If you’ve ever been on social media, then you’ve probably noticed the overwhelming majority of personal posts from people who seemingly lead perpetually blissful lives. You know, the ones who constantly write about their fantastic job, perfect kids, exquisite meals and fabulous vacations. As a friend of mine once said, “People only post their highlight reels on social media.” What she means is that people tend to freely write about the positive aspects of their lives, but rarely share any of their challenges.
I must admit that I tend to post my own highlight reel in an effort to keep up appearances. After all, who wants to be the only friend posting pictures of a burnt dinner and a trip to the post office? However, my goal is to emulate those rare friends and colleagues who successfully integrate their successes and failures into their posts. They don’t come across as braggarts or seeking sympathy; rather, they are relatable and encouraging.
The same is true of life story writing. Chances are great that you’re more than happy to write about your successes and positive experiences, but less willing to discuss your challenges and failures. Although you have every right to be proud of your accomplishments, there are four reasons why it’s equally important to incorporate some of the imperfect aspects of your life into your story.
Achieve Balance as You Write
Reading a story comprised only of Pollyanna characters and perfect scenarios causes many people to suspect that you’re hiding something, that you’re oblivious to reality or worse yet, that you’re simply pretentious. Your readers are quickly bored, secretly envious or left with a feeling of having read a fairy tale – it’s entertaining, but everyone knows that there is no “happily ever after” in real life.
On the other hand, a life story comprised of only heartache, pain and strife often makes the reader uncomfortable and depressed. Long harangues, diatribes and generally angry commentary push readers away, making them feel like they have unwittingly accessed a private counseling session in which too much personal information has been shared.
The key is to achieve a balance between the two polar extremes. Without a little of both, your story lacks depth and will not achieve the results that you desire.
Connect with Your Audience
Readers want to connect with you and the best way to do that is to be authentic. Share your emotions and thought processes. Admit to a few of your weaknesses, challenges and/or negative experiences…but then counter them with your coping strategies, successes and/or lessons learned. Note that I said “a few.” No one wants to read a 1,000-page tome encompassing every single event of your life; select a handful of experiences that have impacted you the most.
A word of caution: Being authentic does not mean that you air all of your dirty laundry, expose all of your vices or share something that may potentially harm/slander others. Follow your gut instinct and intuition; if you are uncomfortable with the thought of sharing a particular incident, don’t include it.
Portraying yourself authentically simply means that you’re willing to share your emotions and thought processes. What have you learned from your mistakes? How have you corrected bad habits? What noteworthy victories (large or small) deserve to be celebrated anew?
Educate and Encourage Others
Keep in mind that although your life story is all about you and your experiences, it should be written for others. Your readers not only want to be entertained; they also want to be educated. They want to walk away with a nugget of wisdom, encouragement or a plan that they can apply to their own lives.
Again, keep it simple. Don’t overthink this and feel that you have to write the next “I Believe” speech or a self-help guidebook. All you have to do is share what you’ve experienced and what you’ve learned in your words and in your style. You don’t need to provide a summary or life application principle at the end of each chapter; your readers are smart and savvy. What people get out of it will vary, but they’ll be able to figure out the message on their own.
Those who know you best will immediately recognize if you’re writing in a manner contrary to your usual personality and mannerisms. They will know if you’re putting on a show – assuming a new literary identity to make yourself appear to be something you’re not.
Many who read your book will also have shared experiences with you. Thus, if you take artistic liberties to embellish or sensationalize an event, they will immediately recognize the disparity and depending on the nature of the event, they may publicly call you out on it. Avoid embarrassment and uphold your reputation by being honest and accurate when relating events.
In addition, write as you speak – feel free to incorporate contractions and colloquial language. Don’t write formally as if you’re writing a business plan or submitting a book report to your high school English teacher; instead, write as if you are telling a friend about the event.
Finally, don’t let concerns over what I’ve said in this article paralyze you from writing your life story. Your initial drafts (yes, that’s plural for a reason) are expected to be verbose, inadvertently offensive and sometimes altogether disjointed. It’s part of the writing process; your manuscript will undergo several revisions before it goes to print.
It’s during these revisions that you apply the points in this article: balance the content, incorporate your unique voice and ensure that events are depicted accurately. Then, once final changes have been made and the completed book is in your hands, you will know that you have successfully created an all-encompassing, true-to-self life story that is not pretentious, but full of purpose.
Did you find this blog post helpful?
Let me know by leaving a comment and sharing it on Facebook and Twitter!