Thursday, 18 October 2012

Writing From Memory

I attended a PD last week about a daily writing exercise that focuses on writing from memory. It only takes 15 minutes and then can form the basis of future writing. Students are given a trigger word, say shoes. You give them about three minutes to jot down as many memories they associate with shoes as they can. Then you ask them to pick the memory that stands out most in their mind. They single out that memory. You ask the students just to think about the memory, while you ask leading questions. For shoes it could be, "Are they new or old?", "Are they your shoes?", "Are you wearing them?", "What colour are they?". This gets them to examine the memory in more detail. Take about two minutes to do this. Then say, "Go!" or "Write!" or some equivalent and the students are to write for ten straight minutes. Their memory needs to be in the present tense and start with, "I am...".
Students are told not to erase anything, just keep going. Also, that if they hit an impasse or a block to doodle on the side. Keeping the pen moving keeps your brain moving and taking the pen off the paper can easily take your mental train off its rails. Also, spelling doesn't matter. Just write down your experience. At the end of the ten minutes have students finish the sentence they are writing and put down their pencils.
These drafts are saved for a week or two, to allow for the writers to become detached, and then reviewed. The students pick a piece from that week that they like and then work on revising and polishing it into a final piece.
The rationale is:

  • This gets students into the habit of writing, because it is hard work.
  • They are generating a lot of text, which increases fluency.
  • They are learning how to develop detail in writing.
  • The motivation to write is authentic as the topic is something important to each individual.
  • It instils confidence.
An inspiration for this method was Lynda Berry's book What It Is. It is a graphic novel that outlines writing from memory, and is itself an example of it. There are two questions we frequently ask ourselves when writing:

  1. Is this good?
  2. Does this suck?
Both undermine our writing and Lynda suggests every time students (or ourselves as writers) we ask ourselves one of those questions we answer ourselves with
A first draft is never meant to be perfect or better than someone else's writing. It is solely to get our ideas out of our head and onto the page. I think it is a great way to practice writing and to get people who would classify themselves as non-writers interested in writing.

If you want to read more about it, or just want to check out an awesome graphic novel, click the book below and buy it!
picture from
Here's what I wrote (unedited) in the 8 minutes provided. The theme was shoes.

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