Home » On Memoir Writing » Memoir Writing: Discover Your LIfe: Sparks from an Old Photo

Memoir Writing: Discover Your LIfe: Sparks from an Old Photo

Using old photographs to remember the past can be a delightful surprise.  I have looked at photos and thought nothing much of them but if I sit and write random things about the photo in a journal often some memory, image, or thought comes to mind.  Perhaps it is all made up.  I can not be sure unless I ask a family member to verify.  Sometimes I don’t ask anyone.  I just let my memories flow and see what I say about myself.

The work above is a draft of my blog post Bored, based on recapturing a memory from an old photo. Click on the photo to be taken to the blog post.

Using photos to stimulate memory is an old technique.  Nothing new but the trick is to go deeper.  I suggest to not just tell what happened the day of the photo but to reflect on your five senses as well as your thoughts.  Your thoughts are the big ones.  Can you remember what was racing through your mind in that particular photo you hold in your hand?

In the book Writing as a Road to Self-Discovery, Barry Lane talks about these memories as potatoes and the story of the picture is referred to as the leaves and stem of the plant.  Get under the dirt and dig some potatoes.  (Now that is a good country metaphor if I ever heard one.  Us Saskatchewanian’s love our potatoes! However, we don’t all like to share our feelings.)

Here is Lane’s definition of a potato:

“What’s a potato?  A potato is an unresolved question, a memory that asks to be written about, a person or place or event that has haunted your memory for years, a crazy idea you love to think about, a smell or a song that triggers a thousand memories.  In short, a potato is anything that makes you want to write so much you can feel it tugging at your pen.”

No go and find a photo or any trigger, an old toy you still have, or perhaps some article of clothing from your youth and dump those potatoes all over the page.


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