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Writing Memoir – Process

August 14, 2018


Today I’m going to write about the process of completing the exercises in Patti Miller’s book, Writing True Stories, and my impressions of the exercises.

During the entire process so far, I’ve been very surprised at the memories that the writing exercises have triggered. These have been memories that I haven’t thought of for years, or even for most of my life. Each time I’ve sat down to begin an exercise, I’ve felt concerned that I would have no memories to call on for the topic.  Without fail, after reading the preceeding material, the memories have come back to me.

I have probably written previously that my life has been an ordinary life, and in the past this has stopped me thinking about writing my memoir. Patti Miller’s book has allowed me to create those ordinary memories into a story.

The process so far, is to record the memories and complete the exercises, without over editing, so as yet,the writing is quite raw. The instructions from the author are just to get the memory recorded, without spending too long on each exercise, and without getting bogged down with detail. The exercises can be expanded on later. The important thing about each exercise is the memory. I’m not sure, whether we will get to expand, edit and improve the stories as part of the exercises in this book, or if that is something that will be done after completing all exercises.

So far, there are three exercises that I’ve struggled with. I’ve put them aside for now and will return to them, when hopefully something comes up that will trigger a memory. The exercises that I’ve put aside for now are:

House Plan:  Draw a floor plan of the house you lived in as a child. Mentally wander through it, going from room to room. Write about what you see or what happened there, or who you bump into. I did do this exercise, but nothing came up for me. However, as I’ve written about it now, something has come to mind, so I will probably return to this exercise very soon.

Newspaper: Search for a newspaper account of a public event you remember from childhood. Compare your memory of the event with the newspaper event. I have really struggled to remember an event that I can search for. This exercise is on hold until I get to talk with Mum. I’m hoping she will be able to trigger a memory for me.

Interview: Interview family members or friends on any topic related to your life. Ask them to talk about a time that you shared or as person you both knew. This exercise is difficult for me, as I don’t have any family members or lifelong friends living close by. This exercise is on hold until I’m able to catch up with family

Patti Miller constantly asks the question: “what is it like to be you in the world ?” I find that to be such an interesting question, and keep it in the background when completing the exercises. I’ve found it a really helpful question to ask and think about. I can see myself asking this question about my ancestors as I write about them in the future.

We have been encouraged in the reading material, to think about the events in our life, which we plan to make the focus of our memoir. When I started  the exercises, I wasn’t sure that they would lead to a memoir, I was merely interested in completing the exercises. But as I’ve worked through them, I’m starting to think that there is a possibility of a memoir. But I’m struggling to come up with a focus to my memoir, though I do have a few vague ideas that haven’t been developed yet and need further thought. At the moment, I’m just trying to accept that as yet I haven’t found that focus, and hope that inspiration will come to me, probably when I least expect it.

So far, I’m not even halfway through the book but feel that I’ve learnt a lot about writing, and that I am starting to develop my own writing style. I’m not even halfway through the exercises yet, so it’s very early days yet.

The exercises up to now, have been quite short and uncomplicated, but flicking ahead to future exercises, I can see that this will change.

I’m really enjoying the process of writing memoir and looking forward to the coming exercises.

From → Family stories

  1. I’m enjoying your series Jen as you work through the book. I might even check out the book and try the exercises myself, they are similar to the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Have a lovely week, my friend. x

  2. I have included your blog/s in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you, Chris
    great series, thank you, Jen

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