Writing prompts are a great way to begin your writing day, especially if you are writing a memoir or autobiography. Old photographs can be a great source of inspiration as well as a source of history. When my parents died, I became the keeper of photographs that had belonged to my grand parents and great grandparents. I knew who some of the people were and the stories about them, but many were a mystery to me. In fact, when I was putting my website together, I used many of these photos–my grandfather in his World War I uniform, my father at twenty-one when he was in the Navy, my parents on their wedding day, my birth mother with my three older brothers, an unidentified couple, most likely a relative, from the 1800’s, and my cousin Mimi and I–all dressed up for some family function. In my memoir I wrote about many of these people, but this time, while digging through the box, I found photos that stirred up more memories. Old photos like the ones on my site, make great writing prompts.
A good example is the photo of Uncle Willie, my adoptive father’s, mother’s, brother–a relationship I never grasped until I saw a photo of the two of them. Uncle Willie died when I was young, but I remember parts of his story. Uncle Wilie was born in Poland where he left behind a family when he came to America. Because I was adopted, the fact that Uncle Willie left a family behind was not only a concern, but a source of unanswered questions. Why did he leave them? How many were there? What happened to them? In America Willie married Tillie, who for some strange reason didn’t like our family. Uncle Willie always came to family dinners alone, presiding over all of the Jewish rituals. Years after his death, when my mother’s mother was sick and in a nursing home, I finally met Tillie, who was also a resident. She was old, hunched and grey and very disinterested in meeting me. Even though I don’t know all of the details, Uncle Willie’s photo evoked many memories from my childhood — all of which could easily become writing prompts in creating scenes about my life–like one of the family dinners, which were always a joyful occasion for me.
Because I teach memoir writing workshops, in addition to the process I developed to get people to quickly write scenes from their lives, I am always looking for additional ways to jump-start your writing. Photos are my favorite writing prompts. If a box of old photos is handy, you might want to spend some time digging to see what memories you turn up.