Everyone likes stories. Especially stories about themselves. This is part of being a healthy human being. Unfortunately, some take it a step too far, assuming their everyday goings-on are interesting enough to draw outside readership in an oversized way. Especially in the personal era of post-tragedy, it’s tempting to think telling your story will somehow change the world.
Before we start crushing the sensitive souls of the Internet understand that writing about what happens to us is healthy, and can help us overcome hardships such as loss, trauma and long-term suffering. We are not telling you to stop writing about how you feel. We are instead here to show you a way to turn those private scribblings into something someone else can read and relate to someday, if you want them to.
This post might upset you. You might want to comment, “Hey, you’re making me feel worse about my situation. Stop being so … ”
So … what? Mean? Straightforward? Honest?
Being honest is tough. Someone has to step up and take the plunge though. So here’s the truth.
Honestly? No one cares enough to read your personal anecdotes on a regular basis, let alone an entire condensed collection of them. Unless you’re famous for doing something legitimately significant, no one ever will. So that brilliant idea you had about turning that tragic experience into a best-selling memoir? Sorry. You’re basically destined to fail before you even start.
Unless you can train yourself to become patient and creative enough to transform that story that’s all about you and your problems into something an entire sample of people can relate to.
How does this happen? By following these steps, of course.
Separate Your Self From Your Situation
Yes. The improper separation of “your” and “self” is purposeful.
Think this isn’t the healthy way to handle a traumatic situation? Think again. Separating who you are from what happened to you may be the hardest, and most freeing, step in overcoming a traumatic experience, circumstance or situation. It reminds you that you have not become that tragedy, and empowers you to continue to work toward putting it behind you.
Before you write about a personal experience, you need to take yourself out of it. The experience remains a real part of your past, and can then become something you can come back to without the same overwhelming feelings of guilt, pain and sadness. Some of that feeling will always remain, and that’s where the writing aspect does come into play.
Create a Character, Even If He/She Is Based On You
“I” narratives can be effective in some essays depending on the publication and its audience, but some writers don’t find these kinds of anecdotes as impactful (and some do, and there’s nothing wrong with that). Taking the “I” out of the picture can potentially make all the difference.
Once you’ve taken yourself “out of the equation,” put someone else in your place, someone fictional, even if all you do is change his or her name and tweak the circumstances a little. Then start writing. It doesn’t have to be pretty or even make sense. The point is to start telling your story with an “outside” perspective.
Not only does this help you see the situation from a new angle, but telling the story from a new point of view can kick your creativity into gear. You are now allowed to manipulate the plot whichever way you choose, instead of retelling a story without a definite ending. Speaking of endings, we saved the best advice for last.
End the Story with Something for Everyone to Learn
It is at this point that the story that was once centered on you now focuses instead on every individual reading it. As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, everyone loves stories, especially when they can somehow involve themselves in them. Making the story relatable to every reader is the key to writing a good story that everyone can enjoy, even if it’s about a darker, more serious subject.
Visualize the biggest lesson you hope to learn from the situation you’re in, and use the story’s ending to encourage your readers to seek the same fulfillment in their own lives. For example, let’s say you lost a family member who was very close to you. Though tragic, the experience is teaching you to live more spontaneously and take more healthy risks in your own life. Projecting that onto your character, and weaving that into the conclusion of your tale, leaves everyone with that same inspiration without hearing it directly from you, someone they likely don’t know and whose opinion they are more likely to value much less.
It is both healthy and normal to use writing as a way to cope with deep emotions like loss and sadness. Use your emotion to create something beautiful. You will find that pieces of you show up in that story in the end, even if no one else sees them. This process of separating yourself, creating a new character and crafting a new ending to an unfinished event – it does not mean you are any less you. It means you are using your art to overcome life’s unfairness.
There are plenty of people out there who will read what you have written. Deep down, even if no one really wants to read about what happens to other people in real life, we all know most stories start with real experiences. You are leaving your mark, in the most effective way.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.