Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton

Writing Narrative Non Fiction
Triggering Words: A Mini-Memoir Exercise

by Lisa Dale Norton April 2009
July 2011, re-posted from 3/31/2009

(Lisa's on sabbatical, back soon. Meanwhile enjoy selected past features here)

"That’s the trick of memoir—finding one word brimming with emotion."

I found a note the other day I wrote months ago about words and how one perfect word can evoke a world of story. That’s the trick of memoir—finding one word brimming with emotion and then chasing the story right out of it. When a reader brushes up against that story, his life bridges over from yours, beckons a parallel time and a place, and he thinks you’ve spoken the language of his soul.

"What stories rise for you
with these words?"


What stories rise for you with these words? Adventure, ballgame, beach, bicycle, birthday, boyfriend, broken, burn, camp, car accident, dancing, doctor, explosion, failure, fall, favorite shop, fire, first impression, flood, flying, guilt, girlfriend, haircut, hero, hiding place, holiday meal, hurricane, job, lie, locked out, lost, math, mountain, party, pet, picnic, plane crash, political election, rain, reading relative, sailing, school, sister, snowstorm, spring, success, summer, swimming, teacher, travel, tree, trouble, vacation, war, weeping, winter.

"Draw one word each day
and write a story."


Make your own list. Write each word on a scrap of paper and toss it into an elegant bowl you keep on your desk, or tucked into your writing corner. Draw one word each day and write a story. It needn’t be long, a paragraph, a page—whatever your heart leads you to say. At the end of the week you’ll have a mini-memoir.

Lisa Dale Norton

Lisa Dale Norton is a regular Authorlink columnist. She is nationally recognized as a writing instructor with a passion for story. Read more about Lisa.

Lisa Dale Norton's new book about memoir, SHIMMERING IMAGES: A HANDY LITTLE
GUIDE TO WRITING MEMOIR (St. Martin's Press), is in bookstores now. Lisa is the author of the acclaimed memoir HAWK FLIES ABOVE: JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE SANDHILLS, a work combining memoir and nature writing. She teaches for the UCLA Writers' Extension Program and speaks nationally on the process of memoir. She lives in Santa Fe.