Over the years I’ve met a lot of people who wonder if their lives are interesting enough to write about. Maybe you came from a nice family where your parents spent time with you and told you what a stellar individual you were. Maybe you married the love of your life and your children are complete angels. Or maybe you’re just an average person who came from ho-hum central. You’re not married to a rock star, you don’t juggle, can’t speak in tongues, haven’t been on television and we probably didn’t see you at the Oscars last weekend.
The truth is, most of us have haven’t the experience of riding through New York City in a taxi and looking out the window to see our own mother digging through a trashcan. Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle did, and it made for a whopper of a book.
The bulk of us are regular folks with ordinary experiences. We get up, we work, interact with a handful of people, maybe we take care of children, we shop, we cook, ride busses, pay bills, get online, get to the gym. That’s our life and like it or not, that’s where our stories live – in the ordinary mulch of our lives.
Here are some of the things my students have written about in the last few months: Becky writes about what she’s going to cook for dinner, regularly wowing us with the details of cleaning lentils or choosing lemons for a pie. Susan writes about being on the aikido mat and what she learns about patience and faith when she’s facing her opponent. Tina writes about divorce and wonders whether she should be building a house with her ex. I write about relationships and marriage and living with my ex. Greta writes about her sex drive and whether she’ll consider bioidenticals. Julie writes about making pies with her five and a half-year-old son, and Penny writes about Richard even though he’s been gone for 6 years.
It’s not always the big explosive subject that will make your writing rock, but instead, your ability to find the story in the smallest moments of your actual life, and to then dig into that moment and get curious about why it’s surfacing for you and what’s really alive down there. What’s going to make your story memorable is the way you tell it, and why you’re telling it.
The Extraordinary in the Ordinary
I recently came across a writer named Rachel Eddey, who, in describing the kinds of stories she’s written says, “I’ve published articles on such showstoppers as delving into my husband’s lactose intolerance, using a granny-style shopping cart, and introducing my older sister to wine.” Pretty basic stuff, right? In the story about her husband, while we learn about living with lactose intolerance, what Rachel really ends up writing about is accepting the man she loves and all the craziness that comes with his diet.
The Creamy Center
If you’ve read my blog or spent time in class with me, you know I get all hot and bothered about the creamy center – that place where your story becomes my story – becomes a story that we can all relate to. The truth is, I don’t know anything about the nuance of sorting lentils, but I do know what it means to bring care to my world – just the way Becky, when she’s writing about sorting lentils, is actually writing about the care she has for her family. The creamy center of her piece doesn’t have anything to do with lentils really – it’s what’s underneath the sorting that we come to care about.
There are no boring stories, just bored writers. So get curious, dig a little. You might land yourself a story.