HOW MANY PEOPLE do you think are in therapy because of you? Oh, I’m sorry. Did you just spit your tea right onto the computer screen? I know. I had a similar response when the question was posed to me, and in my case it was under non-writing circumstances.
It’s a wildly uncomfortable question, isn’t it? And while I poached it from the world of therapy, like many other questions we get asked while on the couch, it repurposes nicely to the world of writing. In fact, I would argue that it is the first question you need to address to get your writing where you want it to go.
IDENTIFYING YOURSELF IN YOUR WORK
Why would a seemingly-sounding therapy question jump-start your work? Because it’s about perspective, and without perspective you are merely moving through the world as an unidentified writing object without us knowing who is writing the tale. And no one wants to be an unidentified writing object, right?
No. You want to be easily identifiable. You want to be known. It’s why we write, even when we are writing in our journals for no one else to read. Specifically, in memoir, we want to know who we were when we entered a situation and who were were when we exited. To figure this out, ask yourself a few more questions.
THE THREE HARD QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
Good writing, specifically good memoir writing, is all about asking yourself the hard questions. Don’t believe me? Then chances are you are performing diary-like writing instead of memoir. Remember: Memoir is not about what you did. Memoir is about what you did with it. And to transpose yourself to the higher key of what you did with it, ask yourself these three hard questions after your next curious or interesting life experience – which will be today, if you are paying attention.
- What was my intent going into that moment?
- What did I learn?
- So, what really happened here?
See how this changes everything?
Let me explain.
WHY ASKING HARD QUESTIONS PROVOKES GOOD WRITING
Say you just went to buy your child’s first pair of school shoes. Just going for shoes, you think. Nothing more. Not going to get emotional. Nothing about this is a big deal, you say to yourself as you reach for your glasses in your purse to hide the tears sliding down your cheeks, and as you do, the young man sliding the oxford onto your child’s small foot with one hand, reaches over with the other and gently pats your forearm. Nothing more than that. Except please note what you did next. Did you do something that might send that poor young salesclerk into therapy, or something that signified your gratitude? Did you shut down the human exchange, or did you instead meet the experience with wonder?
This is where things get interesting in both life and writing.
What did you learn there when that sales person did that? What did you learn about the sales person’s response, the kindness of strangers, the transaction as a whole?
And so what really happened there in that small moment of life? That’s what your story is about.
See how these questions heighten your story from mere diary-like writing to being about something? Ask yourself the hard questions and your writing will thrive.