Journaling for Memoir: Why It’s a Good Idea 6


You sit down to work on your memoir. You’ve made an outline of significant life events, and you’ve identified where you want to start. Or you decide to just go through life events chronologically. As you write, you’re attempting to craft a story, but you don’t yet know where you’re going. You find that some memories are sharp, while some are as faded and torn as those vintage photographs you’re using as memory aids.

For a while, you dive into emotional pain and allow yourself to rant. Then you delete what you wrote because you’re thinking, Who wants to read that? You feel you have to fill in all the backstory so your reader will understand why your aunt or your father or your mother affected you the way they did.

All the while your internal editor is peering over your shoulder pointing out grammatical and spelling errors and whispering into your ear about how awful, how pedantic your writing is. You tell her to get lost, but she just shifts to your other ear. You delete and revise and rewrite that same first scene over and over, but can’t get it quite right.

Does this scenario seem familiar? Does your inner editor sabotage your writing sessions, or do you spend hours writing about events and backstory you’re not sure are going to be included in finished work? Do you struggle with developing realistic portrayals of your real-life characters? If any of these situations are true for you, consider using your journal to handle many of the pre-writing functions so necessary for memoir (or any kind of writing for that matter).

[bctt tweet=”Journaling deepens reflection, sharpens memories, and helps get to the core of your story.” username=”writingthrulife”]

Journals come in many forms and shapes and are used for many reasons. A writer’s journal has a special purpose: it’s the place to explore and process emotions, memory, ways of thinking, descriptions, and writing techniques. Journaling for memoir deepens reflection, sharpens memories, and helps you get to the core of your story by using journaling techniques, such as long lists, creative clustering, sensory memory triggering, and targeted writing prompts.

Whether you’re working on a book-length work or a shorter personal essay or excerpt, your writing journal is a valuable tool.  Much — I will go so far as to say most — of what you write in your memoir journal will not make it into your final piece, but what you reveal and discover will. Your writing, and your story, will be better for it.

Stay tuned for  Journaling for Memoir, Part 2, in which I will share some of my favorite journaling for memoir techniques with you.


UPDATE – 4/28/15

My new class, Journaling for Memoir, starts May 11. Enrollment is open now. For course description and to enroll, visit the Journaling for Memoir class page.


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6 thoughts on “Journaling for Memoir: Why It’s a Good Idea

  • Linda Visman

    I love this: “Journaling deepens reflection, sharpens memories, and helps get to the core of your story.”
    I think I need to do a lot more journaling of my thoughts and memories as a way to both make them clearer and to understand connections.
    Thanks for this. I look forward to part 2.

  • sara etgen-baker

    Writing one’s journal is like many activities–it requires discipline and establishing a habit. But journaling is a habit that offers so many rewards. I need to strengthen my habit!

  • Amber Lea Starfire

    Sara, I think it’s much easier to strengthen habits when we’re motivated. For me, that sometimes means having a specific goal or reason for journaling. That’s not true for everyone of course … but it might help you to focus on a particular journaling benefit. Just a thought 🙂

  • patsy ann taylor

    I look forward to part two. There is always something to think about in these posts. Some of my journal entries become lists of the to dos of that day, but finding a little gem is worth looking back at old pages.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Hi Patsy, last year I went through a period of time — maybe 2 or 3 months — where my journal entries were primarily to-do lists and goals. Bleh. It’s useful to include these sometimes in order to record achievements, etc., but important to add other, more meaningful entries to the mix. That’s why, for me, structuring my approaching to journaling works.