Sunday, February 6, 2011

Putting Memories Into a Memoir

By Deborah Wright Yoho

When I last read a selection at our writers' workshop, someone remarked, "How can you remember all these details?" I understood the question both as a compliment and as a sincere query, since I am writing a true story that took place more than 35 years ago. Besides, I turn sixty this year. This graying old mare ain't what she used to be, especially her memory!

Much of the pleasure I stumble upon as I struggle with the hard work of writing a memoir is the delight of savoring old times, old friends, old places. So I thought I would share how, indeed, I work to retrieve detailed memories to include in my writing. It isn't rocket science, and what works for me may be useful to any writer.

My secret: I work with photographs. You could be astounded at how much you will notice in a photograph you haven't looked at for some time. A picture of myself at seventeen playing a guitar while sitting on my mom's sofa brought back all sorts of things: my mom's interest in watercolor (the photo showed a picture on the wall behind me); how I felt about my body at the time (I wasn't really playing the guitar, but hiding my stomach); the heat and humidity of Charleston, where my parents lived while I was in college; and how I hated the Greyhound bus rides I endured to visit them. The next thing I knew I was remembering, in detail, a conversation I had with a soldier on the bus about the Vietnam War.

I talk before I begin to draft a piece of writing, to anyone handy, even to myself if necessary. Details come to mind as someone else asks me questions, or when I am literally thinking out loud as my own mind wanders and wonders. I find that actually hearing words helps me compose in black and white what my mind "sees" in pictures while I'm talking.

I must be an auditory learner, because music, an evocative medium in its own right, has been another powerful catalyst when calling details to mind. I'm writing about the 1960s, so I immerse myself in the popular music of that time, not just while writing, but all day long.

When I first became serious about my writing, I was highly selective about what details I included, thinking only "relevant" items advancing the storyline would be of interest to the reader. But our group set me straight! Readers want detail, if your writing makes them curious enough to want to know more.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I can just see you hanging out in your kitchen in a tie-dye top and peasant skirt, grooving from everything from Heatwave to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.