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Memoir 101: How to Use a Journal to Write, and Tell, Your Story

Updated on September 12, 2017
Rafini profile image

Rafini has a BA in Creative Writing from UW-Madison and has evolved her own journal entries into memoir pieces ready for publication.

Using a Journal to Write, and Tell, Your Life Story/Memoir

Taking the First Step to Writing Your Memoir

Want to write your memoir but don’t know where or how to begin? You’ve already taken the preliminary steps of following your desire, and searching the internet for instruction. The next step, the all-important First Step, is to prepare yourself for what comes next.

What Comes Next?

Preparing yourself for writing your memoir, while a short-term activity, is a multi-layered sequence of events in which only you can make the necessary choices and decisions to add untold value to your memoir. Ask yourself: Where will I write? At the kitchen table? At a desk in front of my bedroom window? Hmmm, maybe I’ll decide to write in a different location, every day. How will I write, though? With a pen or a colored pencil? Will I use a notebook, an unlined journal, or a laptop? Then again, maybe I’ll make a different choice every time I sit down to write something. (Be creative, here. Some people use a three-ring binder with loose leaf paper.) When will I write? While drinking my first cup of coffee for the day, or just before going to sleep? Do I have time to write every day, or is thirty minutes once or twice a week often enough? Is that all the time I can spare? I may have more time next week than I had this week, and my work schedule may not allow me to have a definite, set routine, so, for now, I think the time I can devote to writing is going to have to fluctuate – according to my life schedule. Because I alone am responsible for my progress, and I alone know what it means to me to write my memoir.

After answering these questions, you will be ready for the first step in using a journal to write, and tell, your story.

The First Step

Your first step is finding a journal you like and will want to write in regularly. My very first journal, which I bought almost twenty years ago, was a notebook. After that I bought a five by seven-inch hardcover journal from the local dollar store before progressing to a large eight and a half-inch by eleven-inch hardcover with a fabric overlay. My current journal looks and feels something like a Bible, without the gilded page edges and with graph paper pages. The journals I purchase change with how I feel at the time - what I’m interested in, what looks appealing when I go to the store. I’ve purchased my journals from a chain bookstore, a university bookstore, a local retailer and a mega-store retailer. Early on I bought a few at a time, just so I could make sure and have the one I really wanted when I wanted it, but the most recent two were purchased by themselves – because they’re rather large, and I expected them to last a while. The point is: options are available. Especially if you choose a handwritten journal.

More Options!

If you choose an electronic journal you still have options. I personally have never used an electronic journal, but I have looked into them. Choose one you like, save it, use it. Choose another every day or change styles once a month. Whatever works for you. You can even change color schemes, fonts, etc. Simply go into the Design tab and explore.

If you chose a handwritten journal, you also now can choose your writing instrument. A black pen or a blue one? Gel? Ballpoint? Felt-tip? Maybe you’d rather use a #2 pencil, or colored pencils. Or, maybe crayons are more to your liking.

Whichever the case, remember you can always change your mind – next time.

Using Your New Journal

When I first began journalling, about twenty years ago, I remember reading there were no rules. In fact, the advice I read said something like:

Write what you want, what you feel, what you like, what you think. Write anything at all – as long as it originates from you. Oh, and date it, too.”

So much for no rules.

Technically, the advice I was given, and just shared with you, is not a rule. Why? Simply because providing the date is an act of copyright. And, what else could you possibly copyright if not something you created yourself? Makes sense, right? So, then, onward to phase two of using your new journal.

As long as you follow the no rule suggestion and write regularly, you will soon be filling pages and wondering where and how the actual memoir will develop. Never fear – the very first use of your new journal is to exercise and develop your writing skills along with your thought process and insight into who you really are. Remember, it’s all about you. Your journal, your memoir, your life, your experiences, your memories. Go ahead and write. Use your journal to write, and tell, your story.

It's Time For You to...

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© 2017 Rafini

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