Write about Your Life: 3 Lessons, 3 Writing Prompts

We become what we write. That is one of the great magics of writing. I am best known as a nonfiction writer, but I write fiction and poetry to free myself of small truths in the hope of achieving large ones.
— David Murray, All Writing Is Autobiography

Over at the Vagabond English Book Club, we've been talking about why you should write about your life.   And that discussion has driven home a few lessons for me:  

  • Writing about your experience will not only change your writing...it will change your life.  
  • The way you write, the way you come to the page, the choices you make, the way you frame your experience make a difference in your writing and your life.
  • You're going to have to make decisions about what's important.  If you want to keep going--if you want to keep yourself (and your readers?) interested. 

Today's post is about three lessons that will make your writing about your life more compelling, more life-changing. (And 3 writing prompts to help you put those lessons into practice.

Writing about your life in 3 lessons and three writing prompts...

Writing about your life in 3 lessons and three writing prompts...

One:  Your story, your life: You're the author. 

I mean, how many of us carve out writing time in the wee hours of the morning. 

Ever thought of asking your 5 AM self (or your 4 AM self): "What's so important?  What did we come here to do?" 

Ok, maybe you have more time than I do, and you do your writing after a morning yoga session...then write to your after-yoga self. (Seriously? I'm really jealous--our friendship will survive. But I'm jealous.)

If your 4 AM self is anything like mine, she won't answer until 2-3 pages are written and 2-3 cups of coffee are consumed... not that I want you to meet my 4 AM self.  

So try the first writing prompt--whenever you like to write.

The part of you that has the grit to show up and write early in the morning has a reason for being there.  An important reason that can give direction to your writing. 

A reason that can help you keep going when you start asking yourself questions...

Writing prompt 1: 

Ask your 4 AM self:

Why do we come here? What are we up to? What matters to you?

What do you want from me?!?!

Make her tell you--in her voice.   

Two: select, chose, cherry-pick...and own it!

Here's the thing: you're doing this anyway. 

Your mind automatically gravitates to what strikes you as important, what bothers you maybe--or what delights you if you choose to focus on that.  

You can't write it all, so write what really matters...

You can't write it all, so write what really matters...

You can't remember it all--and seriously, you'd probably throw your journal (blog post, story, computer) out the window if your writing was a daily re-enactment of EVERYTHING

  • What kind of toast you had for breakfast, if you brushed your teeth,
  • Every song you heard on the radio,
  • What it was like taking out the trash.  

Don't get me wrong: I absolutely believe in the power of the ordinary.  I've seen some of your writing about these moments--and loved it. Keep it up!

Know what slice of life will probably find its way into my journal tomorrow morning?

My trip to the boulangerie to pick up bread.  Sounds pretty ordinary right?  I do that...oh 3-4 times a week. 

But to a California girl who grew up in a suburban wasteland studded with box malls a slice of bread here in France is a slice of heaven--and the smell that confronts me on my way into the bakery...the warm, enveloping air...well, it's the stuff of life--my life.

It means something to me.  

So, just remember this: the mundane, the ordinary can be meaningful, powerful even.  But not all of it is--you have to choose.  

You get to choose--that's the beauty of it.

And it's not just the 'dear diary' type of writing experience you need to avoid.

Think your reader wants to hear about the same horrible moment again and again? Revisit those same disappointments? The ones you seem to be 'rehearsing' again and again without finding new insights...

Do you really want to revisit them?   

Fellow book-lover, fellow story-reader--we know this already, don't we?  

Don't feel bad editing your life.  Don't feel bad about reaching for what matters the most, what strikes you, what you love, what seems essential.

Time is short. Try this:

Writing Prompt 2:  (Works best if you already have a journal habit...)

Grab a cup of tea and some old journals, blog posts, stories... go back over some of your writing and take a look at what keeps popping up. Examine it.

Part 1: What comes up again and again? Maybe this is important? Maybe there's a reason you keep writing about it? Can you tell me why that is?  Is it something that really matters to you?

If it doesn't matter, maybe it's time to let it go. 

If so, is there something else you could put in the place of your old, boring, heavy routines?

Part 2: Actually, can you imagine taking that old, boring thought, packing it in a bag and leaving it on a train for someone else to discover?  Or maybe sending it on an all-expense paid vacation to a warm sunny place so it can come back rested and happy? Write about it...what happens?

Three: Tell a Story

Remember, you're the author. You decide why we're here. You decide which parts we must include.  Now you decide how your story reads:

  • Is it a true story? 
  • Or is it a little piece of your life that you decided to twist into something you can barely recognize anymore--so you can squeeze out a few drops of the truth? 

There's a case to be made for both.

Maybe you need to attack your story head-on, tell your own truth first before you can move on to anything else.  

Then again...

When you write about your life, it's great to write about your challenges...it's also fun to make up a story and let someone else deal with your problems, for a change. Like this guy...

When you write about your life, it's great to write about your challenges...it's also fun to make up a story and let someone else deal with your problems, for a change. Like this guy...

Tired of singing the same old song?  Ready to take a real situation, person, conflict and let it go...

Then try dropping it into a story.  Then you can take a step nice step back, view things in ways you could not have otherwise perceived them. 

Maybe it's time to find your truth in fiction...

Writing Prompt 3:

Pick a moment from your life--a moment where you had a big question to answer, a problem to solve, a 'situation' you had to deal with...  a time you wondered if you'd be up to the task.  

Now turn it into fiction!

  • Take yourself out of the story completely.
  • Swap yourself with someone you've never met, someone you don't even know--in fact, this person could live in another country, on another planet. 
  • How would she respond to this situation? Anything goes--maybe she has a superpower, a time-machine an unlikely friend to guide her or just a sudden insight into what's important. 

Have fun with this one. Enjoy, make it up as you go along. Don't worry about being 'good.' 

Ready to share?

Look, writing is something we do on our own.  But discussion can take you someplace new.  If you want to share your experience--or a bit of your writing, get in touch, leave a comment below, or stop by the Vagabond English Book Club for a quick chat.

We're all asking ourselves the same questions...

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