Tag Archives: Busybird Publishing

Write for Your Life Part 4: Themes

What is your life theme? Photo by Blaise van Hecke

Have you been writing? We are now eight weeks into our life writing, so you should have a good handle on the overall story. So far, we have looked at the structure and ways to get the story out. It’s important to do this before worrying too much about the quality of your writing because you can’t work with nothing. Having that first draft, no matter how terrible you think it is, gives you the foundation to build on. I promise you the first draft is NEVER good. There will be parts of it that are good and parts that are terrible.

Once you feel that you have something that resembles a first draft, leave it for a little while (at least a week) and then look back over it. What stands out for you? Does the story feel preachy, sad, angry? Are there any common threads becoming apparent? These common threads are what will make your story resonate with your reader. If the story is just a series of events with no real thread, it may be boring to the reader.

These common threads are what hold the story together and become your theme. For instance, if you have a chronic illness that you have overcome, the theme of your overall story may be resilience. It’s not something that needs to be spelled out or explained to the reader but something that they take from the story.

There may be more than one theme. That’s okay but you don’t want dozens of them and you don’t want mixed messages. If your theme is about saving time, you don’t want your story to waffle on. It should be succinct and time-saving.

Once you have identified your theme(s), you need to go over your story to make sure there are no mixed messages and flesh out areas where you can strengthen the message (be careful to not be too dogmatic or preachy about this). In cases where you have mixed messages, this is the time to cut text.

If you are having trouble pinpointing what your theme is, you could ask someone else to read it. We get very close to our work so it’s sometimes hard to see it subjectively. Other readers will see it from a different point of view, or they might say, ‘I really like this part about how you worked through XX’. This will give you something to work with that resonates with someone.

Your homework now is to determine your theme or a theme that you’d like to really build on. Then go over the document and see where it can be strengthened.

Blaise the book chick

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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

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