Research is beginning to prove scientifically what we all know intuitively: that creativity flows from relaxed, “doodling” minds, open to surprises and new ideas. That’s why we often get our best ideas when we’re spacing out in the shower, or walking on the beach. It’s why being tethered to the demands of our smartphones is inhibiting to the daydreaming that births new ideas.

With memoir writing, the same principle applies. You don’t want to write an orderly outline of everything you know about your life. You want to step through doors into the past and be surprised by the memories that are waiting for you.

The only way to do this is to relax and just write. That’s what I do with my workshops, online course and writer’s guide to purposeful memoir: I offer intriguing portals into the past, and encourage you to go exploring with a free, inquiring mind. You don’t have to write chronologically; you don’t have to tell it all.

You just have to hold open that door and write your way towards the memories that shimmer at you, tantalizing, potent with meanings and truths you won’t fully understand until you capture those moments in writing.

This is not a rapid process. It may take many sessions of open-ended, exploratory writing before you understand your purpose in writing memoir.

That was certainly true for me. I accumulated a whole pile of writing before I understood the through-line of my memoir; and then the task was to eliminate everything that didn’t contribute to the particular story I wanted to tell.

I saved it all; I know I have more than one memoir in me, and perhaps I’ll return to those out-takes some time in the future, when I’m tracing a different path through my life.

The point is, I would never have been able to find the deeper purpose of my memoir if I hadn’t allowed myself to explore freely, without worrying about where I was going, without trying to control and direct the process too much with my conscious, on-task mind.

I needed to give myself permission to daydream on paper. And that is no small thing, in our hurried, over-scheduled lives, when daydreaming is seen as a “waste of time.”

I’m here to tell you—for a writer, daydreaming is a crucial practice. It is NOT wasted time.

So let’s celebrate the Spring equinox with a burst of creativity. You can use one of the prompts in my Writer’s Companion as a starting point, or just sit yourself down and let your mind drift into your past, writing whatever arises from the depths of your memory.

Don’t worry about order and chronology at first. Just let it all come. Later, perhaps with the help of an editor, you can work on finding the through-line and the narrative structure that will help you invite others to journey alongside you into your past.

For now, seize the fiery new energy of our spring equinox, relax your inner critic and taskmaster, and go daydream your way into new portals in your memory. I’ll be cheering you on as always, and looking forward to hearing about the treasures you’ve found to share.


Upcoming workshops in purposeful memoir:

April 7, Great Barrington: “Fueling Your Creative Fires”

April 14, Dalton: “Navigating Climate Change”


Seize the discount!

This March, I’m offering a special discount on my online course in purposeful memoir, to celebrate Women’s History Month! Only $67 for a month’s worth of prompts and guidance on structure and narrative arc. Use discount code IWDSPECIAL.

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  1. Laurie Lisle

    So true about daydreaming!
    It has something to do with the interplay between the informed mind and the intuitive mind, when a writer’s mind has been on her topic but turns away from it for a while. That’s why I get so many insights when doing my exercises, so I keep my pen and pad of paper nearby.

  2. Jennifer Browdy

    So true, Laurie! I hope you are doing lots of good writing these days, while waiting for the snow to melt off your gardens!