Lisa Dale Norton is an author and memoir editor. She works on manuscripts with writing clients and teaches at conferences nationwide.

Writing Insights: Stay At Home—And Write Your Memoir

April 1, 2020
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by Lisa Dale Norton

We are all going to have time eddying at our feet in these coming weeks, as life around the globe shifts into a new and unfamiliar rhythm, but once we strike that rhythm—whatever it is for each individual household—once we get past the panic and stockpiling of supplies, move beyond the fast-driving-fast-shopping wave of insecurity, we are going to sink back into the couch/kitchen chair/bed/bathtub and say: What now?

And that “What now?” question speaks to many levels of our lives. But one of those levels is: How do I respond as an artist?

“…do everything you can to refocus that energy and to use it to produce something original.”

I say: Write.

If we are resourceful, a good outcome from all this staying home, will be a huge spurt of originality and creativity—if we make it so. We must find positive ways to channel the surge of energy currently electrifying our hearts and homes and expressing itself as skittering social media interaction.

Instead, do everything you can to refocus that energy and to use it to produce something original.

Personally, I’m banking on this being a time when we all get to work on the books we’ve been dreaming—a memoir, autobiography, a novel based on real events, a mystery perhaps, a completely invented world of science fiction. Whatever your dream, now is the time to make it a reality.

If you are writing a memoir, here is your first Stay-At-Home Memoir Writing Assignment: 

1) Take our a sheet of paper, or open up a new word processing document and bullet item list some memories that pop into your mind. No order. No reason. No justification. No clue why they may be coming to you right now—and no need to figure it out. All you’re doing is remembering.

2) List your memories with some phrase that will help you conjure them again the next time you come back to this list—Edie’s birthday party; that sunset off the balcony when Trevor came home; oatmeal in Grandma’s kitchen; the stairwell at night. Whatever.

3) Tomorrow do the same. Just list some memories—snippets of remembrance: a face laughing at a joke you once told; a shared slice of pie with a best friend one sunny afternoon when you both told secrets and giggled; that first home run you hit and the jolt of adrenaline as you raced for first base.

Ultimately, when you’ve amassed a good long list of these Shimmering Images, as I call them—shiny little memory shards—you will begin writing them. One-by-one. No order. No attempt to connect them, unless it should happen naturally. But for now. Just list them.

That, my friends, will get you on the path of writing your memoir, and give you a way to channel your energy and be creative.

“Remember: In the end it will be the artists who tell the story of this time.”

Remember: In the end it will be the artists who tell the story of this time. Sound overblown? Just look at history. What do we remember and value above all else? What fills our museums? The creative output of generation upon generation upon generation.

Make art. Write your memoir.

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This post was written by Lisa Dale Norton

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