Recalling the details of our life stories can be a challenge. Devising a Memory List (pg. 41 of Turning Memories Into Memoirs) is the first best thing you can do, but if you want additional ideas, here are five suggestions for remembering more than you might have thought possible.
1) Make opportunities to talk about the past with people who were there. Stay clear of nostalgia and sentimentality. Look for facts, try to detect patterns and compulsions. Remember the good times.
2) Write “time-capsule” descriptions of yourself and of anyone else you wish to include. These descriptions should contain physical, emotional, and spiritual considerations. Select various ages–for example, at 20, at 40, at 60. When did noticeable differences in appearance and character occur? Are these differences attributable to age, to sickness, to an accident, to a reversal of fortune?
3) Learn the simple technique of visualization. Visualization is a meditation-like experience in which a person calls forth (“visualizes”) specific images of people, places, things. Through exercises, you can visualize the images of your ancestors, of places where you have lived, of experiences that were important to you. Visualization can provide information your conscious mind may not even be aware of.
Sometimes our sense of reserve keeps us from writing about others. Visualization can help you ask “permission” from departed loved ones to inquire into, and write about, their lives. For many lifewriters, receiving “permission” frees them of the guilt–or at least, the discomfort–they feel about probing into the lives of others.
However you choose to explain why visualization “works,” it remains a useful tool for opening up your intuition to understanding another person, to making sense of what you may have repressed. Visualizations can be an enormously creative experience with many benefits. By all means, find books on visualization and undertake the practices suggested.
4) Write letters to someone–alive or dead–you want to write about. Write as if you were composing a real letter. Ask specific questions. Ask for their thoughts and feelings and share yours. Now, answer your own letter as though your subject were writing back to you. Provide the answers to your questions, “share” his/her feelings and point of view. This “correspondence” may surprise you! Your intuition is tapping your subconscious to give you information and insight you didn’t know you had.
These letters may also help you to recreate believable dialogue in your stories. The “letters” may contain favorite expressions and/or the diction (the style of speech) of a person you are writing about. Incorporating these into your stories will make your characters come alive.
5) Become a journal writer. The spontaneity and utter privacy of a journal entry helps the writer connect with her intuition and inner strength. The journal’s honesty–after all, who are you kidding but yourself if you alter the truth in your journal?–can give you courage and practice in writing honest lifestories. The journal can also be an important source for lifewriting portraits and stories. Many people first explore issues and memories in the journal–sometimes making several attempts at recording them before transcribing sections into their lifestories.