A year ago I sat down at my desk and began to type. Id been promising myself every New Years Eve that this would be the year that I’d take the leap and start to write. For the last 8 years before that I’d spent my time writing down the stories of other people. On some level I think I had waited for someone to ask me what was my story, I gave up waiting and created the platform for myself. If I genuinely believed that everyone had a story worth telling then I had to believe the same for myself.
A blog can change a lot in a year, I thought Id spend most of my time writing amazingly insightful pieces about life, the universe and me but what I found was that the more I shared the more I wanted to keep some of my universal truths silent. That baring your soul makes you feel more vulnerable some days and that a bad mood can swiftly pass but a blog post remains forever. (unless you delete it, but that’s beside the point). That was when I stumbled upon the idea of asking people about their spaces, where their gaps existed between themselves and other people. I actively sort people out who had a new perspective on life, one that I thought other people could benefit from.
Over the next 365 days my blog wasnt far from my mind. It shaped the way I viewed the world, every experience was a potential post, every heartbreak a possible share and every achieement a possible exploration. Ive worked out that not all of my stories are mine to share and Ive also found that the power of telling my story has released me from its stronghold. Onwards.
For all 22123 visitors over the last year, for the average Joe or Josephine that stayed for around 3 and a 1/2 minutes I say thank you. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy days to read and comment…when I looked back over what I’d written I felt both proud and amazed that in between 2 chickens and 2 step-chickens I found the energy to tip tap away on my trusty mac. Perhaps Ive just been avoiding the washing up for a whole calendar year?
For those new to my blog, or those keen to know what stood out, the most popular posts about other people’s stories can be found here, here and here.
The ones where I laid my little heart on the line resonated here, here and here with people.
Thank you to my husband for reading and listening and for kissing me on top of the head, not using any words when he reads something he doesn’t know about me, thankyou to my new lovely friends at Sydney Writers Centre who push me to keep going, thankyou to my new friends in the online world and thanks to my brain – for trusting that what I thought might be worth jotting down.
Hip Hip Hooray
This week is all about the story. I was reading with my girl in bed last night, about some re-worked fairytale classics where the goal was for us to work out the story behind the story. The one she chose focused on a little boy called Hyacinth who had a big nose and everyone around him stretched their nose to compensate for his social anxiety. After a lifetime of being surrounded by pinnochios he met a girl who had a small nose, fell in love with her, and they lived happily ever after. I pointed out to my daughter that I loved her step-dad not because of his big nose but because he was a good person. She pointed out that she loved her bestie even though she was ‘heaps taller than her’.
Its coming up to a year since I started my little blog. There are a couple of thousand visits a month from corners across the globe but the thing that brings them back time and time again are the stories. Not necessarily the ones about me but about the people I come in to contact with and they bravely say yes to be interviewed. Having people share their pieces of the world with me has pushed me out to other areas where I’ve taken the leap to write about them and then pitch those stories to print media. I still get surprised when my perspectives on what spaces we might like to read about are embraced by editors.
Someone from a writers centre asked me a few months back about the art of asking the difficult questions. I explained to her:
From a freelancing perspective the stories of trauma and resilience are always going to be interesting. People have an innate curiosity about how people survive disasters or significant losses.
My biggest tip is to be truthful. One of the biggest challenges clients have shared with me, in a counseling space, is the uncomfortableness people radiate when they try to acknowledge that something awful has happened. They talk around the issue; they talk about ‘a loss’ rather than naming the person who was killed or missing. People have survived the unimaginable, it’s OK to name it.
When I find a person who I think suits the story I’m writing the first thing I think about is how I’ll introduce myself. I point out, to prospective case studies, what other stories I’ve done to demonstrate how I have dealt with the topic sensitively. I explain why I think it will be useful for them to share their story and I invite them to clarify points with me.
I also try not to fall back on well-worn clichés…I don’t say ‘wow’ or ‘that must have been hard’ I let them tell me what it was like. I empathize but I don’t sympathize.
I also provide a chance for people to pull out at the last minute – which can be frustrating for the writer but if its isn’t the right time to talk to someone the story is not going to be as powerful.
I guess the short answer is don’t presume that you understand the experience; everyone has a different take on how they have survived.
Looking back on these words brings me to the point where I am now, where the lovely Kristen from Wanderlust has shared my blog on her storytelling directory, so that people in times of grief and loss can find the stories that have been shared. Its also brought me to people like Seema from This Place is Yours whose whole project is about the art of the storytelling – my story about Lori and Lisa, led her to me.
Storytelling doesnt always need a happy ending like the ones that my daughter reads. I dont persuade her to read things other than ‘and so they lived happily ever after’. She’s 6, its OK to think that at her age. During a twitter chat about Happiness last night people raised their concern that we shouldn’t expect happiness all the time. My contribution was this…the ups and downs are just as much part of the space in between.
Whats your take on storytelling?