(This story was originally published on Women For One.)
Hi, I’m Nirmala, and I’m the Editor and Content Alchemist here at Women For One! I believe that women’s stories shape the landscape of the human soul, and I see myself as more of a gardener than a traditional editor. One of my gifts is that I recognize the innate beauty in people’s unique words, and I find a way to cultivate those words so that lots of people get to enjoy them. And from what I’ve experienced, our Truthteller stories are part of a soul-nourishing garden of words that people want to come back to, over and over again.
This is the first in an ongoing column that will offer seasoned and aspiring Truthtellers tips on how to create compelling submissions and become more comfortable sharing your work through the written medium. Whether cranking out your thoughts in the form of stories is second nature for you, or the image of a blank screen makes your palms sweat, I hope you’ll find insight in what I’ll be sharing.
We get a lot of questions at Women For One about the types of stories we accept. Do they have to be happy? Sad? Instructive? Inspirational? Often, women who think about submitting hem and haw over the details of their own personal story. “My life is pretty mundane,” they say. “I haven’t experienced any great losses or major successes. I’m still a work in progress. What could I possibly have to share with the Wf1 community?”
My answer? More than you could possibly know!
There are as many stories as there are women. And, as women, we learn and grow in spades when we are exposed to each other’s stories. Other women’s words—funny, earnest, sassy, wise, poetic—help to water our own garden of wisdom, and every time we share our own, we offer the same vital nutrients to people who are on different but parallel journeys.
But how do you share your story if you don’t know exactly what it is? Here are my top tips.
Start with the moments that stand out. Life is a collection of moments, some of which dazzle us with vivid detail and others of which play like the faintest music in the background of our memories. It is only when we capture these moments and give them a sense of coherence that we are able to make sense of our lives.
That’s why I love the act of storytelling—it brings our memories alive in the present moment and allows us to contemplate the experiences that have been most meaningful to us…as well as the things we didn’t even realize were meaningful until we attempted to describe them.
So, what are the moments that most stand out to you? Take some time to jot them down if you can. They might not necessarily seem connected to a larger story, but I promise that they are. For example, that one vivid night I stayed awake for hours alone on a beach in Hawaii is a time I can now recognize as the beginning of the end of my first major relationship. The story about how my current partner pulled a tiny spider out of my hair on our first date still summons laughter and groans when we tell it to others. And the experience of thumbing through first-edition volumes of Dylan Thomas poetry in a used bookstore in Berkeley makes me think of the one perfect summer of my life, and the first time I fell in love.
By the way, do you notice a recurring theme in these memories? Partnership is a vital aspect of my personal life, at least with respect to where I am and what tends to occupy my mental and emotional space the most. Remember, what captures your interest says A LOT about who you are and what’s important to you in this moment—so watch for the motifs.
Stories themselves are connected to moments that are strung together to create a clear beginning, middle, and end. So even if you don’t know what your particular story is, identify the moments that touch you to the core of your soul…and I guarantee that the story will reveal itself.
Be specific. As a writer, I like to stress the fact that great writing emerges from the details. As we explore in our online program, Truthteller: A Course for Boldly Claiming Your Story, the details of a story are the ingredients that allow the recipe to hang together and create a distinct flavor. Beautiful storytelling captures our senses, and it’s easier than you might think.
Again, once you’ve identified the moments that stand out, hone in on the details: The smell of lilacs that spring night you decided you were going to move across the country to be with your beloved. The deep blue of your baby’s eyes when you saw them for the first time. The song that was playing on the radio as you painted the walls of your first apartment.
In other words, slow down and give your reader the opportunity to take in the scenery. This is what can turn a seemingly minor memory into an epic journey. It’s showing vs. telling. It’s offering us a visceral glimpse into your unique perspective vs. simply giving us the CliffsNotes version.
Honor your journey. This means never qualifying your story with a disclaimer or the notion that it’s not really a big deal. Trust me, it is. Your work in progress is beautiful precisely because it is YOURS. Your story is meaningful because you lived it. Your unique voice is the result of countless experiences, and it takes a brave soul to capture those experiences in words and readily share them with others.
There is no need to compare your journey to anyone else’s or deem it too big, small, happy, or sad in comparison. The golden nuggets that others will appreciate come not from what happened to you but from the value you extracted. (Note: If you end up submitting to Wf1, please mention what that value is for you! How did you grow as a result of your experience?)
The world is made up of stories, and the idea that they need to be harrowing tales of love and loss or globetrotting personal-development adventures in order to be considered worthy of anyone’s time is a fiction. It’s also not true that you have to consider yourself a “writer” in order to share your story! Wf1 is for all women, from every background imaginable. Whoever you are, you are in good company. And your story will be treated with the respect it deserves.
The only thing that sets a Truthteller apart is her awareness. What brings us closer to the truth is our willingness to observe the small and large moments of our lives, and weave those into the tapestry of our being. Stitched into the tapestry of YOU is a collection of remarkable stories—some of them intimately simple, and others so vast they can barely be contained. The great thing is that you have an entire lifetime to tell each and every one of them. So why not start somewhere?
What do you think makes a good story? Are there any other tips you’d appreciate when it comes to becoming the best Truthteller you can be? Email me at email@example.com and let me know.
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