Shortly after I published my very first story, I was introduced to the phrase:
"Write What You Know."
I was horrified because at the time, I was still in high school and living with my Mom in a very small New England town. Other than a few encounters with a couple of ghosts, a couple fast-food jobs, and what I had looked up in my local library, (keep in mind this was 1980; the Internet hadn't been invented yet,) I knew Nothing. Seriously, I had no personal experience doing Anything.
What the heck was I supposed to write if I only wrote what I knew?
I had yet to learn how to drive a car, but that was okay. I was damned good at riding the bus. However, I still hadn't had my first kiss yet, so relationship stories of Any kind were right out. Forget stories that had guns or weapons, though I could use a sling-shot, swing a mean baseball bat, and smack a face with a pocketbook. (Book-bags weren't around yet either.) Forget stories with horses in it, though I did know how to feed and train a dog.
I had three younger brothers, so I had some experience with childcare, but having learned my techniques from a sociopathic parent (Not a Joke,) writing from those experiences would have landed that character in the villain slot, pronto. (The scary part was that I was aware of this back then!) I sucked at sports, and had no friends, so those kinds of stories were out too.
In short, the sum total of my knowledge was strictly from books. Which was to say, Not Useful toward making a story realistic in even the vaguest sense.
Even worse, I discovered that my memory Leaked. I could remember things long enough to pass a test, but that was as far as it got.
Since moving out of my mom's house wasn't looking too close to happening, experiencing new things had to be put on hold. So, instead I started working on my memory.
I tried a number of techniques, but what worked for me was a type of Image Association.
In short, staring hard at something and then later, Drawing it. Or rather, trying to. I was an okay artist, nothing terrific, believe me, but I noticed right away that if I drew a picture whatever I was trying to remember stayed in my head better. Even doodling in the bottom corner of my notebook worked. The really interesting thing was that the picture didn't have to be related at all to what I was trying to remember! Though it worked better if it was.
Strangely enough, cutting pictures out of magazines worked too, though not nearly as well. I had to really stare at the picture and recite out loud what it was I was trying to remember.
This led to the next step: Recitation.
This meant quite literally, staring hard at a scene I wanted to write about later, such as the park during the height of autumn, or a thunderstorm, and describing it out loud -- without writing it down. Just spitting out adjectives that described what I was looking at, or what I was Feeling, such as what the brass handrail in school felt like sliding under my hand while walking down the stairs. After only a couple of tries, it didn't even have to be out loud. Saying it in my head or under my breath worked too.
I never did recall exactly what I said, but I recalled the experience Perfectly.
In other words; Sensory Association.
By the way, the Schoolhouse Rock multiplication jingles saved my math grade, seriously. If I sang along with the cartoon, I remembered it. ALL of it. In fact, I still remember them. Recitation + Images.
About a month or two after I started doing all that, the flip-side of those exercises suddenly kicked in. I started Picturing what I was reading while I read it. In other words, I was playing a movie in my head of whatever I was reading. Though it was a bit more than that. My memory added the experiences I'd worked to remember. If the writer mentioned 'forest', my memory automatically added the sound of the wind, bird-calls, the smell of moldering earth, the specific colors of the leaves in sunlight, and the chilly brush of a breeze.
That doesn't seem like such a big deal, but it had one hell of a side effect.
I could remember anything I'd read. That included Text Books. If the text books had pictures it was even easier. I was actually able to remember the names and stories of any historical figure simply by picturing that person's portrait.
However, I was not remembering the Words, only the images I'd seen and the Stories that went with it. This actually worked well when I needed to answer essay questions.
However, my ability to remember things in a list; dates, names, phone numbers, groceries I needed to buy...dropped off the face of the earth. If I didn't have a picture to connect with what I was trying to remember, it left my head almost the moment it went in.
My last two years of high school saw a major lift in my grades in every subject except One: Math. I still suck at math. Numbers simply don't bring up images. I could remember my times tables, (thank you Schoolhouse Rock,) but that was IT. Geometry was fine because the formulas were all associated with shapes, but Algebra was right out.
One would think that Grammar would have been difficult to remember, but it wasn't. I was using it almost daily in my story notebooks. (When one is writing a story, one NEEDS punctuation to have it make sense to the reader.) Repetition saved me there.
Later on, I finally left home and gathered a great number of wildly varying experiences. I still can't recall all the names of the people I met, but their faces are all engraved on my mind along with everything I experienced down to the weather conditions on the day it happened.
Image Association, Recitation, and Sensory Association.
Those were the keys to how I trained my memory to recall anything I'd seen or done clearly enough to write it on paper. I'm still amazed by how much I haven't forgotten.