Memoir Writing Prompts for Your Journal

by Nynke Passi

9667_4803550694078_1103050484_nBoy Viewing Mount Fuji, 1839
Katsushika Hokusai, (Japanese, 1760-1849), Edo period
Ink and color on silk

So far we have done freewrites in class about two topics: An early memory having to do with words and language, and memories of or musings about light.

Here you can find more writing prompts for your journal, which may help you gather ideas for your portfolio (especially for those of you who don’t yet have Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg). Use the freewriting technique of not lifting your pen from the page for best results!

From “The Journal”: Write, Organize, Remember, Find:

Memoir Writing Prompts

Journaling Prompts


Beauties in the Snow By Utamaro Kitagawa, Japan

And here some College writing Prompts.

A few more:

Memoir Writing Prompt #1: Write about taking a long bath, a walk, a bike ride, or stroll in the snow, or any other mindless activity where your thoughts could idle. Use as many concrete details as possible (invoking all of the senses) and describe your emotions and/or thoughts during as well as the space you were in (setting).

Memoir Writing Prompt #2: Choose a random picture (from an album, a magazine, the newspaper, online) and write about it. If you have a family photograph, write about it. It would be wonderful to write about old photos of yourself. What do you notice, looking at yourself now? Do you remember how you felt then? What was your world like? How did you experience things?

Memoir Writing Prompt #3: Think of a place you visit everyday (or very often). Describe it in as much detail as possible. What makes this place important? How well do you know this place? What changes or stays the same through the seasons? What objects are there that you care about? Use all of the senses in your description.

Memoir Writing Prompt #4: Of all the possessions you own, choose one you would bequeath to a child or grandchild and write about why. Of all possessions you own, is there one that was bequeathed to you by an ancestor? Write down the story and describe the object. What do you know about this ancestor? Is there anything in their story that relates to yours? Did you ever meet the person? Any stories? Do you remember how the objects was given to you?

Memoir Writing Prompt #5: What is your favorite holiday? Tell a story about it. Describe all of the sensations that you love–the food, scents, tastes, decorations, meanings, events, etc. Are there rituals associated with the holiday? If so, describe in detail. Is there a sadness or special joy (or both) tied in with this holiday? Does it represent important family or personal moments? Tell as much as you can. Tell an anecdote or story.

Memoir Writing Prompt #6: Take an inventory of your purse and/or wallet or one of your pockets. What do the items inside say about you? Do you remember the items in your father or mother’s purse, wallet or pocket? Describe at least one other family member by listing the items in their purse, pocket or wallet in some detail. What is quirky and noticeable about these items? What stood out? What do they reveal about their owners?

Memoir Writing Prompt #7: Write about your family heritage. How does it affect who you are? Name a few of your ancestors by name and describe who they were, what you know of them, what they accomplished, what they created and were good at in their lives. Does their talent have any bearing on you? Did they stop short of accomplishing their dreams? Does that impact you now? Do you remember any sayings, any anecdotes, stories? What did the person look like, move like, dress like, talk like? What did the person teach you or try to teach you?

Memoir Writing Prompt #8: What is one of your quirky habits? Describe it. Why do you do it? Do you have one secret super power? If so, what is it? (It can be anything: the ability to really listen to people, to draw, to appreciate music, to say the right thing in awkward moments, to fly in your dreams, to write beautifully, to appreciate art, to see other people’s sadness so you can bring consolation.)

Memoir Writing Prompt #9: If you had to sum up your life in a list of images and metaphors, what metaphors would you choose, and why? Make that list. Then tell a few of the stories connected to the images and metaphors. Why are these images and metaphors important to you? What happened? What do they say about your soul, your life, your past, your present?

Memoir Writing Prompt #10: In what ways have you deviated from traditions or beliefs you were brought up with? How has this changed your life? What was your family’s religious background? What were you taught about God when you were small? What do you believe now? What do you believe about devotion, ritual, belief itself? What do you consider your spiritual quest? Do you have any unusual experiences you don’t usually talk about with anyone? Write them down honestly. No one else has to see.

We will do daily freewrites in class, which will further spur your ideas for your portfolio.

Tsuchiya Koitsu “Nara Sarusawa Pond”