Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Memoir Writing Prompts

Young Woman Writing Calligraphy, Kubo Shunman, Japanese, 1793 

I am in the middle of teaching a level two memoir writing workshop at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC. I am moved by the students' openness to work and their empathy for one another's shared lives. Most of all, I'm moved by their insight into their human experiences. I share this with you to encourage you to write your own truths because we truly do want to learn about one another. How do we live in this world? You have an answer that we can learn from.

Here are a few prompts from that class that might be helpful as you write, edit and revise your own work:

1. Write two timelines. The first timeline contains key moments from your memoir's present tense (remember that memoir places a frame around a particular theme or moment in your life.) The second timeline is a long and thorough timeline of key events from your entire life (I know, that's a daunting task.) The idea is that you will be able to see which past events will serve the main timeline as flashbacks, if your memoir follows that structure.

2. Write profiles of your main characters. Give the characters flesh and blood (describe them physically) and give them actions (how do they behave, gesture, eat, etc.) Writers often shy away from physical description and you can build on these profiles as your characters speak and act in your memoir.

3. Make a list of questions. What do you want to know about something? What is knowable through research? What is unknowable? This list should offer you various insights (a list of things to research, doubts, desires, etc.)

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