Monday, January 13, 2014

Is Memory Reliable?

Some students of mine are worried about the truthfulness of their memory.  

The purpose of memoir is to capture essence rather than factual details.  As a memoirist, your job is to relate your memory as sincerely as possible.  You assure the reader that you've done a sufficient amount of reflection so that what you write is your best understanding of what originally happened.  You cannot expect to remember every single detail accurately.  But the reader has the right to expect that what you claim to be true will be accurate to the best of your recollection.  Memoir is about honesty, not about how you appear to others.  If you write about emotional truth, your writing will appear authentic, which is more important than making you look good.

One of the steps to writing the successful memoir is to mine the emotional truth.   We experience our past through feelings and senses.  No one can disagree with them.   Memoir deals with our personal experience as well as our attitudes and our cherished feelings.  In other words, capture the emotional essence of your remembrance.  Why is what we feel less true than what is?

I have paraphrased the above from Unreliable Truth by Maureen Murdock.  A book I highly recommend for memoirists.  


  1. And as a cognitive psychologist by earlier training...I must say that all of our memories of past events is filtered again and again. AND notice that it is not a conscious process but it is a reality. Memory is anchored in our emotional response to what we perceive has occurred. But two people observing the same event will respond within a range of "their" reality. Something to ponder on a rainy winter evening.

    1. Yes, Jan. Memories are our emotional truth. I hadn't thought of these being filtered again and again but still a reality. Hard to explain to a skeptic.


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