information, don’t forget the local history room at your neighborhood library. There you’ll find newspaper archives and historical documents rich with information about everything from the weather to crime reports.

Record your memories. This is a pretty tough assignment if you’re convinced you have a failing memory. To make the task less daunting, I broke down the story into beats and wrote all I knew about each one, then I set it aside.

Four memories are better than one.
Once I felt I had taken a scene as far as I could alone, I interviewed others who were present at the time. The 13th Gift really is a combination of the collective memories of all my family members.

It was a slow process, but the kids and I created this book together, one memory at a time.
 

Congrats to Sheila P., Kristin M., Janet H., Cathy E., Terrence B. and 95 other members of the Read It Forward community! Their entries were selected at random to win a hardover copy of The 13th Gift by Joanne Huist Smith.

JOANNE HUIST SMITH is a native of Dayton, OH. She earned a bachelor's degree in English at Wright State University and worked as a reporter for the Dayton Daily News. She is the mother of three and grandmother of two. Visit Joanne online at 13thGift.com and share the magic with her on Facebook.

About Joanne Huist Smith, author of The 13th Gift

joanne huist smith The 13th Gift

JOANNE HUIST SMITH is a native of Dayton, OH. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Wright State University and worked as a reporter for the Dayton Daily News. She is the mother of three and grandmother of two. Visit Joanne online at 13thGift.com and share the magic with her on Facebook.