Most people dismiss cliches as meaningless, but I find them to be useful entry points, so here’s one: Life is a jumble of puzzle pieces tossed into a box. If we want to communicate our tale, we must discover the pieces that fit together slowly and carefully to form a beautiful and complete image.
So, why do we want to write a well-organized, comprehensive personal narrative?
Because presenting an unfinished puzzle to the world is unsatisfying. Worse, it doesn’t give you a sense of wholeness or healing. A sense of wholeness is all that matters in a world splintered by disconnection. Identifying our meaningful purpose is aided by discovering our real personal stories.
We may revisit our story to reconnect with what matters to us if that purpose is ever pushed to the side. Individual branding is a kind of writing down our personal narratives that ties us to our deeper motives and the impact we may have on the world.
However, bringing all of our life stories together is difficult.
Issues about which pieces of their personal histories belong together, if they would weary the reader, or if there is some worth in that period of their lives are some of the most prevalent concerns I discover among writers trying to structure their story.
Many of my clients fail to see the connections between the events in their lives that shape who they are and who they want to be.
Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild tells the story of her life when she was in her mid-twenties, divorced, experimenting with heroin, dealing with distant relationships, and desperate to rewrite the story she was creating about herself.
Cheryl’s thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail was a life-changing experience that helped her to rediscover herself. Words have a lot of power, especially when they’re about our personal experiences.
Cheryl’s story questions the assumption that we may be spectacularly successful, empowering, and whole while displaying our imperfection.
We all have heroic abilities within us, just like Cheryl, waiting to be summoned when we are thrust into a scenario or condition that requires them.
Most of us are aware of the circumstances that change or test us, but we are not necessarily aware of the inner strength that enables us to navigate through the shift or overcome the issue. That noble attitude is frequently underestimated or dismissed outright.
Connecting the dots becomes difficult when the heroic spirit fades into the background because we can’t thread together the complicated behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that all heroes go through in order to conclude the story in victory.
We overlook the modest efforts—superpowers—that got us through our experiences in favor of the big deeds that are visible. However, these seemingly insignificant actions (much like the flavor of a madeleine) reveal the narrative’s heart and soul. We aim to put together a puzzle with small gestures, detailed nuances, sensory experience, and vulnerable emotions.
They also help us become more self-aware and see ourselves as the heroes (or leaders) of our own narrative.
How to Compose a Well-Ordered Personal Narrative
So, how can we begin crafting our personal narratives, which are packed with facts that reveal the heart of who we are to others, whether it’s for future employers, conference attendees, or peers? We can begin with the following steps:
1) Pay Attention To The Subtleties.
The minute details that make up the greater image of our story are frequently where we find our distinct selves. Stop stressing about getting the facts straight, reading off a CV, or making sure this, this, and this happened.
This is especially true if we’re utilizing our personal experience in a professional setting or to urge others to act. In fact, telling a story to deliver a point makes it 22 times more memorable than simply presenting facts.
We are transported to another time and place when we are immersed in a story.
When this happens, we begin to see the person presenting the tale in a more positive light and are more ready to accept the opinions and viewpoints conveyed to us.
Details are used to create very strong and captivating stories that transport an audience.
The audience will be more immersed in the story if we are more detailed and concrete with the imagery of our lives (soul food, floral wallpaper, the strange metallic smell in the two-story apartment on Avonlea Road). Those pieces of a personal narrative have the capacity to accomplish the seemingly impossible—to time travel into a new planet and present a fully realized version of ourselves.
The little dots to connect, the parts to fit together, are the details. Life’s storey would be incomplete without them.
2) Embrace Your Heroism.
We are all heroes in our own stories, which means we all have the elements of a great heroic tale: calls to adventure, paths through trials and tribulations, final battles, and treasure troves at the finish.
However, we can’t begin to think about our life in story-like terms until we believe we are worthy and deserving of becoming the protagonist of our own tale.
We all have a heroic character within of us, which is why telling our tales is so vital, yet most of us are afraid to consider ourselves as heroes.
Perhaps we can rationalise it: I’m the one who lives at the centre of my existence. But we don’t truly accept the values of honour, respect, honesty, and courage that are at the core of our lives. As a result, we fail to recognise how every action, idea, and emotion has the potential to add significance to our narrative.
Claiming that we all have a heroic nature is the first step toward seeing life as a whole storey that has to be told.
We can ask the following questions to help us find our heroic character when we write our own experiences (note, though, that these questions just scrape the surface):
Where did we originate?
- What characteristics of our youth do we still remember?
- What conditions influenced our decision about what we wanted to accomplish with our lives or the next step we should take?
- What is our most cherished achievement? Why?
- What is the most difficult challenge we’ve faced in life? Who aided or supported us in overcoming that obstacle?
3) Trust Your Instincts.
Intuition has a mystical quality about it. When I coach a client, the most amazing breakthrough in uncovering their own narrative frequently occurs without my intervention. With just a mild nudge or a thought-provoking question, intuition provides a profound sense of direction, and something clicks into place in the gut. My clients understand what needs to be said in order for the tale to feel complete and reflect a greater feeling of wholeness in themselves.
Once that breakthrough comes, the dots begin to join, and we can begin to perceive the more nuanced storylines of our lives—that nothing just happens and then happens, but that each step along the road relates to a deeper choice or desire within us as heroes of our own stories.
We grow into more self-assured, self-reflective, and harmonious versions of ourselves.
Mind details, sensory sceneries, emotional undercurrents, and a desire to perceive ourselves as heroes are all used to uncover a wonderful storey.
4) Make Writing Activities a Part Of Your Daily Routine.
When we can’t recall all of the particular dates, times, and other details, anchoring ourselves within our own personal narratives might be difficult. Writing prompts that elicit sensory recall can revive the mind and reveal the most important facts for a well-structured, full storey. I adore asking writers to recite Joe Brainard’s poem I Remember, which is made up of a series of seemingly unrelated recollections that follow one another.
Memories, even the most banal items, details, people, or situations, can elicit strong emotional responses. White eyelet socks, Mentos, and decaf coffee in Styrofoam cups, for example, instantaneously transport me to Sunday mornings with my grandparents at the Church of God.
Making clump maps to encourage implicit leaps from one line of thinking to another, free-writing exercises to warm up the trying to write muscles, and coming up with ideas a list of people in our lives who have had the greatest influence on us and then working backward to see what scenes in our lives helped form the connection we have with them today are all useful writing exercises.
These prompts are designed to shake up and shake out the minor moments in our lives—those puzzle pieces—so that we can piece together a more cohesive storey.