Recalling memories is often the most difficult part of writing a memoir. Often when my ghostwriting clients are trying to come up with ideas for the memoirs they narrate or email to me they’ll have to come back to a particular memory or scene a half dozen times before they’re satisfied that they really know what it is that they’re trying to talk about. Their ideas might conflict the first few times they touch on it, or they might not know if they arrived or their now spouse arrived first to their first date.
Why is that? Well, the human memory is a complicated and as it turns out pretty terrible thing. (Don’t believe me? Scientific American, the Journal of Vision, The Atlantic, and The Journal of Experimental Psychology are all willing to back me up on this.) We tend to believe we remember more than we actually do, which tends to be problematic when doing things like giving eye-witness testimony in a trial, and trying to tell your life story to your family and friends or a bunch of strangers who buy your memoir.
How to Improve Your Memory
The title of this section is a bit of a misnomer. I’m not giving you insight on how to improve your current memory or capacity to make new memories, but instead am offering tips I give my clients on how they can better recall existing memories that may have taken place in the distant past. (Or recent past. I don’t judge.)
- Physically write things down.
I am a big proponent of writing by hand, but research has shown that writing things down with a pen enhances neural activity and helps to keep the mind sharp – more so than typing on a keyboard, anyway. If you’re struggling to remember things when you’re sitting at your computer, pick up a notepad and pen and see if jotting down the details you can remember helps to bring up more information.
- If you are trying to recall a specific instance, try building on what you already know.
If you’ve already made a list of specific memories and you just need to conjure up a few more details, write down everything you can remember. Physically write things you remember down for bonus points. These details can be about the setting, the person(s) involved, yourself, your state of mind – literally anything that might jog your memory of the event you’d like to describe.
- Don’t try to organize your thoughts and memories before you have them.
Leave putting your memories in order to when you add them to your outline, or when you’re trying to plan what to include. There is no reason that you should try to think about “other bad things that happened the year my pet turtle passed away” or “things I did with Dad”. Make a list of the memories you can recall, even if they’re snippets, and work from there. As long as the list makes sense to you, you’re golden. (Just be really sure that it makes sense to you. If you have to spend time recalling what your note means, it defeats the purpose.)
Still need help? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear what else you’ve tried to help jog your memory.
Additional Posts in this Series: