Memory Writing and Imagination

memory36969112_cropWhen I was in school, particularly around exam time, teachers and students alike would stress the connection between writing something down and remembering it. I had lots of friends who would study by copying the same notes over and over again. Well, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the inverse: how does remembering and having a good memory improve your writing.

We often equate writing with imagination. That’s why it is called fiction, because it is made up. Writers have to imagine everything from emotions they’ve never felt to worlds that don’t exist outside their mind until other people read what they’ve written.

Writing also is an act of remembering and gleaning things from the past – a person, a feeling, a strangely colored sofa – and mixing them together in a way you find meaningful and you hope others will find compelling. I think people often believe that someone without a good imagination can’t be a writer. But is the same true for people without a good memory?

I’ve always considered my memory to pretty top notch.  My first memory isn’t that exciting, but I am under three years old in it. My sister had just been born and my mother took me out to see The Little Mermaid in the movie theater. “Just the big girls” got to go. “No babies and no daddies!” While my memory is far-reaching, it is often exaggerated. And I don’t know if that makes me a better storyteller or a worse one.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments, while I try and figure this one out. What is more important a good imagination or a good memory? Also, is it more important to remember things in an interesting way or accurately?

4 thoughts on “Memory Writing and Imagination

  1. This is a really interesting question to ponder. I guess I think that someone with an unbelievable imagination might be able to compensate for a bad memory and vica versa, but maybe a mediocre imagination requires a good memory to give it a boost? Or perhaps it’s more a question of genre? Like sci-fi/fantasy writers need a better imagination but realistic fiction writers need a good memory? What do you think? I’m going to have to ponder this one for a while.

  2. Evocative post! I watched this show once on memory and how the act of remembering things actually changes the memory, so it can be easy to implant false details into memory. It’s really a fascinating thing. Perhaps fictionalizing our own memories is actually inherent in human nature. it’s just that those who write fiction are, ironically, more realistic about it 🙂

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