I get this question so often in my classes: How can I accurately write memories that happened when I was very young? What do I do to keep myself honest? And the most important one: Am I really writing a novel, not a memoir?
In my earlier post (search "Memory" in the Search box above right to read more), I talked about the difference between factual truth and emotional truth. This reader takes it one step further, into how our brains actually recall memories. And how accurate that recall really is.
When I asked her permission to share her email, my reader added this cavaet: "Please reiterate that this is just one of the many theories going around. The whole field of neurology is just exploding with ideas and conjectures. Really creative stuff going on."
According to one of the latest neurological theories, there is no such thing as a "pure" memory. Each time you remember something your brain changes from the sheer act of recall.
The theory is that your neurons make new synaptic connections with each recall. To my thinking that means you could get a strange regression of any remembered event, e.g., first the memory of the event, then the recall of it which changes the brain and thus the memory, then the recall of the recall which changes things even more, ad infinitum.
So the more you "work" on writing about a memory, the more it will change.
However, when he started to write about it, things got slippery. He would write and rewrite and edit and purge, and write again. I think what intrigued him was how memory "grew" once he started writing. Consequently, he would change something in volume 2 based on what he was writing in volume 6. Does that make what he wrote in volume 2 was a lie? No. It makes him a novelist.
The reason he is a novelist and not a memoirist is that he was after much more than the actual factual/historical events. He was after memory itself and how we write about it. Thus he was rewriting right up until he died.
The moral of the story.... no work on memoir is ever truly "done," it can only be abandoned.
This Week's Writing Exercise
Consider the ideas that this reader shares. How do they pertain to your writing, your beliefs about memory and truth in books? Share your thoughts and comments, if you like.