A Pocket Guide to Using Memory in Fiction Writing

Pocket Guides

Tice Cin shares a new pocket guide exploring an intriguing writing technique and how writers can learn to harness their memories to enhance their creative work.

Let’s begin with asking WHAT you are trying to achieve with your project? Do you want other people to read it? It is helpful to know what you expect for your creative work and whether you are comfortable to edit your work in a way that suits what you want to share. If you want to share work because it is good but worry it may appear too personal, remember that what reaches the page is your choice. Each choice you make can be tailored neatly. Get creative with how you distance a particular detail from a truth that you’re not ready to share. For example, consider whether you can experiment in the presentation of a moment – could it be reimagined in a psychedelic way perhaps?

A way to BEGIN THIS PROCESS could be by drawing. I think doodling is super helpful for building a specific scene informed by memories. I often draw out the different kitchens I’ve been in to see if there’s a story there. Other writers go on a memory journey through an object, they draw out scenarios like a cartoon sketch that have a continuous object but different context each time. For example, when travelling through a memory with an object you might find a girl reads a book in one stage of the memory, but later this book travels into another scene as a doorstop.

You can PLAY against the mood of how a scene feels by playing a soothing song on repeat. I think repeating recognisable rhythms help us to reach a meditative state which help distance us from the writing in a potentially helpful and hypnotic way. Something I’d be careful about is playing a triggering sad song on repeat in order to get the writing flowing; I don’t believe that writing has to be like squeezing drops from a stone – we’ve placed boulders in places for a reason.

You don’t need to dig deeper into a difficult mood to write something and actually having external tools to improve your mindset while you write is much healthier and sustainable. Memory recall is difficult, if there are particularly traumatic memories that you are going to be writing about then please make sure you HAVE A PLAN for what you are going to do after your writing session to self-soothe. I particularly recommend timing sessions so you’re not writing for too long and you have a timer that structures your session, bringing you out of that space.

As you write, remember to CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF. Are you breathing deep? Are you cosy? Have you unclenched your jaw? Paying attention to your body whilst writing is important so that you can gauge when you need to need to stop, and how to monitor your responses in order to keep writing comfortably through difficult memories. This is especially worth considering when writing about body memories, sometimes when we write about memories linked to the body we can feel that in our current bodies. My advice with this is to have grounding items with you while you write, like a pressure ball or sniffing lavender oil to help re-situate you into the present.

An important point to remember is that this is FICTION that you are producing: that your characters are not you, they may have similarities but you have already made something anew by writing them into your fiction project. In line with this, your story is not your life story; it will borrow elements from your life or be coloured significantly from your life, but that’s not the same thing. Fiction can release you to write beyond what you know – just make sure you research it well if writing out of your own experience, and make peace that some of the artefacts of our own lives will be present as we write through ourselves.

WRITING GROUPS are incredibly useful, particularly when applying this particular process to your work. Being part of a group where you can share memories and details about your own life offers continuity and can keep you focusing on the mechanisms in the story.

To GET YOU STARTED with this particular technique, I’d like to share these brilliant think pieces with you, which offer an extended insight into this topic and the value that memories can play in your writing. I hope they inspire you.

Nikesh Shukla on writing your emotional truth (sign up to his creative writing newsletter, it’s amazing!): https://nikesh.substack.com/p/writing-tips-7-real-life?utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web&utm_source=copy

Rebecca Liu on subverting expectations of personal writing: http://www.anothergaze.com/making-millennial-woman-feminist-capitalist-fleabag-girls-sally-rooney-lena-dunham-unlikeable-female-character-relatable/

Romesh Gunesekera on short memories, and the importance of remembering through writing: https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/it-is-always-dangerous-to-forget-romesh-gunesekera/1654529

Orhan Pamuk on the tensions between reading fiction as reality: https://www.theguardian.com/books/video/2010/apr/20/orhan-pamuk-museum-innocence

Tice Cin is an interdisciplinary artist from Tottenham, North London. An awardee of the Literary Fiction category for London Writers Awards, she has just completed her first novel. Her work has been published by Skin Deep Magazine and commissioned by venues including Battersea Arts Centre and St Paul’s Cathedral. An alumnus of the poetry community Barbican Young Poets, she now creates digital art as part of Design Yourself – a collective based at Barbican Centre – exploring what it means to be human.

Published 10 March 2020