Triggering Words: A Mini-Memoir Exercise

I found a note the other day I’d written months ago about words and how well chosen ones can evoke a world of story. That’s a trick with memoir—finding words brimming with emotion and then chasing the stories right out of them. When a reader brushes up against that story, his life bridges with yours; he recalls a similar time and place and thinks you’ve captured his life and feelings.

What stories come to mind with these words? Flight, beach, explosion, olives, toe, bicycle, guilt, locket, hideaway, newspaper, lips, jacket, trumpet, horseradish, soccer, flood, haircut, tomatoes, piano, eyebrows, lost, sailboat, oak, passport, storm, weep, sand, hammer, theater.

Make your own list. Choose words significant to you—you don’t need to know why. Write each on a scrap of paper and toss it into an elegant bowl you keep on your desk, or tucked into your writing corner. Draw one word each day and write a page or more. Tell the story brought forth by the word. At the end of the week you’ll have a mini-memoir.