What do you believe in? It’s a simple question but not necessarily easy to answer.
I recently celebrated my birthday; to the left is a picture of one of the presents my boys gave me – a sign filled with wonderful reminders of everything family stands for.
It got me to thinking…in our efforts to record our life stories, do we sometimes fail to incorporate our beliefs? Even though no one is perfect, it’s important to have standards to live by. Similar to the sign hanging on my dining room wall, we should be intentional about sharing what’s most important to us.
So as you begin or continue your memoir/life story in 2016, be mindful of what you believe in and make sure that it comes across in your writing. Here are five ways to get you started:
1. Create a bulleted list of your beliefs. This is particularly beneficial for people who don’t know how to start their life story. Your beliefs can run the gamut of morals, values and religious faith to your thoughts on money, household chores and pets. Write whatever comes to mind, without worrying about writing complete sentences or wondering if they make sense. Just write them all down.
I was amazed by how many of my beliefs quickly tumbled out of my head when I tried this exercise on myself. As I furiously typed to keep up with my mind, I was unaware until the end how many beliefs I actually hold: three pages worth!
Of course, none of your future readers will want to read a bulleted list. Once your list is complete, place each belief in order of importance and then weave the top five to ten into your narrative. For example, if you believe that people should be frugal, write about an event in your past when you learned the hard way that money doesn’t grow on trees and perhaps explain that’s why you now invest a portion of every paycheck.
2. When relating events, answer the question, “Why?” Why did you react a certain way? Why was it important for you to achieve a particular status or award? Why did you avoid something or someone? Why did you choose your career? spouse?
The answers to those questions, while not always easy to tackle, provide honest insight as to what you once believed (or perhaps continue to perceive) about yourself and others. Because your life story is a reflection of past events, you can relate how you now recognize these traits in yourself and provide insight as to what you wish you had done differently or offer advice to others.
3. Consider your habits. Perhaps you exercise three days a week or call your children every weekend, which most likely represent the beliefs that it’s important to maintain good health and family relationships. Maybe you’re an early riser because you believe you can get more accomplished before everyone else gets up. Perhaps there’s a phrase that you always say, a superstition that you follow or a bad habit that you’re trying to break.
Incorporate these into your story as well. Not only do they make the story more interesting, but you also become much more relatable to your reader (especially if you intersperse good AND bad habits).
4. Think about the advice you’ve received from your parents and others. Was their advice welcome…and did you follow it? Did their advice work the same for you as it did for them? Did they follow the “Do as I say, not as I do” rule?
Now apply all of that to your belief system – how did that shape your personal beliefs? Did you become cynical or did you champion the advice? What do you wish someone had told you but never did? Share your thoughts with your readers.
5. What do you treasure the most? Whether it’s a coin collection, an antique car or a handmade patchwork quilt, why are some of your belongings especially important to you? What you hold on to – physically and figuratively – factors into your belief system. For example, you may believe that the coins and car are wise financial investments or that your great-great-grandmother’s quilt is an excellent example of late-19th century folk art.
However, if you’ve never shared these thoughts and the history behind the items themselves and how you acquired them, then those closest to you may simply sell them to the highest bidder upon your death and never think twice about historical or sentimental value. Having written documentation also helps to ensure that your treasures are preserved for generations, by those who never had an opportunity to hear you tell the stories in person.
These five tips should get you started on the right foot. Remember, though, that the goal is to share your beliefs with others, not force your beliefs onto others. Readers don’t want to be berated; they want to be entertained and educated. (Click to Tweet!) More importantly, your life story will serve as an important piece of your legacy. Make sure that you’re remembered in a way that will honor your memory and benefit others.
I welcome your comments!
Have you shared your beliefs in your writing? What other tips would you add?