As an author and writing mentor, my days are spent writing stories and helping others to write theirs. But every writer I've ever worked with (myself included) throws themselves down this emotional garbage chute: why should I write my story? Who will care? What does it matter?
Of course we can talk ourselves out of anything — because ultimately very few of us will come up with cures for cancer or garner riches enough to share with Oprah or Bill Gates-like generosity. But still, I believe in the value of writing our stories because the life it could change may not be a reader’s, but our own.
Here are eight reasons to write your story:
1. Writing helps us claim a conscious identity.
When we write our story, we confirm I BELONG (to my history, to my family, to my past, to my memories). For those of us who feel lost, writing our story grounds us in a firm sense of selfhood.
2. Writing our stories is empowering.
To tell a story, we must believe that we have a right to tell it. For those of us who feel powerless, writing our stories helps us claim our voice.
3. Through writing, we begin to make meaning of our lives.
Many of us are walking around in a fog of past chaos — events we never fully understood or processed. When we write a story, we create an ordered pattern out of those events, and so structure meaning. Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, founded logotherapy, which teaches that meaning is not inherent in an experience, but is an act of creativity on our part, in each moment of our lives.
4. Once we’ve formulated an understanding of what things "mean" to us, we can share it with others.
Though we might write for ourselves, a story implies that there is a teller and a listener — it is created for the purposes of SHARING MEANING. Stories help us connect with others and create relationships. For those of us who feel alone, our stories act as bridges to others and build community.
5. Writing our story can be cathartic and healing.
One of the questions Native Americans ask sick people is, "When last did you tell your story?" Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona (a wonderful physician and author of Narrative Medicine) uses storytelling to help people heal from disease and mental illness. He asks them to tell the story of their illness and to claim a different narrative: "Change the story and the illness may change." The incredible Maxine Hong Kingston helps Vietnam veterans write their stories, which in turn helps them heal from the trauma. Stories work in mysterious ways on the brain and engage the mind, heart and spirit in a mystical conversation that can bring peace to wounded places.
6. Writing our stories is a form of active listening to our own hearts and bearing witness to ourselves.
For those of us who have never been listened to, or had anyone bear witness to our suffering, writing our story can be a beautiful experience of self-acknowledgment.
7. Writing our story is a way of holding onto memories — not just "facts," but emotional experiences.
Stories efficiently cluster information together in a way that our consciousness is able to access larger chunks, so we’re able to more easily recall details and store our memories.
8. Writing our story is an act of profound intimacy and curiosity with our own consciousness.
We cannot help but grow and transform through this slow, patient, probing engagement with our inner worlds.