Before I started writing stories, I thought I had nothing to write about. Or, rather, I tried to write fiction. But while I’m a good reader of fiction, and also a good editor (my partner calls me The Shredder because I am so merciless with his work), I have never been able to write fiction well.
Over the past year or so of writing true stories I have reached the conclusion that we are in fact bottomless wells of stories. Even if we think we don’t remember much, we actually do have a surprising amount stored away. The more I remember, the more I remember. I also have had a growing awareness of the relationship between strong emotions and vivid memories. If you can recall something that happened to you when you were five, chances are very good that you were feeling something significant at the time. And what that means is that sometimes there’s a story to be found there too.
I have something I call Idea Fridays. This is a two hour block of time that I set aside for one or two Fridays a month. I would describe it as a kind of directed meditation. I put earplugs in, lie down, and try to remember things. I’ll often start by focusing on a certain year of my life and try to remember whatever I can from that year. I’ll conjure up memories and then examine them for their story potential. I’d say about one out of every four memories is worth noting for its potential.
I used to feel that I couldn’t remember much from my childhood. I do have enormous gaps, but they are gradually getting filled in. Sometimes it’s painful; sometimes it’s pleasant. It’s always illuminating.
Without memories of childhood,
it is as if you were doomed,
to drag a big box around with you,
though you don’t know what’s in it.
And the older you get,
the heavier it becomes,
and the more impatient you are
to finally open the thing.
— Jurek Becker