Friday, October 30, 2015

I Live in This Mess!

This is the first of a two-part topic.  In this post, I'd like you to consider exploring a "mess" from your life.  It can be anything: a literal mess and what caused it or an emotional mess and your conflicting feelings or a logistical mess and the convoluted plans you made to thread your way through it.

As you write about your mess, consider:
  • Why the mess occurred
  • Who else was involved in it
  • Which aspects of your life were tied up in it
  • How you felt as you resolved it (if you resolved it)
  • How it has changed your approach to things (if at all)
Why concentrate on mess?
  • Messes often occur in times of growth and transition.  They mark the process of your development and the strength of your character moreso than the initial and terminal points of your journey do.
  • Messes generally result from moments when your control over the situation lessens.  Sometimes, you manage to reassert control.  Other times, you learn to disengage and let the mess pass you by.  Still other times, you may become stuck, which can result in hoarding.  Examining these times in your life reveals a great deal about your priorities, abilities, and coping mechanisms.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Why you remember or why you want to tell this story may be the most important question we can ask and the hardest to convey effectively in our writing.  Often, it feels that words fail to express the sheer import of events close to our hearts and many times the feelings and truths most clear and obvious to us are difficult to communicate.

Yet I certainly wouldn't stop trying.

So here are some ideas to help you think about locating and expressing your whys:

  • Not in your story, but to yourself, fill in the blank to the sentence, "This story is important to me because ____________________."  
    • Write and rewrite that sentence until you can succinctly state your because in less than 10 words.
    • Don't be afraid if it doesn't come out right away.  Big feelings and big truths may be simple at heart, but they are felt and experienced in complex ways and are often buried beneath multiple layers of memory, rationalization, and emotion.  It can take time to dig them out, and that's okay.
  • Look for ways, events, or memories that illustrate that truth at other times in your life.
    • Write these less important stories first.  They will give you the practice you need to tell the crucial story that you want effectively.
    • Consider that you may introduce portions of these stories later, in and around the story you really want to tell.
  • Look for moments to emphasize that truth in this initial story.
    • When you are finally ready to write this story, you want to consider issues like uniting imagery, foreshadowing, and changing distance in the event.
    • Write and rewrite if this particular moment is important to you.  Sometimes we say that we don't have time to rewrite, but if your goal in this one memory is to communicate an important truth to your family, I can guarantee that your emotions and the complexity of your associations with the event will absolutely cloud that first draft, the second draft, and many others.  If it's important to you, make the effort to really do it.  Write it once or twice and then set it aside and come back.  Repeat as often as needed.  
    • Don't give up if your intended audience doesn't get it.  Some may never get it, but others will.  Those others may just be the family of your heart.

Friday, October 2, 2015


When I was a freshman in college, my neighbor down the hall spent a long night trying to convince me to switch my major to geography.  In her defense, she was more than slightly drunk when she argued that geography was a perfectly marketable degree.  However, one of her comments stuck with me.  "I didn't know until I walked down the streets of Prague how very much of the city's workings had revolved around the ebb and flow of the Moldau, on its path, and on what traveled along it and in it."

I had spent two summers before, actually, exploring place in stories and had suddenly been aware of the role of where in the workings of my daily life and rituals.

On occasion, place can play a major role in your stories.  Stories that can either be written around place or ones that are enhanced by a sense of place include:

  • A story in which your physical perspective allowed you to see something coming but not to do anything about it.
  • A story in which your physical perspective allowed you to intervene first or cause the motion of the story.
  • A story in which your ritual or actions were necessitated by the physical set up of something.
  • A story in which the flow is interrupted by physical distance or obstacles.
  • A story in which your perspective changes grossly over the course of the story (such as those stories of places that were overwhelming as a child but decidedly underwhelming later).
As you tell these stories, however, resist the urge to lay out the setting in essay format (there was a chair by the door, which was beside the steps, etc.) but try to add the details into the action of the story (as I crept back up to my bedroom, I slowly opened the door halfway, avoiding cracking it on the chair behind it and thus giving away my midnight run to the kitchen).