Harnessing the Potential of Memory in Writing [...]

A common problem for writers who want to write but are not sure on what specific topic:  how do those long-term memories bubble-up, those we do not have pulled up in the short-term?  The answer is a trigger.  Some triggers are easy (pictures of events, artifacts of celebrations or accomplishments, places and people), but those are the ones people interact with regularly, so they are not the problem we speak of!  We need to work on ways in which to produce triggers people would not normally engage.

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(Four Portraits, Portfolio) Sigmund Freud by David Wurzel.  Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Sigmund Freud introduced the concept of free association in his theories on psychoanalysis.  Like the Atkinson & Shiffrin science on memory, much of Freud’s work is criticized and even discredited, but our purpose here is not to produce effective psychoanalysis as much as it is to pull from our memories some of the narrative elements that shaped us, and so it can be a launching point for our studies.

In free association, the participant is encouraged to begin talking/engaging on a topic or point.  The key for the participant is to not censor their thoughts or to push them in a certain direction through conscious manipulation; rather, the participant is encouraged to follow the subconscious and continue talking about what they are moved to speak on.  The only wrong answer in free association is the forced answer.  This means free association can be non-sensical at times, include lots of filler as voice or fingers can keep up with memories, but when engaged it can provide a window into the past for the participant.


A related practice can be found in Peter Elbow’s The Believing Game, where participants are asked to turn off traditional “critical thinking” reflexes and find the value in a foreign idea or perspective.

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