Right now I’m in the middle of teaching two eight-week workshops entitled Write Your Life. I teach at a college near my home to adults ranging in age from 30 to 92!
What I have discovered over the three plus years that I’ve been teaching these workshops is that people sign up for all sorts of reasons:
- they want to write a memoir
- they want to learn how to write
- they want to share their story with their children or grandchildren
- the class fits their schedule.
They find me through the college catalogue and word of mouth. But however they find me and whatever their reason for signing up, they stay because they discover that writing for yourself is powerful and has a profound effect on your sense of meaning.
How Writing Your Story Brings Understanding
Each week I ask my workshop participants to find a story from their life based on a theme (like family or work or music). Having the writers craft their stories helps them gain insight into their experiences and learn about themselves in ways that have eluded them in the past. Writing these stories serves our need to make sense of our world, to find our place in it and understand better why things happened.
You notice that I called these people writers. But what if don’t think of yourself as a writer or a storyteller?
As humans, we communicate through stories, so you are a natural born storyteller, and with a little practice you can write your stories for yourself.
Anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson says we are all engaged in an “act of creation…which is the composition of our lives” and storytelling is how we make sense of that act. In doing so we create a coherent narrative, which is a key source of meaning.
Writing is a way of examining memories and sorting through them. We all have internalized stories we create, about who we are, how we got the way we are. Putting these memories on paper may help you understand the past and also help you find what fuels your sense of purpose and meaning.
Why It’s Important to Write Your Hard Stories
Looking at our stories, the good and the bad, and reflecting on what we learned, how we grew, how we persisted through difficulty, has been linked by psychologists to a greater sense of well-being. Maybe that’s why some of the workshop participants have taken the class four and five times. They’ve learned first hand that writing their stories, even the ones about difficult situations, helps them create their coherent narrative identity and appreciate the benefits of the path they’ve taken.
How to Start Writing Your Story
If you haven’t written before (or much or recently), you may hesitate to start. You may worry that you don’t know what to do or that your story won’t be interesting or good enough. Remember, we are all storytellers, and we can all learn to write our story.
The good news is you don’t need to share your writing, you can write just for you. That takes a lot of pressure off.
Set the bar at an achievable height. Try writing for 10 minutes three days a week. You can sit down and write anything that comes to mind or you can use the prompts I send out every other Wednesday as the basis of a story (you can sign up here to get the prompts). I give you more tips on how to start here.
Interested in learning more about the power of your stories to create a life of resilience, connection, and meaning? Check out my Write Into Joy workshops to learn how to build resilience and joy through journaling & reflecting. Click here to see a list of upcoming workshops.