Moving Back & Forth in Time when Writing Memoir

May 06, 2019


In today’s #WritingTipsTuesday I will be sharing some personal updates and have a discussion about the writing process of going back and forth in time when writing a memoir. I will give you an example of how I did this in my journalling and how you can apply it to your own writing. There are also some examples of how other writers effectively weave in and out of different timeframes in memoir.

Click on the image to watch the Facebook Live or read the transcripts below.




I do want to remind people that life story – it’s a huge umbrella. It’s an umbrella term because autobiography as you know – it’s really a chronological account of your life story, pretty much starting from birth to wherever you are at. But Memoir is focusing on one particular aspect or them of your life and really digging deep into that. 

I find it really interesting because the last two books I’ve written, my father’s story and my Wobbly Woman Memoirs – I started with a dramatic event, a really dramatic event and then I go into backstory and I work chronologically through the story. So technically, it’s not really memoir it’s probably more autobiographical.

Although for Wobbly Woman Memoirs, it’s a little bit different because the theme is “Looking for Love” and I”m using men to describe that period, that specific time in my life, so that’s why I’ve called it Wobbly Woman Memoirs because it is focusing on a whole bunch of different stories connected by one theme.



What I want to share with you with today is to really encourage you to experiment with the idea of playing with time. And this is just something that came to me as I was journalling. I was going back and forth in time and I just think it’s a really effective way, a really good writing process if you do want to write a memoir and focus on the one theme.


I think a lot of new writers are scared of going back and forth, that it will be too jumpy or too confusing.The most important thing is to just journal. To get it all down as a start and you can shape and edit it later.



I’d like to offer this writing exercise for you. Think about a theme or message you want to focus on in your book. And I want you to write and journal as the memories come up. So not in any order. You might be writing about something that happened yesterday or something that happened twenty years ago and then you come back to an hour ago or you come back to the present moment.


Write in a snippet. It could be a sentence. Leave an asterisk and then go on to the next memory. Write a paragraph and leave a space as the next memory comes up. It’s not the size that matters, capture those memories and capture what you’re feeling in the and what’s happening for you in the present moment. It’s a very fluid way and not forced. It’s also a really good way to capture your authentic voice as you’re writing.

Write as if no one will ever see it. Write it as it is your own private journal.



A good example is when I was journalling about my father in the hospital. I was describing what happened.His heart stopped and he was dying in front of me. As I was journalling about this, I remembered he was described as a person with a big heart. So that’s sort of like a theme that goes through the book, or just this journalling at the moment. It might be a book. I might turn this into a memoir, who knows. He was a big-hearted man and he helped so many people, so many different people and I just wrote about those memories about all those different people that he helped.

Then I came back to the hospital and then I described what was happening around me, the sights, the sounds the smells. I described how I felt, how I was tired, how I was scared and I watched how my father became very agitated and had to be restrained. Like physically restrained and I don’t think anyone should have to watch a family member go through that.

That brought up memories of my father’s arrest and imprisonment over 35 – 40 years ago now and I wrote about he was fighting corruption in local council and how he was restrained by going to Long Bay Jail. All this came up because of what I witnessed in the hospital and what was happening to him which was shocking.

My father isn’t an aggressive or a violent man. He was always a kind man and a kind-hearted man so there’s the irony, there are some interesting paradoxes and juxtapositions that you can include in your writing. See it as a back and forth in storytelling all the while focusing on that particular theme or bringing out the character.



Dani Shapiro is an American Memoirist. She’s a beautiful writer. I love her work. She uses these techniques of going back and forth in time beautifully. A good book to read of hers is Hourglass which focuses on her marriage. She goes back and forth in time all the while talking about her marriage. Her latest book is called Heirloom which focuses on paternity and identity and who we are and so much more. It’s a really good example of using this writing process.



Start with journalling as a way of recording what’s happening now, recording your feelings, remembering past events and weaving them into what’s happening now. You can always shape and edit your work later. It’s about getting the words on the page and just having something to start with.


I hope this has been helpful. It’s a short little writing tip today and sharing some of my own personal processes and what’s happening in my life. It’s only one way, it’s only one process. There are so many different processes and you have to find what works for you. Don’t be scared to experiment and try different things.


Remember to keep an eye out for my Online Training – How to Bring Your Writing Alive and thanks for your patience and all your kind messages. I really appreciate it.


If you need some help with your writing and want to work with me you can email me at [email protected] or visit my website I can help you with a Book Planning Session or a critique of your writing or some mentoring if you want some ongoing help.


Please reach out if you have any questions or leave comments below.


Lots of love

Until next time…




Need some guidance for writing your book?

Download my free ebook, Guide to Write and Self Publish Your Memoir with a Printable Checklist: HERE

Book in a free 30 minute consultation with Leeza: HERE


(Images of Dani Shapiro from the author’s website. Other images from Pixabay.)


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Easy, step-by-step GUIDE to write and self-publish your memoir, complete with a "tick as you go" CHECKLIST to give you clarity and confidence to start.