To successfully write your life story or memoir you should return to places from your past. The physical experience of standing where you once stood and lived will trigger memories that you thought were long forgotten.
I recently returned as a teacher to my old primary school and although this return was some time before I began my memoir journey, the first day there was significant for the memories it evoked.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been back. The first time as an adult was as a young student teacher trainee, when I was assigned to the classroom I’d inhabited as an eight year old. I was obviously still too close to my school days as that visit didn’t have a lasting impact on me. The next return, for the school 80th jubilee, was far more significant. The highlight of that trip was to stand in my second year classroom with the teacher who’d taught me, along with another favourite teacher. By that time I was well established in my own teaching career and it seemed strange standing there talking as equals. Memories and laughter filled the room.
But this recent return was powerful. On that first day back as a day relief teacher I became a child again. I stood at the door of my first classroom, overcome by goose bumps. Memories flooded back. More recently I have been teaching there for part of the year as a full-time teacher. It has been during this time that my school memoir has evolved.
When at the school, memories are everywhere for me. Little things that were probably insignificant at the time are becoming powerful anecdotal stories as I write my memoir. My first classroom, now remodelled, but not so much that I don’t imagine I’m a five year old again, reminds me of starting school, of learning to read and write. A climbing frame still lingering in the playground enables me to feel the blisters on my hands again as I swung the lunchtime away. Walking my class to the school swimming pool brought back memories of learning to wrap my swimsuit in my towel so it wouldn’t fall out. The path to the pool, along which I’d walked many times as a child, came alive again with the laughter and sayings we chanted along the way.
All this material and more is finding its way into my memoir writing. I can hardly write fast enough to keep up with all the images as they leap into my head.
If you’re serious about writing your memoir, I suggest you do the same thing. Return to the places from your past. Walk the streets, enter the buildings and linger awhile. Ask permission to visit your childhood home if you can. Imagine what you were doing when you were there and how you felt about it. Your memories will really come alive. Write them down and in doing so you’ll prompt more memories. Anecdotal stories don’t have to be life changing to be included in a memoir. Small stories of what actually happened bring the realty of the time or situation alive for the reader.
If you no longer live near the places your memoir will be based in, plan a return during your next vacation. The time and money spent on taking the physical journey back into your past will be well worth the effort.
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