Writing what you remember: Sourcing your life


1. Winter memories
Whether winter is your snowy wonderland or you tend to go into hibernation, the cold dark months of winter can provide inspiration for writers as backdrop, metaphor or even as a character. We all know how winter can have a striking affect on our mood or outlook on life, so let’s use it to draw inspiration for the first warm-up. Write a series of phrases starting with “In winter…” Try not to get trapped in clichés. Instead, shoot for the unusual, for original lines that stem from your own experience. “In winter we walked home in knee-high snow, knowing the cougars watched us from the mountain top…” “In winter, the boy fell through the ice, but lived to tell us what he saw below…” “In winter, the old man lit the chimney fire from Shakey’s cardboard pizza boxes…” Write a minimum of 5-10 phrases.

2. Go back and read through what you’ve written. Is there one line that stands out above the others? Using that line, freewrite for at least 15 minutes.

Christmas, 1970
3. Click here to read Sandra M. Castillo’s poem Christmas, 1970

Lives Left Behind – Dislocation

4. The holidays are always full of emotion. Sometimes we are swept into joyful festivities, and other times it can hit us like a weight, a reminder of hard times or profound life changes. In Christmas, 1970 Castillo writes of her first Christmas in her new world. Images of assembling a new life, of fitting pieces into their places, and of decorating a life that is no longer arranged permeates throughout the poem. As readers we are given this snapshot glimpse into a family’s first Christmas away from (themselves) ourselves and a narrator whose whole world has radically changed. Even if we’ve never experienced leaving your home country and beginning a new life in a foreign one, we can certainly sympathize with the speaker’s feelings of loss and leaving a life behind with no possibility of return. Along with the speaker we are left thinking, How can one go back to what no longer exists?

The Writing Exercise

5. Think about a holiday memory that stays with you today. You can choose a warm, pleasant memory, but don’t close yourself off from those moments that may have been more difficult or not so comfortable. It could be a holiday where your “normal life” was left behind. Your first holiday away from home, from family and friends. Or it could be your first holiday with a new family (spouse/partner’s family, etc.). Perhaps it’s a childhood memory that, now as an adult, you realize was not as it seemed when you were a child. What is it about that holiday memory that stands out? Why do you think you’ll never forget it? Write a story or poem about the experience.


I love the image in Castillo’s poem of there existing a photograph, a Polaroid mother cannot remember was ever taken

6. Think back to a photograph of you, your family or friends taken during a holiday celebration. If you remember the day, make a list of what you remember or what others have told you about that day. If you don’t remember, that’s okay, you may want to jot down what it is about the photograph that strikes you.

7. What possible narratives can be developed for this? Choose one and…

8. Using the photograph as your inspiration, write a poem or story, or just freewrite without stopping for at least 20 minutes. Go!


Sandra M. Castillo was born in Havana, Cuba. She, along with her family, fled Cuba in 1970 on one of the last of President Johnson’s Freedom Flights. She received her M.A. from Florida State UnSandra M. Castilloiversity and is currently an associate professor at Miami-Dade College.



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