People write their life stories for many reasons.
We write to learn more about ourselves.
We write to preserve our memories.
We write to heal from trauma, and to learn from our mistakes so we won’t repeat them.
We write to inform, entertain, and enlighten others about life in our times.
Writing is a process, that often begins with self-discovery and deepens as we go through different stages of our journey. It is a complex and iterative process, but for the sake of simplicity, I have broken it down to five layers:
When we first write about an experience, we often are simply processing what we remember, think, and feel. This is a process of self-discovery. Even as a law professor, I used to tell my students that I wrote to discover what I really believed about an issue.
At this stage of the process, it is important to remember the events in as much vivid detail as possible. Using your five senses to recall an experience will put you in touch with how you felt in that moment. Powerful writing is built on emotion, so it is important not to skip this step.
For example, if you are writing about your favorite childhood holiday, try to recall not only what you observed, but what you felt about it. Remember who else was there and what they looked like. Taste your favorite holiday dish and smell the aromas coming from your grandma’s oven. See the houses decorated with lights and feel the breeze on your skin as you listen to the sounds of holiday music.
Give a name to your street, your family members, and the friends and relatives who made the holiday special. These are the details that will bring your memories to life.
Often when we write about an experience, it will bring up trauma and unresolved feelings that need to be healed. We need to forgive ourselves and others for the mistakes of the past in order to move on. Sometimes prayer, meditation, and self-awareness are enough. Other times we need the help of an experienced therapist or coach to let go of the trauma. At this stage, our emotions may be too raw to share with the world. We need to give ourselves time to heal before we move on to the next stage.
Maybe you felt like you didn’t belong in your family. Maybe you believed you were not the favorite child — not smart enough, athletic enough, talented enough to fit in. Maybe you were not popular or even bullied by your classmates. Your life has long since moved on, but the trauma you felt continues to haunt you. It is time to let it go so you can move fully into the present reality.
At this stage, your perspective on your experience changes. Perhaps you thought your parents didn’t love you, but you see now that they just had a different way of expressing their love. Or you always believed that you were not as smart as your siblings, but now you see that you just had a different kind of intelligence.
This kind of perspective comes from looking at your experience from a more detached observer view, where you can see how your childhood beliefs have played out in your life. Those kids who bullied you or excluded you from their parties didn’t know any better. Maybe they were carrying out their parents’ prejudices. Maybe they tried to make themselves feel better by making you the scapegoat.
Whatever their reasons, you see now that it had nothing to do with your worthiness. You are ready to let go of the limiting belief that you aren’t good enough or don’t belong.
This is the fun part, where you go from victim of your story to Shero of your own life. You recognize that you don’t have to buy into the stories others have told you. You are the creator of your own story and you get to write the next chapter. At this stage, your writing goes from writer-centered to reader-centered.
Instead of being an outcast, you write your role as the unique, quirky leading character. Instead of denying your vulnerability, you embrace it. Readers can relate to you because you reveal yourself, warts and all. You inspire others to do the same.
If you are like most writers, you have a message you want to share with the world. Your writing is your legacy, and you want it to be as impactful as possible. To do that, you need to search for the universal values behind your stories. Most powerful stories involve a quest of some kind. It may be an inner quest for love, a quest for belonging, a quest for identity or self-worth. Or maybe it is an outer quest for social justice, environmental preservation, or to end world hunger. When you write your story in the context of this larger quest, you will be leaving a meaningful message for your readers now and in the future.
The deeper you go in your story, the more it will resonate with others. The more vulnerable you let yourself be, the more they will identify with you and your struggles. By taking your story through the 5 layers, you will go from writing solely about your own experience to telling a universal story that connects you with the human family.
Join us to share your stories
We all have life stories to share, but sometimes we don’t know who will listen. I created the Shero Sisterhood Facebook group as a safe place for women like us to share our stories in a confidential, supportive container. Join the conversation and start sharing your life stories.