Writing memoirs can be a powerful way to reflect on your personal journey. Add these memoir prompts to your Bullet Journal routine to track your whole life: Past, present, and future.
Monthly Memoir Prompts: Unlock Your Past Through Journaling
Hello again, my pen-happy friends! A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to set up a way to explore memories in my journal. I don’t just mean documenting memories. You’re probably already good at listing your new memories and milestones each month. I’m talking about exploring past memories. Throwback. Retro. Vintage. Ok, old. Whatever you call them, they’re the memories that stayed with you over time.
So, I put together some prompts for writing short memoirs in your journal.
>>If you are new to journaling, start HERE.
What Are Memoirs?
Say it with me, ya’ll: “Mem-wahr.”
If you want to dig deeper into writing memoirs, personal essays, and other types of nonfiction I suggest:
- Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola (<— My absolute favorite book on writing nonfiction. I’ve pushed it on all my writing friends!)
- Fearless Confessions by Sue William Silverman
- The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr (<— Mary Karr wrote The Liars’ Club. She’s a brilliant memoirist who knows what she’s talking about.)
Many people mistake memoir with biography. If you wrote down the major plot points of your life, it would be a biography. In theory, you could construct your biography from the scheduling pages of your journals and planners over the years.
Example: “I grew up in a middle-class military family. I graduated from a high school in Colorado Springs, earned a bachelor’s in in Journalism. I joined the Air Force. I got married, had two kids, went back to school for creative writing, and started a blog.”
That’s a biography. Everything in it is true, and although I summarized entire decades, it covers most of my life up to this point. Anyone could have written the above example for me; I didn’t add any of my own interpretation.
Memoir, on the other hand, is an exploration of memories. We can dust off glimpses of life, hold them up to the light, paste them into a collage, and turn them inside out. They’re similar to biographies in that they explore real-life. Unlike biographies, memoirs don’t necessarily span an entire lifetime. They follow a specific theme or time frame, and their truth rests in the experience of the author. I’m not suggesting you can outright lie in your memoirs, but you can focus on the theme of your life, rather than the plot. It’s about finding emotional truth as much as factual truth.
Example: “One of my earliest vivid memories is when I was four years old. We lived at the foothills of the Rockies, and I had gone to the kitchen in the middle of the night to get a drink. Something moved outside the window and startled me. When I looked up, a deer–a buck, really, because I remember it had antlers– stood in the backyard. He stared right at me as I clutched my tiny cup. It was cold, and steam billowed from his nostrils. In my memory, the image is dark, almost gothic, but I don’t remember being frightened. I was hypnotized by the sight of him. Years later, I still thought about him, that stranger I met for a midnight snack. I couldn’t help wondering if he every thought of me.”
Let’s be honest, I’m probably getting all the details wrong. Maybe it wasn’t milk, it was juice. It was 8 p.m., not midnight, and my mother poured the drink for me. I have no idea. But that’s how I remember it.
This is a very old memory, one I’ve reconstructed a thousand times over the years, so my memory isn’t like security footage of the incident. Does that matter? Not really. For some reason, my mind thought it was important and filled in the gaps. It can teach me a lot about how I perceive the world.
That’s the power of memoir. It lets us dive back into memories we don’t understand and come away with a fresh perspective.
>>Check out my list of Bullet Journal collections that can improve your writing skills.
How Memoirs Can Enhance Your Journaling
Writing memoirs gives us a deeper understanding of our own experiences. You already know how valuable using a journal can be for organizing your life and planning your future. But it can also be an important window into your past.
Here are just a few ways this exercise can be valuable:
- Bring new color to old memories
- Explore a question from your past
- Discover patterns in your life
- Develop writing and communication skills
- Can help with mental and emotional clarity
- Ease painful memories
- Preserve memories you cherish
Writing memoirs can be intense, emotionally. Don’t wear yourself out! To help you resist the temptation to tackle this exercise every day, I’ve put together 12 monthly prompts for you.
- Write for 30 minutes (or until you’ve exhausted the topic)
- Don’t be afraid to stray from the prompt. You’re not being graded. It’s perfectly fine to follow your white rabbit wherever the memory leads you.
- Revisit your memoir pages a few months after you’ve written them. Has your perspective changed?
Monthly Memoir Prompts for Your Journal
1. January, New Beginnings: Recall an important time in your life when you made a fresh start or tried something new for the very first time. Compare the person you were before the event and after. How did the fresh start change your perspective of the person you are?
2. February, A Time to Connect: The connections we form with people are central to how we live our lives. Think of a relationship in your life, past or present. It can be a friendship, family relationship, romantic interest, or professional connection. How might the course of your life be different if you hadn’t made that connection?
3. March, Objects of Change: Walk around your house until you spot an object that triggers memories for you: the phone that rang to tell you about someone’s death, the quilt that used to belong to your grandmother, the dress from the office Christmas party. Pick the one object that really hit a nerve. Write about the memories and emotions the object triggered.
4. April, Time Capsule: It’s 100 years in the future, someone just dug up a time capsule of your life. Describe the items inside it and what you hope they communicate about you. Tie each item back to a memory from your life.
5. May, True Reflections: Observe your reflection in the mirror. Do you have any scars or tattoos that have an interesting story? Now, try to imagine you are seeing yourself as a stranger. What do you think of the person who looks back at you? Beyond the physical, what can you observe about who the person really is?
6. June, Exploring the Unknown: Think of a time you traveled somewhere completely new. It can be a new continent, country, city, or only the next neighborhood over. As long as you can vividly remember seeing the place for the first time. Try to remember how you felt as you absorbed the unknown. Invigorated? Fearful? Inspired? Uncomfortable? Now, write about returning to the place with a friend who has never been. Guide your friend through your memories of first seeing this place.
7. July, Everyday Miracles: Think of an ordinary ritual you perform everyday: Taking a walk, drinking your coffee, checking the news, stretching. It can be anything you do on a regular basis that is important to you. What are your earliest memories involving this ritual? Has it shaped other areas of your life? Why do you think this particular one became so important to you?
8. August, Rediscovery: Find a favorite photograph from your past. Study every element of the photo and try to remember what you were thinking, feeling, smelling, etc. What is it about this photograph that makes it stand out as a favorite. Do you experience any unexpected emotions when you look at it?
9. September, Forgotten Skills: Think back to when you were younger. Did you have any skills you’ve lost over time?
10. October, Comfort Food: What food has made frequent appearances in your life? Maybe your family has a favorite dish, special dessert, or notable recipe. Revisit memories where to food makes an appearance. Is there a common thread? Also consider how your point of view changes in each memory you revisit.
11. November, Split Loyalties: Think of a time your loyalties pulled you in different directions: A clash with family members over politics, religion, or being stuck between feuding friends. What elements made you identify with one side or the other?
12. December, The Gift: You’re traveling back in time to give your younger self a holiday gift. How old are you? What is the gift? Why have you chosen this particular gift and time of your life?
Want the printable prompt list? Page Flutter subscribers get exclusive access to The Vault, a free resource library for my subscribers. Sign up for the newsletter to get your key to the Vault. Plus, there are new freebies each month. Gotta keep your journaling routine fresh!
Your turn to share! How do you incorporate memories into your journal? Tell us your tips for adding memories, or comment below with what you learned from this exercise.
Brainstorm with me!