BLOGGER: KAY MARSHALL STROM
Freelance Author, Fiction and Nonfiction
Leading the Returners’ Reunion and teaching The Ready Writer: An Intro to Writing for Publication, a Major Morning Track at the March 2016 conference.
WRITING YOUR OWN STORY
You have lived through some tough stuff. But you have also received unexpected blessings. You feel certain that people could benefit from the lessons you learned, but is it possible to write personal experiences in a way that resonates with others? When your writing is done, will anyone want to read it? Will it be published?
Excellent questions! (The answers are: yes, hopefully, and that depends.) So, how to proceed? I’ve written from my own experiences, and I’ve also taught personal writing, and what I’ve found is that these four steps can pave the way to a strong manuscript.
1. Find your focus. Suppose your entire neighborhood was destroyed by fire. One person might focus on the horror and loss of such a catastrophe. Another might write about the bravery of a particular rescuer. Another might concentrate on how best to explain loss to children. Still another might focus on a biblical examination of God’s protection. Which of these is the right focus for a personal experience essay? If you said, “Any of them!” you are right. The important thing is that you choose a single focus and stick with it.
2. Search out a Universal Truth. We all experience tough things. Some so tough that they forever divide our lives into before and after. The problem with writing about such events is that readers tend to think: Yes, that’s bad. But what happened to me is even worse! Why, one time… However passionately you write, however poignantly you express yourself, readers will never be able to feel as deeply as you felt. It’s not their experience. The best way to write about your milestone is to make it a frame for a universal experience. Have it illustrate something to which we can all relate. For instance, if you lost your house in that fire, the universal truth might be perspective. Your loss is a terrible tragedy. (I know, because it happened to me!) But still it is just a house. Whatever your topic, I suggest that you make a list of Universal Truths and find one that will fit your experience. Here are some suggestions to start your list: Give thanks always. This world is not my home. The truth will set you free. Where your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be.
3. Determine your audience. Who do you expect to read your writing? Your family? Other Christians? People who are experiencing similar difficulties? People who have no idea what it’s like to be in such a situation? This is important for you to know, because you will write differently for each—for instance, readers who already know and love you and understand your pain, as opposed to strangers who are struggling to make sense of their own situations.
4. Start writing! Should you write about your personal experience? Absolutely! Way too many people get so busy talking about writing that they never get around to actually putting words on paper. Should that writing be published? Maybe, or maybe not. But this I can say unequivocally: no one will ever read it if you never write it!
Bring your writing with you to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in March 2016. Remind me of this post, and I will go over your work with you.
Are you working on a personal story? Which of Kay’s four steps will you work on next?