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First Notes on
Writing From Memories


When creative writing is powered by personal memory, the teacher can expect strong writing. Most of us are eager to share parts of our own story. Bear in mind, though, that some kids cannot afford to share any part of their own stories, so you need to give them a fairly risk-free way to approach such a task. Also bear in mind some of the things that we have learned about memory.

Early memories tend to be:

• stored partially in the limbic system, an older part of the brain

• recalled complete with emotion

• characterized by brief, complete, but oddly unconnected sense impressions, as if a sudden spotlight had been turned on, everything within the circle of its light intensely visible, everything outside it black.

• the primitive senses—touch/taste/smell—are often connected to and can trigger this kind of memory.

Post-puberty memories (other than trauma)

• tend to be stored in the neocortical 'abstractive' memory, which gets pared down through time to skeletal form, so

• what tends to be remembered is a record of events rather than a powerful re-creation of the event.

• have more connectedness, event to other remembered events, thus are more linear/sequential in nature, but are

• comparatively lacking in evocative effect.

• Exception: those post-puberty events to which we have a vivid, and sometimes traumatic emotional response. This suggests finding writing exercises based in 'powerful moments', 'moments of recognition'.

Tactics for Accessing Early Memories from the Outside

Early memories characteristically are easily accessed from outside t by another person's deliberate action or by an event.

Paradoxically, early memories are more difficult to access from within, by an act of will.


Key Concept:
  Remembering is easier in a communal sharing context.
Key Concept:
  One early memory triggers another early memory triggers another ad infinatum—, a trickle becomes a cascade, both individually and in groups.


Inductive Modes to help people remember

Guided Imagery

Returning in memory to place is key to returning in time.

for example, ask kids to imagine themselves into the place where they slept when they were little (don't specify age). Ask them to imagine they are about to go to bed, then ask them to visualize what they wore, what was on the walls, was there a closet door you had to keep closed, were there stuffed animals and where, did anything live under the bed, and so on. Guide imaging toward the emotions that will help them write.


Memory triggered by another's account, in response to a general question--a group phenomenon accompanied by a great eagerness to share. When the hands go up, capitalize on that sharing energy

• The First Time I . . . . . . . . . . . .

• Naming the Year or Season--a Native American Mode (i.e. Dad-throwing-mashed-potatoes-at-he-wall Winter)

• When I wanted someone to stop me…

• when I got caught…

• when I thought I would die from embarrassment…

• when I lost that toy, that belief, that friend, that person…

Photograph Triggers:


Family Albums, etc., also can be done with Evocative Imagery.

Also see Home Movies, videos

Also, teacher's own photos, mementos, can trigger Discussion Mode as above.

Sound and Rhythm Triggers

Music, of course, especiially popular music of a time.

Nursery rhymes, well-known childrens' books