Denis Ledoux: Memory Lists Can be the Backbone of Writing

Denis Ledoux
Book Review: Turning Memories into Memoirs: A Handbook for Writing Lifestories
Denis Ledoux
Soliel Press, 2006

Softcover, 272 pages with index

This book is on my reading list at

“Write your stories—now!”

That’s Denis Ledoux’s advice to would-be memoir writers. In this book he walks you through his simple and clearly articulated methods that help you remember more vividly, record your stories with pizazz, and achieve a greater understanding of your personal history.

The book is based on the memoir-writing workshop he developed in 1988 called Soleil Lifestory Network. He has trained hundreds of personal historians to teach his methods in their own communities.

“It’s okay to start with the writing skills you have now,” writes Ledoux. “As you write, you will learn more about writing and your skills will increase. If you wait until you know everything—well, you might never get to write at all!”

What is the payoff to you and your family?
1. A permanent record of your stories.
2. Great satisfaction in sharing.
3. Insights of relationships and behaviors.
4. Family unity.
5. Personal growth.
6. Meaning and order from dealing with fears.

The backbone of Ledoux’s writing process is a tool he calls the Memory List, used to open the lifewriting process quickly and thoroughly. (Throughout the book he uses the words lifewriting and lifestories as unhyphenated nouns or adjectives, a common practice among memoir writers.)

The Memory List consists of three to five words to help you quickly bring to mind “people, events, relationships, thoughts, feelings, things—anything—from your past.” They are not writing; they are just tidbits to jog your memory and are a work in progress. No need to force yourself to be chronological and no need to censor your memories.

Example of a Memory List
Each line on your list is a separate memory:
“brother Stan died.
green wallpaper—stage coaches and buttes.
Sister Marie Gertrude fell on stairs.
My parents divorced.
blue Schwinn bicycle.”

Ledoux suggests making two lists. One, a Core Memory List that recalls crucial events; the other an Extended Memory List that recalls smaller events.

Among the other techniques he covers are interviews and research, when to tell the truth and when it’s okay to guess, making a plan for writing your memoir, lifewriting as therapy, avoiding stereotypes and clichés, creating characters that are recognizably human, effectively using action and sensory details, and self-publishing your memoir as a book.

Each chapter ends with a writing exercise and with a short lifestory by a student from one of his workshops. 

Denis Ledoux is a writer, editor, teacher, writing coach, and author or co-author of thirteen books. Besides his writing and training workshops he offers a business development seminar by tele-conference for those who want to turn their writing and teaching experiences into a business.

Photo courtesy Soleil Lifestory Network 

What tips on remembering have you used? Share them by selecting comments below, or send an email.


  1. Thanks, Wayne, for this helpful book review. I've benefited from following your blog as I've tried to piece together a memoir of my own. I'll certainly get a copy of "Turning Memories into Memoirs." One of my similar actions: jotting down fleeting memories when they occur. I have a tendency to forget details but, as I'm thinking about a particular situation, remembrances sometimes flit through my mind. If I record them at the time, I can sort them later into their proper chronology--otherwise, I may lose the thought altogether.

    Picture albums and my personal journals also help jog my memory. Another source: my husband. He is much better at recollections of places, names, etc. than I. When checking these sources, I try to keep pen and paper handy to make notations.

    Love your blog--great information!

  2. Thanks a million and best of every success with your memoir.