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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