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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 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

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