A moth-eaten cloth
I’m going to explore some more helpful resources over the next few weeks, but just now I’d like to reflect on the nature of memory. I don’t know what it’s like for other people, but I’ve noticed that I tend to view my past as a series of major events. It’s like a big patchwork quilt, and when I look at it I tend to focus on the larger, more colourful patches. Some are ones I like, and some I’m less keen on, but it’s these bigger ones that get noticed.
I tend not to focus on the smaller, less obvious patches or the stitches that hold them all together. And there are moth-eaten holes and threadbare gaps; I’ve been surprised that while my memoir covers only the last thirteen years (the period after making a big life-changing decision), I have trouble remembering the order of many events. Luckily I’ve kept a record of all the (many) addresses I’ve had in that time and the corresponding dates, so this gives me a factual anchor, but it’s surprising how often I’ve had to consult it and to figure out what happened when.
Another aspect of the nature of memory that has become very apparent is how linked everything is, past and present, and how even though I’m covering a period of thirteen years, inevitably I am finding that events from further back in time have a bearing on what happened during that period, and I am feeling compelled to write about them – something I’m happy to do at this stage, even if they don’t make it into the final draft.
In light of the patchwork nature of my memory, it turns out that my initial instinct to have computer folders covering main periods/themes and then lots of separate text files within each folder was a good one.
I’ve started putting a number and the year as well as a descriptive name at the start of each filename (so ‘1 2017 Lakes’ for example). The number means that they stay in the right order in the folder, and the rest means I can easily see what belongs where, and can dip into and add to files whenever a relevant thought occurs to me.
This means that when I come to edit it into something readable, I’m not faced with sixty thousand words of straight text that jumps around over several decades. This will make the task less daunting.
Letting the light in
It’s easy to think life is just a solid patchwork of dramas, both good and bad, and not to examine the loose stitching that holds it together and all the little uneventful gaps through which a great deal of light shows, if only we take the time to look.
I plan to post from time to time about my progress and about the books and other resources I’ve found helpful. Sign up for updates or comment and let me know your method for getting started with your memoir and your process for keeping going and organising your work. I’d love to hear from you.
About this blog
I've been an editor for independent book authors for over a decade.