Thanks For the Memories

This blog is the second of two. It provides suggestions about writing from memories of a trip you took before knowing you’d be using that travel as a basis for a manuscript. (It’s not an ideal situation, but it happens.) The previous blog, Know Before You Go (, covered writing after a research-specific trip.


My first manuscript emerged from a long archaeological survey of Israel and Jordan. My time there was such a mind-blowing experience that ideas, environment, and magnitude of everything I saw, felt, and believed needed to gestate before I could do it justice. I’ll return Spring 2014 to revisit sites, and will then revise my work if necessary.

Fortunately, I kept an extensive journal of the trip, including shots best not shared (such as the one to the left, atop a basalt pillar on the shores of the Dea of Galilee). I also have a dozen atlases of varying types and ages; photographic journals; reams of notes; and a masters degree from seminary covering roughly ten thousand years of history to provide an infrastructure for my memories.

When I drafted the first manuscript, two years after returning to the States, the following elements helped me construct the story from memory, and I recommend them to you.

fresh pita, food of the gods

  • Stay up to date on current events. If I had traveled to Syria (I weep for Damascus), my memories would be totally inaccurate after the ongoing, heinous civil war.
  • Do rely on Google Earth to confirm what appears in your mind’s eye. And search images on the net, paying special attention to dates to ensure they’re current depictions.
  • Think about your adventure. Don’t be afraid to sit at your desk, close your eyes, and picture what you saw. Your writing will be more believable, and your reader will benefit from your attention to detail.
  • Did you smell cumin at Haret J’doudna in Madaba, Jordan? Or pita fresh from the oven? Was the wind gentle or fierce when you crossed the pedestrian Pont des Arts bridging the Seine in Paris? While you’re at it, what was curious about the bridge? (The answer is, “padlocks.”) Strive to remember the small things.
  • Talk to your travel mates if you weren’t traveling solo. Their perceptions probably differ from yours, or their comments might trigger long-forgotten memories. This is a case where more is better, and I rely heavily on family members who journey with me.
  • Plunder their photographic archives. (I seriously hope you take a lot of photos when you travel. Since we’re not tied to film anymore, and digital shots are easily erased, fill multiple memory cards!) Not only will your photos jog your mind, but they’re great to have for marketing later.

With preparation, research, and determination, you can craft convincing settings for your work. Do you have any suggestions about how to write from memory? Remember, I’m interested!

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