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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 memory, for a mythic god who has thwarted you all this time, for the contact lens that is lost in the grasses of your psyche.


The problem with writing prompts is they lead to stories that can so easily miss the energy of a life—your life. They are dams that hold back lifestories from overflowing into the present, stimulating cues that don’t force you t consider what happened at those moment that no assigned prompt will detect.

It’s not that writing prompts may not be pleasurable to write or that a person may not enjoy sharing them or be grateful for a recaptured memory. It’s that they come to you from someone else. They are not from within the writer’s story, from within the writer’s lifestory.

The Memory List

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I hope that the writers who read this post have tried compiling the Memory List I suggest here on my blog and have been writing from their very own Memory List.

The Memory List is YOURS, completely yours, completely from within your life and your lifestory. It is, is of course a wonderful achievement for anyone to write 20 or 30 or 100 stories from prompts. This wealth of writing is not the problem with writing prompts. Definitely, I wish my parents and my grandparents had written such stories. That would be so much better than nothing. Too many of us have nothing. But, more than the stories written from prompts, I wish they had written a memoir, a view of their lives from within their lives. This is the problem with writing prompts: they are external.

The problem with writing prompts is that they are a school exercise. Of course, prompts can be beneficial. But, they are not a writerly way to write. A more writerly way is to follow one’s own promptings. It is possible to develop an ability to listen to one’s promptings and to write from them—impelled by psychic forces rather than from topics. This is addressed by the Memory List. — The Memory List is featured in Chapter 2 of Turning Memories Into Memoirs / A Handbook for Writing Lifestories. The book is at the core of the Memoir Start Up Package–a $139.95 value available now at $99. Don’t pass on this core resource.

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