Jarring Memories in Yourself, Characters and Interviewees

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This month I’m writing 50,000 words and participating in NaNoWriMo. I’m writing Kelly’s memoir. She’s my niece. (Here’s her picture right after the accident that rendered her a quad.) Writing a memoir is something very different from anything I’ve done before because THIS STORY IS TRUE!

I can’t make up crap. (Darn!) It’s really hard because I have to make sure my facts are right! I can only use my imagination on a few things in a memoir–things like smell and taste and sound. I’m adding a little bit of imaginative description, too, but not much.

Why can’t Kelly write her own memoir?

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Kelly was in the back seat of this car and is now a quadriplegic. She types one letter at a time with a mouth piece. She probably could write her own memoir because she’s mega-talented, and she technically is writing this story because she’s feeding me a lot of information through a voice-activated device on her phone. But because I love to write, I’ve offered to help her. A lot. But I’m having a blast.

I. Love. To. Write!

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I write emotional stories. I write real-life stuff that matters, that can bring others hope, or bring awareness to a topic that’s been hiding in a closet. Kelly’s story is no different. I’m super excited to tell her story because I believe it will bring others hope.

However, it’s not easy finding the “real” story beneath the every day grime of life. That’s why it’s important to ask the right questions or jar the right memories.


The first thing I did was read a slew of memoirs and dissected them. Then I bought Natalie Goldberg’s MEMOIR book, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. Why her book? Because I’m a huge NATALIE fan. (No, she’s not paying me to say this and I’m not getting a kick-back.) She knows how to get writers to bleed on the page. And she didn’t let me down with this book.

Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir

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I will keep this friend (the book) on my shelf forever. I’ll use the content for writing more than memoirs, too. It’s great for interviewing others and for digging deep into my own repertoire of personal feelings and experiences. Although my “prods” below aren’t listed exactly like this in Natalie’s book, they were inspired by her. Natalie gives great examples of getting a person to dig deep to recall memories. And they worked for me.

(No, I won’t share Kelly’s memories yet, because you’ll have to read her memoir. It will be available some day soon. Hopefully in 2015!)

Here are a few of the memories I asked Kelly to recall. Hopefully you’ll find them helpful in asking your characters, yourself, or the person you’re interviewing, too.

Tell me a memory of..

  1. A funny thing that happened in the kitchen.
  2. A Popsicle.
  3. Sunscreen
  4. A time when your father did something good.
  5. A lunch that you loved.
  6. A game you played as a child.
  7. Something that makes you shudder or makes your toes curl.
  8. Something you’ve held on to for too long–physically and emotionally.
  9. A time you craved chocolate or alcohol.
  10. Something from your childhood that you remember the most.
  11. Something you want to do that you’ve never done.
  12. Something you’ve regretted.
  13. Something in your childhood you want to forget.
  14. Your greatest accomplishment.
  15. Your mother when she did something terrible or something good.
  16. Your best friend in grade school.
  17. Something you memorized.
  18. A vacation your family took.
  19. A person who influenced you.
  20. Something you did that you’re ashamed of.

There you go. I hope you find these questions as helpful as I have.

What are some interview questions that have worked for you?



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  1. Courage in Action. That’s what she should name her book. So happy you are helping her. She is a remarkable young lady, for sure!

    • Hi Pat! How did you know we’ve been searching for a title? Excellent idea. I will add that to the “list” of possibilities and run it by Kelly. I hope your writing day is going well!

  2. This is particularly helpful. Your tips are great for anyone wanting to write memoir, and I’m so glad you’re involved in this. Thanks and blessings.

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