Memories Dont Fade Like Hair Does: Memoir Writing Help for You, Our Elders, to Tell Your Story

~~~Old age, to the unlearned, is winter; to the learned, it's harvest time. ~ Yiddish saying~~~

You can tell your life story by biography, which is a whole book that starts from the start and ends at (or near) the end. But if you don't want to take on such a huge task, you can tell your story in snippets and snatches, through memoir writing.

Memoir writing consists of--as the word, from the Latin memoria, indicates--individual memories.

The convenience this affords us is this: --we can start at any place in our lives we want --we can write of an event, moment, idea, person, place, or isolation --we don't need any order or convention to inhibit our getting words on start.

Let the Memoir Writing Come

Don't worry about grammar, punctuation, or any formatting or structure. Just jot down the first thing that comes and go with it, whether it takes you into another story, a description of other things, or your opinion.

We will, over time, cover different ways to remember, different ways to write, and then, later, ways to put the pieces all together--if you wish.

For now, let's start with a kind of memoir writing that we can use in every piece we write:


We need description. Our readers need description. And we need to get that description out of our heads and into details.

Details Our Readers Can Sense

Our goal (and power as writers) is to turn what we recall into what readers can feel, see, taste, touch, and hear, so we can get them as close to our memories as possible. One Way to Describe

This is fun with a friend, but you can do it alone, too, and e-mail me your results.

Get the following items from your pantry or ice box (or have someone bring them to you):

lemon peanuts in shell plain chocolate bar/drops/chips marshmallow kiwi Pop Rocks candy or Alka-Seltzer tablets. one small knife a notebook and writing tool


Work with one item at a time. 1. Look at the item. How does it look? Write down the texture, color, size, shape, and other words that you think of when you look at the item. 2. Touch the item. How does it feel? What does the temperature feel like, the texture, the weight? 3. Smell the food item. How does it smell? 4. Listen to the item. Does it have a sound? How about when you add it to water, put the knife to it, bite into it, or put it in your tongue? 5. How does it taste?

Here is the Challenge:

With every word you use to describe, try to push yourself (or your partner) to go beyond the obvious descriptive words. For example, if you find that the marshmallow is soft, what kind of soft is it? Is it soft the way fresh laundry is soft? The kind of soft in whipped cream? Is the sweet a candy sweet or a sweet gherkin sweet?

Imagine that you are describing the item to someone who has never seen/had one, someone from another planet, and you need to get the person to retrieve the item for you to save your life. (The same way you would need to describe a medication, so the person doesn't bring you a heart pill instead of a blood pressure pill.)

Be as unique and original as you can with your words.

Refuse to be satisfied with just "crunchy," "sour," "cold."

Then, when we go to the next assignment, you will be ready to bring to life the details of your past, your life story.

Note: Did you notice that pushing yourself to describe what you sensed inevitably evoked comparisons. Descriptions lend themselves to metaphors. Writers use metaphors to convey and express. You are now a writer!

N.H.-born prize-winning poet, creative nonfiction writer, memoirist, and award-winning Assoc. Prof. of English, Roxanne is also web content and freelance writer/founder of, a support site for academic, memoir, mental disability, and creative writers who need a nudge, a nod, or just ideas?of which Roxanne has 1,000s, so do stop in for a visit, as this sentence can't possibly get any longer?.

In The News:

Marilyn's writing debut  Royal Gazette
Public Writing and the Junior Scholar  The Chronicle of Higher Education
The Heavy Unseen Labor of Writing Reference Letters  The Chronicle of Higher Education
Writing his way out  Alton Telegraph
Here Come the Prose Police  The Chronicle of Higher Education
The struggles of writer's block and how to overcome it  University of Virginia The Cavalier Daily
Scholars Talk Writing: TJ Stiles  The Chronicle of Higher Education
Tinker, Tailor, Writer, Spy  The New York Times
Newspaper writers win top awards  Whidbey News-Times

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