Most of creative nonfiction relies on that which we can remember, and it is this collection of memories which helps define us as people and writers. However, we can also learn much about ourselves by identifying what we do not remember.
For this exercise, direct students to imagine a moment from their childhood, one that they feel has shaped them in a significant way. At the top of the page, have them write, “I remember…” Because this is a fast-write, carefully-crafted sentences are not the object; students should only be concerned with keeping their pen to paper in order to generate as much un-editorialized material as possible. Tell them to write sentences beginning with this phrase that are as long as they can make them. Tell them they are free to write short ones with this opening. Medium-length sentences are great too, but the most important point is that each new sentence must begin with “I remember.” Do this for anywhere from five to fifteen minutes.
Once time is up, tell them to skip a line and write, “I don’t remember…” with that same scene in mind. The instructions from the first fast-write apply here too: vary sentence length, start each sentence with the same construction, keep writing until time is called.
After the second fast-writing period, ask for volunteers to read both passages aloud. Have the class take special note of the differences between the two, particularly in regards to how the writer’s diction, tone, and perspective shift. Students should begin to see how both presence and absence can enrich their work and help them gain clarity over these significant moments, which can lead to a deeper and longer examination in a full-fledged nonfiction piece.