Mining Your Life for Story

Sep 13, 2012

The material of literary talent is words; the material of story talent is life itself. —Robert McKee

We don’t fully appreciate the wealth of our lives.

In all our busyness and activity, in all our searching for a grand plot to live out, we often miss the exquisite narratives we lived just yesterday.

For example, you’re crafting a presentation but can’t find the right illustration to drive your point home. Or you heard about a new compilation book for moms, but can’t come up with a single story to submit—even though you have five children.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

The truth is you’re sitting on a goldmine of material in your own life. You merely need help finding it.

As we drop kids off at school and lead meetings and pump gas into our cars, we’re writing—living—incredible stories. But we forget because the next moment’s demands bury the prior’s glory like dirt over a treasure. Soon a week passes, a month, a year and we’ve forgotten the many stories that coalesced to form this lovely, pregnant life we live.

We must become archaeologists determined to unearth buried gems and give them back their shine.

The question is: How?

Two weeks ago I spoke to a writers group on this very subject. Mining Your Life For Story—How to Capture and Craft the Wealth of Your Life. If you and I sit on a goldmine of stories—and I believe we do—the secret lies in knowing where to dig.

Grab a pen, paper and come with me on an excavation of your life. We’re looking for stories, those moments that made you want to weep, laugh, cringe, pray, smile, pout, scream, shout or sigh. Because if living your story stirred emotion in you, the telling of it holds the potential of doing the same for someone else.

School Years: Walk through your school years, starting with your earliest memories. For example, my first memory of an answered prayer came during Kindergarten. And in first grade, I spent most my after-school time pretending the giant Willow tree in our front yard was actually a castle. Think of the friends you played with, the teachers who inspired, the family vacations you enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy). Slowly, walk through those years recording every snippet of memory you uncover. You can unpack it more later, but for now write it down.

Birthdays & Holidays: Look at the holidays that shaped both your childhood and adulthood. What traditions did you have? Who was present? Who was absent? What gifts were exchanged, if any? As for birthdays, think of the “big” dates (10, 13, 16, 18, 21, 30, 40, etc.). What did you do to celebrate? Who came? Any surprises?

Family & Children: Few places provide as many stories as family. Consider each member of your family, immediate and extended. Who is the most quirky member of your family? The most funny? Serious? The most predictable? Unpredictable? What’s the most unusual tradition you share? What stories do you repeat again and again when company comes over? Think of big events, family vehicles, houses you’ve lived in, neighborhoods, favorite hangouts, etc.

Friendships: Who was your best friend in grade school? Middle school? High school? College? Today? What do you remember about him/her? What kind of shenanigans did you get into? If you could have dinner with anyone right now, who would it be? Why? And what would you talk about?

Social Media: One of the best places to uncover the wealth of your current story is on your Twitter and Facebook feed. Every day I watch you post little snippets of real life. Sometimes I laugh out loud at your insights and experiences; other times I feel the grief of a circumstance you didn’t expect. Can’t remember the stories of last month? Scroll back a few days, weeks or months, and take record of the wealth sitting right there. Again, write it all down.

This is only a fraction of your life’s hidden wealth, a few places to jump start your memory. When it comes to crafting a story, this is only the first step. But it can be a rewarding way to celebrate the life you’ve already lived, and find a few shiny gems to share with others.

What is one buried story you uncovered today?

[I’m currently putting together an e-book on this subject, which will teach you how to dig, sort, craft and display your stories in a way that enhances the message you want to deliver. Would this be helpful for you? What do you most need, as you lead and love others? Send me an email if you have specific suggestions or requests. And, if you’re interested in the e-book, make sure you subscribe so you’re one of the first to know when it’s released!]


    • Michele

      Just checked out your “I Remember When…” series, Jon. Great idea!

  1. Marilyn Yocum

    Too often we miss the value of our stories because we really wish our story to be something else. Looking forward to your ebook!

  2. Marilyn Yocum

    I am guilty of underestimating the value of my own stories because…..I am wishing my story was something else. getting past that has helped me see many gems. I look forward to your ebook!

    • Michele

      I’ve done the same at times, Marilyn. Missed my own story because I’m wishing for someone else’s. I have no doubt your life contains many gems!

  3. Tracee Persiko

    Just thinking about this topic lately. Marinating on what I/we focus on in our culture. we are the people who want to get ahead. We are taught early to think about the “next.” It seems like every stage and season of life we are preparing for the next one, all the while forgetting what and who is present. We are great at identifying what we want and need, but unaware of what we actually have. So glad you are opening the door to a perception shift in this!

    • Michele

      Yes, that’s been a big lesson for me. To enjoy this moment without wishing it away with thoughts of the next. Even in our worst of times, we have so much.


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