Your memory is probably not as good as you believe it is
If you think you may want to write a memoir someday and you’re not journaling, start now! Reflect on your day. Write about your views of the world right now. Describe where you live and how you feel about living there. Share your thoughts about the important people in your life. Next, start finding your memories. Relate how you feel now to previous events in your life. On your mother’s birthday, write about growing up with her as your mom. When you travel, write about the last time you visited that site or how it reminds you of previous trips you’ve made. Include names, dates and locations. All of this will be invaluable if you ever sit down to write your memoir.
Let’s say you’re in your 40s, and 20 years from now you decide to write your entire autobiography or a memoir focused on a particular time period of your life. A lot of people wouldn’t know where to start. When you have a journal, you know where to start—by rereading your own writings about your life.
Don’t Trust Your Memory
Everything that you say you’ll never forget? You will forget much of it. You will confuse the details of different events. You may even remember vivid dreams as reality. Later in your life when you compare notes with friends and siblings, you’ll be surprised how much your version of what happened differs from theirs.
Another way to keep your stories accurate is to tell them verbally. Talk to your children about your own childhood and reminisce with friends about old times. The more you tell your own stories, the more you’ll keep the facts straight. Then when you go to write them down, you won’t have to dig into your brain too far!
But journaling still works better than verbal storytelling. In addition to getting the facts down, journaling helps you understand your own emotions. That’s why therapists frequently suggest journaling. Whether you’re trying to manage stress, face a past traumatic event, work through relationship issues or jumpstart a creative project, writing can be a valuable tool to use toward your goal.
Your Story is More Than Just Facts
You can do a lot of research and fact-checking online, but not everything from decades ago is as available as you might expect. Local newspaper articles may be gone or accessible only with special permission. Records from your old job, school, camp or military unit may be hard to come by. So while you may have a difficult time collecting information from your life history, at least you can document everything happening from now on.
The “color” in a memoir comes from descriptions of everything surrounding the simple facts. All of that is important to note in your journal. Maybe you were involved in a crime or other event that made the newspapers, and you have all of the clippings from that time. But what were you wearing? What could you see from where you were? Trees or sand or houses? Indoor walls, furniture, staircases? What smells were you picking up? What sounds were you hearing—conversation or a dripping faucet or the eerie silence of falling snow? Your memoir will benefit from this level of detail.
A Journal Keeper is a Writer
The other big benefit that comes from journaling regularly is that it gets you into the habit of writing. When you do sit down to write your memoir, you won’t have to adjust your mindset. You’ll know where you sit to write, how much quiet you need, what objects or snacks you like having handy, and what time of day works best for you.
Also, you’ll have your technology figured out. When you think of journaling, you may picture a beautiful, leather-bound book just waiting for your handwritten entries and additional scrapbooking touches. But a keyboard works as well as a pen, and a computer keeps your work from getting burned or spilled on or misplaced. Email your work to yourself, save it to the cloud or copy it on a jump drive so that you won’t have the worry of losing it.
When you journal regularly, you’ll have confidence that you won’t fall to pieces when you see that first blank screen or page. You’ll already be a writer.