A Madison Magazine Reader’s Memories Become 
a Published Memoir
Jan 29, 2013
09:00 AM
From Memory to Memoir

Fact + Memory + Meaning = Your Memoir

Fact + Memory + Meaning = Your Memoir

In a recent post I suggested you organize your memoir writing project with a simple three-ring binder, a tip I picked up from Carol Franco’s book The Legacy Guide: Capturing the Facts, memories, and Meaning of Your Life.

I’ve found another of Franco’s tips very helpful to me and the memoir writers I’ve coached—her “Facts, Memories, Meaning” outline.

Facts trigger memories, and meaning rises out of facts and memories. It’s natural for reminiscence essays to begin with facts and proceed through memories toward a meaningful conclusion.

Facts lay out the “what, when and where” of your story. This give your readers the information they need to understand what happens next. When April began her contest entry essay, “In 1971, our young family lived in a small Illinois town,” she was giving her readers the facts we need to know to join her where her “Forward to Madison” story begins.

Memories are the remembered events, occasions, people and places you recall. When written down, they bring to life the world as you experienced it. You probably have some generic memories (“we always ice skated in the winter”) and some more specific memories (“and one time, my friend Billy fell through the ice”). The more specific the memory, the more entertaining the story is likely to be. When you start mining your memory for these specific anecdotes, don’t be surprised if a trickle turns into a flood. Start a new page for each new memory, so you can file them into your three-ring binder in any sequence you want.   

Meaning allows you to give a story a satisfying close. What does it reveal about how this experience has shaped you? What enduring values and character traits are illustrated by the events you’ve written about? If you’re having trouble answering these questions, try finishing this sentence: “This story shows how it is important for people to…”

Next time you have fifteen minutes free to work on your memoir, try writing a few pages beginning with facts, then moving on to memories and finally, bringing your writing session to a close with a few thoughts on the meaning of what you’ve written. You’ll be surprised how easily you produce an essay worthy of inclusion in your memoir.

Photo: A holiday family gathering from Sarah’s childhood circa 1960. Each object in the photo triggers memories.

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About This Blog

Sarah White, author and personal historian, has written for a variety of markets ranging from business “how-to” books to consumer advice for teens. She applies her professional writing experience to help individuals preserve their life stories through workshops, community projects and one-to-one coaching. Born into a writing family, White graduated from Indiana University in 1980 with a Journalism degree. She has been a professional freelance writer since 1998. Her memoir essays have been published online and in print. She has taught memoir writing locally since 2004, helping dozens of individuals to complete and publish their life stories. She is active in the Association of Personal Historians (www.personalhistorians.org), currently serving as the organization's president. 

 Sarah White

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