Memoirs: Eight Ways to Find Hidden Treasure in Memories

treasureLook through old family albums and select a picture that intrigues you. Write about it for ten or fifteen minutes, setting down anything that comes to mind. (Better yet, select a picture from the shoe box of old photos that never made it into the album.)

Use an object that has been handed down in your family as a starting point for your writing.

  • Your father’s old straight razor
  • Your grandmother’s autograph book
  • The cookbook your mother received as a wedding present
  • Your grandfather’s report card from third grade

Free associate about common events like:

  • Eating ice cream
  • Doing laundry
  • Grocery shopping
  • Mowing the lawn

What childhood images do they evoke? What was different about those events in your childhood, from the way they are carried out now?

treasure3Draw a memory map of:

  • Your old neighborhood
  • A secret childhood hideaway
  • A house you lived in as a child
  • Your childhood room

Take your time and put in as much detail as you can. Write about something you had forgotten and that emerged when you drew your map. Write about something that happened in the location you mapped.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a very specific time and place in your past:

  • The day you started school
  • Your sixteenth birthday party
  • Your first date
  • The time you took the driving test to get your first license

Allow yourself to daydream about the sounds you heard, what you saw, the tastes and the textures, the smells of this time and place. After you bring it to life in your mind’s eye, begin writing.

Make a list of turning points, times when your life changed direction, times when you learned something and after that your life would never be the same.

  • Finding out your mom and dad lied to you about Santa Claus
  • The time one of your first pets died
  • The time you found our your parents were only human instead of super human

Pick one of these events and write about that.

treasure2List your mile-stones, events you have used to mark your progress through life:

  • Learning to ride a bike
  • Your first job
  • Losing your first tooth
  • Your first fist fight
  • Your first menstrual period
  • Learning how to drive

Write about these events, one at a time.


Begin with a prompt.

  • My favorite toy was…
  • One thing I wish I’d never done was…
  • I’m glad I…
  • The teacher I couldn’t stand was…
  • My happiest moment came when…
  • I never felt so embarrassed as when I…

Although many books of prompts have been written, you can easily invent your own. Buy a pack of three by five cards and spend a couple hours brainstorming prompts. Put one on each card and carry a few with you wherever you go, so you can begin writing in spare moments throughout your day.