Memoirs rely on the author’s memory, but we all are aware that memory tends not to improve with age. It’s well-known that witnesses to the same crime report sometimes vastly different details. When you compare notes with siblings or childhood friends, you’re likely to discover that your accounts of the same incident differ significantly.
In many cases, you can’t know for sure whether your memory is correct. That bullying incident on the playground in fourth grade—did the other kid really say the words you remember? There’s no way to know for sure. That’s ok. Whether it happened exactly the way you remember is not as important as the fact that, in your mind, it did happen as you’re describing it. The incident’s effect on you is clear even if the truth about it isn’t.
But so many small facts can be checked. Today’s technology makes writing a memoir easier than it’s ever been in so many ways, and fact-checking is high on that list. Unlike in years past, there’s no need to sit in a library all day.
If you’re writing about the snowfall that occurred on your sixteenth birthday, take a minute to look up the weather report on that day. If you believe you attended your town’s bicentennial when you were 12 years old, some quick Googling will make sure you have the time line correct. If you describe walking down Center Street to your elementary school, make sure in your hometown it wasn’t spelled “Centre” Street, or it wasn’t Center Avenue. These are not unforgivable errors, but this is your book—why have any error that you can easily prevent?
Show your draft to family members for their input and recollections on the events you describe. Ask them to be particularly attentive to the facts you lay out. A parent, child or sibling may offer a perspective that you hadn’t considered or have some information that would add texture to your account.
Knowledge that we’ve carried with us all our lives can turn out to be our impressions rather than hard facts. Just check out everything you can.