Telling Your Story

Mining for Precious Metals

Cartoon by Kev Howlett

There are many similarities between your life and mine. We are born, we go to school, we get jobs, maybe get married, have kids and so on. But each of us has our own experience within those similarities. And not everyone gets married or has kids. Or they may get married, then widowed or not be able to have children or choose not to have children.

So how does a writer tell their life story without boring the pants off the reader? Do I want to hear about your life if it’s been similar to mine? Maybe yes, to a degree, because we all like to connect with someone with a shared experience. But I don’t want to read a blow-by-blow description of your life from the day you were born to now.

Think about your life, or the part of your life you’d like to share with the reader. Are there aspects of it that stand out and have a common theme? You may not discover this until you have started writing. That’s okay. Writing a first draft isn’t going to produce the gold that will come when you rewrite.

Have you noticed the metaphor here? I’m comparing writing to mining. The use of metaphor can make your writing more vivid. At first, when getting out your first draft, you’ll feel like it’s very rough and maybe not even worth pursuing. But don’t give up. There will be a diamond in there waiting to be polished up. Have you heard the story of the miner who gave up digging for diamonds, not realising that a fortune could have been had if only he had chipped away at another few metres of rock?

We dream in metaphor. Often when we wake we try to decipher the strange messages that our unconscious mind has been trying to give us. It stands to reason that the use of metaphor in writing appeals to the unconscious mind.

Relating your life to metaphor will help you create links and images that will appeal to the reader. Has your life been like a box of chocolates? Has it been crisis after crisis, ending as one big train wreck? Or maybe, despite many hardships, you feel blessed with everything that you have and it has been a fortunate life?

Here are examples of memoir/biography that have used metaphor to create a theme in their book:

Open by Andre Agassi
Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith
Reckoning: A Memoir by Magda Szubanski
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by Michael D’Orso and John Lewis

Finding that metaphor to describe your life could be the gem you need to create a compelling read.


  • Colleen Goth

    excellent article which I will continue to mine for gems of advice as I finish the first draft of my memoire book. Timely reminder on many points

  • Fiona Craig

    I just stumbled upon your blog and I love the point you’re making. Metaphors work well when I talk to potential clients. My favourite saying is, “I can help you build a bridge from where you are to where you want to be, and give you the necessary tools, strategies and resources to cross it.” I wonder if metaphors appeal more to those with that learning style?

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