Tag Archives: short story journal

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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Write for Your Life Part 1: Tap into Your Emotions

Rusty old tap, photo by Blaise van Hecke

There are many reasons why you might write about your life. You may have had an adventurous journey that people will be interested in reading about, or you have overcome trauma and come out of it stronger and happier than ever with a lot of great experience to pass on to someone else? It might just be a bucket list item or you want to leave a legacy for your children. Whatever the reason, you’ll find this expedition rewarding in so many ways.

The most common hurdles that I come across when working with people writing their story are not knowing where to start and thinking they don’t know how to write. Like anything, when you break it down it becomes less of a daunting task. These are some of the major aspects to  writing your story that will help you put it together:

  1. Emotions
  2. Turning Points
  3. The Big Picture
  4. Themes
  5. Storytelling
  6. The Senses

Over the next six blogs, I’ll be exploring these aspects of writing your story.

How do you overcome self-doubt and write something that is compelling? If you present a story that is a long list of events and dates it can be boring to read. So what does emotion have to do with it?

By tapping into your emotions, you will draw deeper into your story. I call this writing from the heart. This takes courage. For some writers, they are not ready to ‘go there’ yet. The event they’re writing about may be too recent and will present them with too-raw emotions. Even events from far back in your past can bring up emotions that you haven’t dealt with properly or you may not realise there are emotions attached to them.

How do you tap into these emotions? Write it out!

There are a number of writing exercises that you can try but one that I use often with workshop participants is this: Write a letter of gratitude.

Pick someone from your life (past, present, dead or alive) who has had an impact in your life. This influence can be positive or negative. This is one of those exercises that can go anywhere depending on the choice you make. The idea is to thank this person for what they brought to your life. How hard are you going to open that tap? The more water you let out, the more emotions will flow. If emotions don’t come, think about what you’re writing about or the person you’ve chosen. Are you playing it safe?

Once you’ve made your choice, sit with it for a minute or so and think about this person from all angles. Write a few specific words. How does this person make you feel? Angry, sad, nostalgic, frustrated, happy? Don’t over think this because it should be as free flowing as possible. Remember the tap, the free-flowing water. Writing will be like this if you don’t overthink it.

Now set your watch to ten minutes and write your letter.

When the timer goes off you may still have more to write. That’s okay. This is an exercise to get you going. You may or may not use this in your story but with practice, you will learn how to turn on the water bravely. It takes courage to open yourself fully and write authentically. You need to do this if you want to connect with your reader. Don’t be an old, rusty tap.

Try this exercise a few times, thanking a different person. Why not write one to yourself?

If you’d like to attend one of my Life Writing workshops, follow this link.

Blaise the book chick

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