‘I Remember’ is a writing exercise that was taught to me by either Tim Pears or Geoff Dyer. I can’t remember which, as they were both leading writing workshops that week. It was an Arvon Foundation writing holiday in Yorkshire, which entailed workshops everyday and cosy communal living in an old house that used to be owned by Ted Hughes. They are both such brilliant writers, and Geoff Dyer in particular has enjoyed a fantastic career since (it was seventeen years ago).
The ‘I Remember’ exercise was the stand-out writing advice for me that week. At least, I can’t remember much else.
The exercise goes like this: Using pen and paper, you write the words ‘I remember’ and challenge yourself to write on from those words for a set amount of time, say, ten minutes. The point is to keep your pen moving and trust in whatever comes out onto the page next. If you have a false start, that’s okay, you just write ‘I remember’ again and repeat.
A little way into your set time time, you can begin a new sentence with ‘What I meant to say was…’ and carry on writing, again trusting in whatever comes out next. You should find that by doing so you dig nearer to the bones of whatever it is you’ve begun to explore and closer to an emotional truth or hidden depth.
It’s a fantastic exercise and has been the starting point of many short stories and poems over the years for me. Later, when you come to rewrite and shape the piece, you remove those words. Even if the exercise doesn’t trigger a larger piece of writing for later, it is a good way of getting the creative juices flowing at the beginning of our writing day. It could also help you get underneath the skin of your characters in existing fictions if you do the exercise from their point of view.
Why not try it?
Ps. Now that I come to publish this, I’m not sure that I got this exercise from that week in Yorkshire after all. I’m not trusting my memory; it may have become mixed up with a completely different workshop. Don’t know. Doesn’t matter.