Childhood stories are about friendships, laughter, bravado, tears and pain. Ask yourself a few questions to spark those memories.
As a child:
your favourite toy was …
your favourite book was …
your favourite sport was …
your best friend was …
your favourite sweets were …
Your memories contain the sights, sounds, feelings, tastes and smells of your original experience. To step back in time, focus on just one sense.
Which sense to begin with? Ask yourself ‘What do I remember first?’ Is it an image, sound, smell or texture? Describe this first moment in detail to begin your journey into the past.
You may be angry, you may be sad, you may be livid. It might be about something that happened yesterday, or ten years ago.
Now, this can be tough, but ‘eat the cold’: look that moment in the face and plot it out as a series of events. In other words, instead of telling us how you felt, tell us what happened.
Next, step into character. Be the person who caused the most pain. What motivated him to act this way? Test out different scenarios. What happens if you handled things differently? What have you learnt? Would you act differently next time?
Digest the emotions just as your body digests food. Get rid of the junk and keep the energy.
You are the filter for what you see, hear, taste, touch and smell in this world. You must own your experience, every detail of it, to write well. Each experience builds into a bigger picture. When you report where you are, what you see, taste, touch, feel and smell, you also release what is inside of you.
Be sensitive to all experience, no matter how small and you will be more deeply informed, often leading you to discoveries about relationships, places and yourself.
Write about those subjects that are surrounded with strong feelings. For instance, divorce, parenting, fighting a war or visiting a foreign country could be among your topics. Ask yourself “What do I hate or love about … ?” Do not answer with generalities. Be specific. List the smells, sounds, tastes, sights and textures of the event, place or person.
Smell, taste, hear, see and touch what you are writing about as if for the first time. Avoid writing about your attitude towards the subject and instead, let the images and details of the experience speak for themselves.
We tend to revisit our prisons. And we always go back. This is not only true for reservation Indians, of course. I have white friends who grew up very comfortably, but who hate their families, and yet they go back everything Thanksgiving and Christmas. Every year, they’re ruined until February. I’m always telling them, “You know, you don’t have to go. You can come to my house.” Why are they addicted to being demeaned and devalued by the people who are supposed to love them? So you can see the broader applicability: I’m in the suburb of my mind. I’m in the farm town of my mind. I’m in the childhood bedroom of my mind.
I think every writer stands in the doorway of their prison. Half in, half out. The very act of storytelling is a return to the prison of what torments us and keeps us captive, and writers are repeat offenders. You go through this whole journey with your prison, revisiting it in your mind. Hopefully, you get to a point when you realise there was beauty in your prison, too. Maybe, when you get to that point, “I’m on the reservation of my mind” can also be a beautiful thing. It’s on the rez, after all, where I learnt to tell stories. Sherman Alexie, author of Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
The journal is mostly a means to free yourself of the misguided belief that writing should be Important and For a Lofty Purpose, and to remind yourself that writing is something that’s always worth doing. It supplements and stimulates other writing. Never stop keeping one even when you are weighed under with other work.
We are haunted by our childhoods, by the important things we lost on the long walk to adulthood: the intensity of love and fear, the talismanic rituals and objects of affection, and the moments of certain comprehension of our place in the scheme of things.