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Our memoir writing exercises are different from those found on other sites. We do not provide ready-made writing prompts such as: “who was your favorite teacher in high school?” or “what three things did you like to do during the summer?” or “You are in the same taxi as X [insert  name of a famous person]. What would you ask or say?”

Titillation is not our goal.

Memoir writing prompts can be entertaining, and when the writing they generate is shared in a group, they can be fun enough, but they are an example of writing from the outside in—which promises a miss—and not from the inside out as we advocate throughout this site.

The habit a writer needs to develop, a sure part of the writer’s life, is to be seeking “what do I really mean to write here?” and “What is most true of me [or my characters] as human beings.”

Memoir writing exercises about “three things you would do if you were abducted in a flying saucer” does not produce the writing-from-inside-out that the best memoirs exhibit.

Instead of writing prompts

We advocate organic memoir writing exercises that are likely to lead to a deepening of your insight rather than to a titillation for your entertainment — which is what we think of most memoir writing prompts.

Our premier memoir writing exercise is the Memory List, but as this category demonstrate there are many other possibilities to hone your skills.

In conclusion

Read the many posts below to see for yourself how the memoir writing exercises we suggest are better than any writing prompt that asks you to write about “It’s the year 2500 and you are…”

share your writing

Dare to Share Your Writing

A critical steps to take as a developing writer is to share your writing with others. Those others might be writers, they might be friends, or they might be family members.

Sometimes you make your writing public by having an in-person audience or a virtual audience. Sometimes your first audience comes in the form of blog readers.

This post is geared to the novice writer and may not apply to a more experienced memoirist.

To Share Is To Grow

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memoir coaching

Memoir Coaching Laser-focuses on Getting Your Memoir Written Faster and Better

How does memoir coaching improve your manuscript?

“What does ‘My family was poor’ mean, ” I asked a memoir writer in a recent coaching session.

Poor?” he asked at the other end of the phone line. “What do you mean what does poor mean? Poor means poor!”

“Does poor mean you didn’t have enough to eat or does it mean you never ate out at restaurants? Does poor mean you were forced to run out on your rent or does it mean you did not have an in-ground pool?”

Clearly, descriptive always adjectives don’t mean what we think they mean!

Empty literary “calories”

On the spot, I shared with him how adjectives are empty literary “calories.” They do nothing for the story but fill up space. They pretend to be effective but are not. Every writer needs to depend on scenes, dialog, settings, characters to tell the real story.

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truth telling

Telling the Hard Truth in Your Memoir–Are You Holding Back?

Are You Holding Back the Hard Truth in Your Memoir?

Your memoir needs the hard truth about life—your life—and sometimes that requires exposing yourself, getting “naked.”

I believe one has to stop holding back for fear of alienating some imaginary reader or real relative or friend and come out with personal truth. If we are to understand the human condition and if we are to accept ourselves in all the complexity, self-doubt…. we have to know all we can about each other and we have to be willing to go naked.

—May Sarton

Wow, going around naked! Gulp! (Better hit the gym!)

But, I guess you get the idea—psychologically and emotionally naked. Your memoir needs truth telling about life—yours—and sometimes that requires exposing yourself, getting “naked.”

I would like to change the metaphor a bit, to use a metaphor that is less startling but very graphic nonetheless. It is the metaphor of the kernels at the bottom of the popcorn bowl.

I love popcorn and enjoy eating it but there always comes a moment when I get to the bottom of the bowl and the plethora of corn kernels that have been popped into delightful puffy bites gives way to the hard half-popped or not-popped-at-all kernels. These are not fun to eat. Disappointed, I walk to the trash and throw the kernels away. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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writing prompts

Instead of A Writing Prompt – Five Tips for Creating a Memory List

As people are writing a memoir they will sometimes say, “I want to write my stories but I have forgotten so many details. Is there any way I can get them back? Should I use writing prompts or is there something instead of a writing prompt?”

There is one tool above all others that makes the experience of life writing successful. That tool is not a writing prompt: it is the Memory List. No other exercise opens up the process of life writing as quickly and as surely as the thoughtful and thorough compilation of such a list. It’s simple, and as a first step, it’s crucial.

Let me tell you about the Memory List (a general term for your list of memories).

Your Memory List is always a work in process because the more you remember and jot down, the more you’ll recall. You will return to and rework your list again and again as you write your life stories. In short, it will serve as an excellent writing prompt without being a writing prompt.

1. The Memory List consists of short memory notes (three to five words is sufficient) of people, events, relationships, thoughts, feelings, things—anything—from your past.

[Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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archetype of your experience

Use an archetype of your experience to revive your memoir

Can an archetype of your experience refocus your memoir? “My memoir writing has grown tedious,” you bemoan. “I thought what I was writing about was exciting when I began writing. It was exciting then. I could remember so much of what happened. It was compelling. And now as the time I lived this experience recedes into the past, as the vivid memories become less vivid, I am finding it hard to continue to write. Should I give up?” [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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Writers Learning About the Memory List at a "Turning Memories Into Memoirs" Workshop

The Problem With Writing Prompts

Is there a problem with writing prompts? This is my issue with writing prompts: they tend to lead to isolated stories, stories that are searching for humor, searching to be shared with a group that is perhaps looking for entertainment. They are not, by and large, searching for meaning lost in the morass of your […]

writing a better memoir

Four Tips for Writing a Better Memoir

To write a better memoir, make use of the core memory list. The extended memory list does not make value judgments about the quality of your memories. The core memory list, however, distinguishes between two sorts of memories— the important from the unimportant.

manwriting2x

Telling the Truth About your Life

In a world where we are constantly being bombarded with subtle—and not so subtle—messages about who we ought to be, it is a bold statement to take a stand for personal truth and authenticity.

The telling of your stories is a revolutionary act.

—Sam Keen, Writer

One of the most transformative statements an individual can make is to tell his/her story with honesty and objectivity. At its best, this is what a memoir is—a statement that declares “this is who I am, who I think of myself as being.”

Lest you think that telling the truth is only about revealing scandals and unmasking abuses, let me assure you that it is more often about smaller issues, issues more within the realm of the everyday experience. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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writing memoir

Writing a Memoir Is Not Easy

When writing memoir the project typically starts with a burst of energy. “This is going to be a good piece of writing! Help to keep you writing your memoir.

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  • If you are already a member of The Memoir Network, this e-book and others are available to you free in Member Resources.