Memoir Writing Lesson #3: Check

Today’s memoir writing lesson from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away:

In this exercise, Goldberg asks us to respond to several prompts. They are derived from the “I remember” prompt, but are more specific.  I will choose a couple to publish here.

Give me a memory of the color red. Don’t use the word “red” at all.

In high school I had a pair of floral hot pants that were designed with an overall-style bib front and straps that crossed in the back. The yellow daisies bloomed against a background the shade of a chili pepper.  I’d bought them while shopping with my best friend who went to the high school across town. My high school was far more preppy than hers, so when I walked through the halls in fake patent leather knee-high lace-up boots, a yellow T-shirt, and those shorts, my face and throat flamed with a rosy-hued rash. It didn’t matter that my outfit was the height of fashion on TV–it didn’t fit at my school. I felt as if everyone was looking at me and when I would look at individuals who quickly looked away, I realized I was not being paranoid. I wished I were that little birthday girl in her chiffon dress–the one with the pink top and a skirt decorated with twin-stemmed cherries. In the shorts I felt like a girl with that well-known letter on her chest.


Tell me about a time you remember rain. Rain does not have to be the main focus.

While walking in the rain, I tend to look down at my feet. As a kid, the sidewalks on my street were uneven and sometimes damaged, so water would puddle easily both on and off the sidewalk. The brown water seeped over my Buster Browns and onto my socks when I made a misstep. Even worse were the worms and nightcrawlers that had come out of their undergrown homes to find death on the sidewalk. I remember walking home from Mrs. Blair’s house (my next door neighbor babysitter), and the time it took to walk down her driveway, up the sidewalk, and up my driveway in the rain amidst the dying worms (that smelled . . . wormy) seemed interminable. In some tiny part of my brain I am always walking that worm gauntlet between babysitter and home.


Why didn’t I just run from her front door, across our lawns, to my front door? Was I wearing my school shoes and worried that the rain-soaked lawn would be like quicksand? Had I been taught to use the sidewalk?
The red prompt wasn’t nearly as easy as lessons #1 and #2. But the rain one was even harder for me. I couldn’t even remember any events that had happened to me during the rain, other than this memory loop of walking between the two houses. Having my memories narrowed down like this is more difficult than just writing from whatever comes to mind.


Go ahead and try it. Start here: Give me a memory of the color red.

Lily Lane (my grandcat and smartest cat in the world)


Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Flash Nonfiction, Inspiration, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

49 responses to “Memoir Writing Lesson #3: Check

  1. Nice post today! I’m following along mentally, as I remember memories (is that possible?) I’ve already harvested in The Goodbye Baby-Adoptee Diaries. You’ve given me ideas for future free writing. //// All energies now poured into book promotion for Santa Fe on Foot.
    BYW->Thanks so much for mentions, tweets, RTs about the radio interview. I have another radio show coming up this Saturday, then the launch itself this Sunday. Must summon the smarts of Lily Lane to deal with all this. She is truly beautiful.

    • Pretty hard to be as smart as Lily Lane ;). I keep telling my son they could make her a Youtube star! But she’s very happy with the life she has.
      Best of luck with Santa Fe on Foot, Elaine!!!

  2. Gorgeous cat! (I distract easily!)

    • Isn’t she?! I got her at the shelter for them after my son’s fiancee said she wanted a long-haired orange and white cat. Hmm, just happened to have one there, so VOILA!

  3. Those are great!! I wish I had more time to savor those words in all their particularity and write some of my own. 🙁

    • Thanks, WJ. Yes, go write!!! By the way, reading the rain passage this morning, I can see where I needed to take it much farther–in a more sensory direction. I was just getting started here.

  4. Good writing challenges!

  5. Love the memories and the cat!

  6. Ian

    I have to admit that Lily Lane’s picture got most of my attention on this post. I need to do these types of writing exercises, but I can’t even keep up with my own blog….arrrrgggh 😉
    I like the idea of trying to describe something without really mentioning the word itself–red or rain. Hmmm…I live in Vancouver, so the second one shouldn’t be too hard…

  7. These are so much fun, Luanne.
    Your first post made me remember my hot pants. (Such a ridiculous name!). I remember my mom bought me a hot pans outfit, and I thought it was so cool. I remember telling people (older people?)–they’re not “shorts,” they’re hot pants. Haha.

    Lily Lane is a cutie!

  8. Hi there, beautiful Lily Lane 🙂 Pawkisses for a Happy Weekend 🙂 <3

  9. Well I’ve just written a post about rain, so I guess I completed this assignment 🙂 Yours is so different from mine – but it brings to mine instantly the worms that lie on the pavement after rain. And the first reminds me of all those times I didn’t fit in!

    • Ugh, there were so many times I didn’t fit in–and they usually involved clothes! Or sports . . . . I could have done much more with that rain one. I needed more time with it, I guess.

  10. I’m loving your memoir writing prompts.
    My current novel is fantasy but I have a memoir I want to write. It’s so raw that I havn’t plucked up the corrage to write it as a memoir. It’s far easier to hide it in fantasy.

    • And there is nothing wrong with using real life to write fiction. Lots of amazing writers have done that over the years. But lesson #4 is about writing the stuff that is too raw–and then as part of the exercise, get rid of it. just writing it out might be a first step, especially knowing you will destroy it.

  11. Nice.
    Most of my favorite books have a red cover. I suppose it’s coincidence, but I don’t really believe in coincidence. I couldn’t think of a red memory :/
    How do you know she’s the smartest cat?

    • How in the world did you sneak all these comments in between other people’s comments and I didn’t see them? So dang weird. Red books. Those are intriguing. I like black books. That is why Doll God is black. And I want Kin Types to be black, too.

    • Oops, all our cats are very smart, but Lily knows just how to “work” everybody, knows how gorgeous she is, and can figure out all kinds of things.

  12. Lord, I’d forgotten about hot pants, but you describe them to a tee. And I also had that “worms on the sidewalk” experience. There was one house on the way to elementary school that oozed the worms when it rained. And, yes, major wormy yuck!

    • I even have a pic of myself in those hot pants. Nope, not sharing ;). My legs seemed so long under those hot pants hahaha. Oh, those worms. Major yuck is right.

  13. Lily Lane is adorable! I’m thinking of red and rain now and will hopefully get something penned today (although, I’m more likely to start a short story about red rain if I do this exercise!) 😀

  14. I love these vignettes, Luanne. The ending of your red prompt possessed so much power. Enjoying this memoir series and hope it’s helping with your longer work.

    • Ah, thanks so much, Rudri. It got me back into writing, so that is always good. Plus it makes me analyze writing, too. There is one further on that I realized I needed to rewrite and make only “one time” . . . .

  15. You are right, Luanne; it is difficult to capture certain memories. I love the “worm gauntlet.” I have long been fascinated with memories, the way they mutate, deceive, and reveal. These are great exercises for experimenting with sensory details from childhood and other times of life. Wonderful idea for your blog!

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