Tag Archives: biography

Write for Your Life – part 3: The Big Picture

This blog will be continuing the life writing theme with the element of The Big Picture up for discussion.

Have you been writing? You hesitated. It’s interesting that vacuuming the house or doing the dishes becomes appealing when you should be writing. Procrastination is your enemy, so be mindful of this. Make your writing project part of your daily routine, it’s the only way to get it done. At least five days per week should have some time allotted to the task and before you realize it, you will have written a first draft.

After my last blog, you should have been able to map out a rough outline of your story. Don’t spend too much time on this because you need to get to work to flesh out the details by filling in the spaces between events. Eventually you will have a draft that you can step back from and assess. It will be far from perfect. Keep this in mind while you assess, otherwise you will be inclined to give up. No first draft is perfect. In fact it may be really dreadful but it’s something you can work with.

In your assessment of the first draft, you need to look at the big picture. As you read through it, make notes about what does and doesn’t work. Are there parts that need more detail? Have you waffled in another? Have you glossed over details because they are too painful, seem boring or you were lazy when you wrote them? I talked to someone in a workshop who was writing a memoir and failed to mention that he was married for several years because he didn’t think it was interesting. Most people would think that this was a significant event in a life. It also changes the reader’s perception of the story because he/she will imagine that a person was on their own when in fact they weren’t. It’s actually a false portrait of your life. If the marriage was not fantastic, that’s fine, don’t go into a lot of detail but you can’t completely omit it.

Blaise as a little girl. We don’t get the big picture.

There are many significant people that come and go from our lives. Our interaction with them affects the trajectory of our path in life. If you look at the image here of me, there is someone else in the picture. Aren’t you curious about who it is? You will start filling in my story from your own imagination. It’s my big sister and of course she is a significant person in my life, so she needs to feature in my life story. This might seem obvious to you but you’d be surprised how often writers don’t consider this.

In your reading of the first draft, you might have some aha moments about aspects of your story. Patterns may emerge or you might remember other details that have been long forgotten. This happens all the time and makes it hard to know when to stop writing because memories will keep appearing when triggered by another. That’s why it’s important to write several drafts in order to really excavate all those details.

If you visualize an archeologist uncovering the remains of a dinosaur, there will be painstaking work to uncover the bones. Bit by bit, the story of the bones is revealed. This is how your own story will evolve. Despite it being your own story, so much of it will be buried in your subconscious and will need to be ‘excavated’. Some of these memories may not be pleasant, so they may need more work to reveal than others.

Once you have gone over and assessed your first draft, start rewriting it with emphasis on parts that you think better demonstrates that ‘big picture’.

Blaise the book chick

Write for Your Life Part 2: Turning Points

Turning Points by Blaise van Hecke

In the last blog, I discussed how emotions are important to your writing. This is of course just one element to anything you write. Have you since been ‘writing from your heart’? The second element I’ll be discussing here are ‘turning points’.

The biggest issues many writers have when it comes to writing their life story is knowing where to start, what to include and what to leave out. There is no fixed answer to this because our lives are entwined with other people. Our heritage will stretch far back down the family tree, so does the story start with our birth? The best way to tackle this is to just write everything that you can and then step back and look at it from an outsider’s point of view. Consider these questions:

  • Is everything necessary?
  • Is it interesting to have a blow by blow account of every aspect of your life?
  • Will your reader be interested in reading about your early life?

Often the story becomes more readable when you slash some of the details that are too commonplace. Detailing events from your childhood are only useful if they set up a good grounding for what follows in your adult life. For example, if you were adopted, it would explain that you have trouble trusting people or have abandonment issues (this is a generalisation because not all adoptees have these issues).

It comes down to cause and effect. A series of events will result in a direction a person takes or personality traits becoming more apparent. This brings me to the big thing about life writing: events. What are the ‘events’ or turning points from your life that are important to relating your story?

Working this out will go a long way to deciding what should go in to the story. Some of these events may be minor but still important to the whole structure. If you’re having trouble knowing where to start or what to include, working this out will get you started. Start to jot down as many ‘events’ as you can. Just dot points are fine. It may look something like this (an example of my timeline):

  • Born 1968 in Richmond, Melbourne.
  • Sailed to Europe with mother and sister in 1969.
  • Lived in Belgium until 1971, then returned to Australia with mother, sister, two baby brothers and step-father.
  • Lived in Cockatoo (Melbourne), then travelled to east coast of New South Wales in 1973.
  • Step-father retuned to Belgium 1974
  • Moved to communal land with mother and three siblings in 1974 …

A picture starts to form and there are many details left out for each of these points, but it helps to track a timeline and work out what is important to the story as a whole. When writing, you may include everything. It will be in the rewriting where you may cull those less eventful events.

If you are writing memoir, you may be writing about a specific time in your life. This exercise will work equally as well to plot a timeline for that particular time. By doing this exercise, you can break down the story into bite size pieces, which makes it feel less daunting to tackle. So many people give up writing their life story because they feel overwhelmed by the task.

Blaise the book chick