A Week’s Worth of Journaling Prompts: A Sense of Place 8

When I read a memoir or novel, I always want to know where I am. I want to feel secure and grounded in a place. Yet, because of my own life experiences, I grapple with defining sense of place for myself. Not only did I move frequently as a child (5 or 6 times before I finished high school), I continued moving throughout my adult life, as well. In total, I’ve lived in over 30 different houses, in eleven cities and three states. And the longest I’ve lived anywhere was my previous residence: seven years. (I’ve lived in my current house for nearly a year, and I’m hoping this one will stick.) Before then, the longest I’d lived anywhere was six; the shortest, a few weeks.

So the question I have asked myself is, “How do I create a strong sense of place for my readers when I am not sure what that feels like in real life?” The answer, for me, is to spend time journaling about place in order to define, understand, and reinforce it in myself.

I began by looking at others’ definitions. The National Trust for Historic Preservation* defines sense of place simply, as “Those things that add up to a feeling that a community is a special place, distinct from anywhere else.”

Those things are all the details that make a place a place; they include climate, flora and fauna, people, architecture, and culture. They include both the natural and human-made or influenced attributes of a location. And they give one a feeling that that spot of earth is unique in some way, special, endowed with specific, recognizable qualities. As with all writing, place is in the particular.

This week’s journal writing prompts are designed to help you share my personal journey of defining and exploring the meaning of sense of place.

  1. Do a creative cluster and freewriting response to with the word place.
  2. In general, do you think you have a strong sense of place or a weak one? Explain your answer.
  3. What qualities make where you live today unique? List as many physical, emotional, and social details as possible.
  4. Thinking back over your life, where was the place to which you felt most attached? What, in particular, made you feel that place was so special?
  5. If you could live anywhere in the world other than where you live now, where would it be and why? Describe the qualities that make that place different and unique.
  6. Make a list of emotional qualities you ascribe to place.
  7.   Write a few paragraphs about an important event in your life. Now, describe the place in which the event occurred. How many details can you remember? What emotional significance do you attach to that place as a result of that life event? Rewrite the event in scene, using place’s attributes to set the scene. In what ways does place impact the story’s power?

How important to your understanding of story is place? I invite you to join in the discussion—leave a comment.


Image Credit: Nebojsa Mladjenovic
* Stokes, S. M., Watson, A. E. and Mastran, S. S. (1997). Saving America’s Countryside: A Guide to Rural Conservation (2nd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press: 192.


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8 thoughts on “A Week’s Worth of Journaling Prompts: A Sense of Place

  • Sherrey Meyer

    Very helpful post — sense of place for me is often frightening because so many places have been surrounded in fear and abuse. However, once I married for the second time, my life actually settled down and my sense of this place is more secure. Your suggestions and prompts have given me a way to look back at that childhood and include place in my draft. Thank you!

    By the way, my husband lived 34 places in 32 years. Since our marriage in 1981, we’ve lived five places in 30 years — this last going on 18! Feels good. 🙂

  • Lynette Stow

    I too have moved a lot–9 times by age 14 and 13 times since then. My sense of place- who I am really- has always been associated with the stable things in life–my siblings and parents, my extended family and our vacations together. I think I will always have a kind of restlessness within, regardless of where I live. That sense that change is coming, and an inner pull to go with it. As always, your prompts are meaningful and pull out so much more than I think is even in me. Thanks and keep ’em coming!

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Thanks, Lynette. I sometimes think all that moving has made me a more adaptable person. I adjust very quickly to new situations and even welcome change. Maybe I’m a bit restless, too, as you say. And I’ve always called where I’m staying “home” even if it’s just a hotel bed. Funny. I like the idea that sense of place can be just as firmly based in a family or community of people, when the land underneath keeps changing.

  • Carol

    I have wondered about this as well. I have marked my 31st address in my lifetime of 45 years. How do I feel about the places I have lived? The people I have learned to love/ or not? What is a home? Is it my fam? (which it totally is) It ain’t about the drapes! LOL
    the prompts have been helpful as I sketch out the various states, countries, towns. thank you for this post. 😀

  • Maya Lazarus

    I’m blown away by how many places some of you have lived in. Growing up I could count the places on one hand and they were almost all in the same neighborhood. As an adult, I moved quite a bit more, blown around by life’s circumstances. However, I never felt adrift or lost because I always stayed connected to family and friends. And I never felt estranged or isolated. Wherever I was living, I knew I could always “go home again” to my roots. That was very comforting.
    Great ideas, Amber, for writing prompts.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Maya, you bring up a good point about staying in touch with family and friends helping to maintain a sense of place. When someone moves a lot, especially as a child, she loses those friends. As a result, she learns to let go of people. “They come, they go.” Whereas even though a person moves frequently as an adult, once she has developed long-term friendships, she can probably maintain those connections even while in transition. More to think about.