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Photo Credit: HelloImNik via Compfight cc

When you’re writing memoir, readers understand you are looking through your mental lens back upon your life. You don’t need to tell them that. Photo Credit: HelloImNik via Compfight cc

I catch myself using this needless phrase, especially when I’m drafting. That’s OK since I’m in free-write mode. But once I revise, I always remove those two little words:

I remember.

You’re writing a memoir. Readers understand that your entire book is comprised of memories. It goes without saying that you’re remembering everything that you’re putting down on paper.

“I remember” only serves to take readers out of scene. We see the present-day you in a scene that takes place in the past. Memoir needs a mix of present and past, of course, but generally not both in one sentence.

Look at these examples:

1) I remember that my morning bus ride to school each day was long and boring.

2) My morning bus ride to school each day was long and boring.

In the second example, I’m stating a fact. That’s how it was. From there, I could build a scene that brings readers with me onto that school bus. But in the first example, I am present as the narrator, but I’m also taking readers back in time.

Or this:

1) I remember feeling angry and hurt at the way she treated me that day.

2) Her actions filled me with seething anger that bubbled up within me.

Which one is stronger, more immediate?

I think writers have a tendency to use “I remember” because it distances the action and emotion. Emotional scenes are tough to write. It’s hard to go back to that place and time. Commenting on actions from your current perspective lets you hold the memory at arm’s length. While it may feel good to you, it’s only going to distance the reader from your work.

Go ahead, draft with “I remember” all over the place, because it can be a good way to get the writing to flow. But when you revise, take it out and you may be surprised at how immediate the action becomes.

(If you like this post and would enjoy more writing instruction from me, I’m offering an eight-week online class on memoir through The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. You can find more details here).

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