There are those times during our lives when we seem to be observing characters in a bigger story. That story is the life events you experience. And then in retrospect you realize that slice of pie event is the perfect fodder for a memoir.
But when you sit down to write the memoir you can’t remember the highlights of your experience or the chronological order of your timeline. Yet, you know when you were going through a rough patch or even a good one, a story arc presented itself. Not only that, the people you met became wild and unique characters in your personal story. It’s that saying, some things you just can’t make up.
Often times, the events that shape memoirs are in retrospect. However, there were times in my life where the story arc was intense and I knew I had material for a memoir. The problem was, I didn’t keep a daily journal of the events and people I met. So, then the memoirs I write blur around edges like a dream fading upon awakening in the morning.
The type of journal we must keep for the major events of our lives must have sensual details. What I mean by that is that we record an inventory of smells, tastes, physical sensations, intense emotions, sounds, and other sensory that will later draw the reader into our stories. It’s not that the readers will experience our life stories in the same way that we did but that they will engage with our storytelling.
Keeping the journal will also help us stay in the moment instead of getting stuck in the past or lost in the future. “Be here now” is the motto for a good memoirist. When the reader picks up our memoir they will journey with us every step of the way. It helps that we leave touchstones and even pauses in the drama.
Also write down those pauses in the journal. Write down the poems that came into your thoughts, the trees you spent an afternoon resting underneath, the child who cheered you up on a bad day by simply smiling at you. And what about that evening when a good friend invited you for dinner and you forgot about your challenges and gave your soul a rest? Even the most tragic times in our lives offer us respite by even just noticing the beauty of the planet. Seeing butterflies or a ladybug landing on my hand helped me get through some challenges. Simple things save us from falling into the pit of hopelessness.
The first time when I endured being homeless in Bellingham, Washington, I knew I had a memoir in the works, but I didn’t keep a journal. I ranted in a journal and I did card readings for myself but I didn’t keep track of the events I experienced. I regretted that later when I wrote my memoir, Woman Sleeping on a Couch.
Tip: paste photographs in your journal since they will trigger your memory in the future.
I made the same mistake when I fostered Sobaka, a German shorthaired pointer, but thankfully, I started writing my memoir on the foster dog before he went to his forever home. I also collected stories about the dog from family members since he was my brother’s dog at that time. That ended up in my memoir, Tofu Girl and the Foster Dog That Rescued Her.
I believe that I will write a third memoir about my relocation to Vermont and the plot twist. I had a dream to become an animal communicator in Vermont but ended up homeless instead. The memoir will have the same title as another blog of mine, Washingtonian Living in Vermont. But too bad I haven’t taken notes from the past nine months. I have kept journals but it’s been too crazy to keep up.
Publication is another story…
I don’t know what will happen with my memoirs. I don’t trust the current state of the book publishing industry. Perhaps, I just wrote the memoirs for myself or for family members to have in the future. Or maybe we will revamp the book publishing industry and clear out the corruption so that books with a lot of heart and soul will be published again. One can hope.
I have to say that there have been few memoirs that have caught my attention in recent years. I tend to read the ones focusing on animal rescue or conservation efforts to save species. The last compelling memoir I read was Bicycling with Butterflies. And now when I see Monarch butterflies flitting in the flowers, I remember this wonderful story of the young woman who cycled along with migrating butterflies from Mexico to Canada to advocate for protecting the habitat and migration paths of the Monarch.
The final reason writing daily events in a journal is that often a writer decides years later to write a memoir of a time in their life. And if they didn’t keep a journal they won’t recall the most important events that create the peak in the memoir. Or their memory will be faulty. They’ll have to put words into people’s mouths and elaborate to tell their story. It’s better to keep a journal whether or not life events turn into a memoir or not.
You never know. You might be living a story that becomes the next Eat, Pray, Love.
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