Patchwork Writing


I’ve always had a borderline compulsive preoccupation with saving memories in a tangible way. I’ve got shelves of scrapbooks and boxes and I’ve kept dairies my entire life, but sometimes that doesn’t quite cover it. When it comes to diaries, I have a tendency to skip large chunks of time, and those missing weeks or months are almost invariably the ones I look back and wish were there. That’s not to say I don’t ever write when good or important things are happening, I do, but most of the time when important things are happening I'm busy being part of them.

Additionally, while I often find writing in retrospect or about things that are upsetting or frustrating me to be therapeutic, trying to fit in every detail of an amazing day or someone I care about, or trying to properly convey the weight of how happy I am (or was) in a particular moment can just feel stressful. A lot of the time I'll panic about trying to get everything down and just end up writing condensed versions, which are great as far as the facts go but not so much for capturing the actual atmosphere or emotion involved.

It’s similar to how I feel about song writing. I have folders of songs that I’ve written when I was sad or angry or frustrated, but when I’m happy I’m not sitting down to write, I’m out living my life and enjoying whatever’s going on. Then, like a missing month in a diary, I get to the end of what was usually a great relationship and realise all I’ve got to show for it are break up songs. Again, not the most accurate reflection of that time, and definitely not how I'd want to remember it.

Although I’ve accepted that the song writing is just something I’m going to have to work on over time, I think I’ve come up with a way to reconstruct some of the important memories I may have skimmed over or left out entirely without feeling forced or contrived. 

I think of it as patchwork writing.

The way I think of it is not as a linear narrative but more of a series of self-contained moments that join together to form a bigger overview of the times that have been important to me. Like a quilt. Yeah. Yeah now you’re getting it. Basically whenever I’m feeling particularly inspired by a specific moment - like last night when I started thinking about a very picturesque walk with a very picturesque lad - I'll sit down as soon as I can and write about it in a stream of consciousness, as though it were part of a story.

When I read back through old diary entries I remember how I felt because… I remember how I felt, but when I read through things I’ve written with this new mindset I feel like I’m there. It’s so much more vivid, and you instinctively include the elements that were most important to you, whether you consciously realised they were or not. In the end what you’re left with is a collective image of your life – or a certain part of it – made entirely of all the best bits. Like a well-cultivated instagram feed.

In my mind, the best part is that it doesn’t have to go in any particular order, so you can keep building and adding to it as the inspiration comes. I could sit down tonight and write about last July, or something that happened five years ago; all that matters is that it’s something that in that moment I feel inspired to get out.

Out of everything I’ve come up with over the last year, this is my favourite. It’s a way I can work on my writing at the same time as fulfilling my need to make sure important moments don’t get lost. Gradually reconstructing the highlights of your life may sound daunting, but when you’re in the right mood it’s the easiest thing in the world.

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