Here is the handout used for a recent 1.5 hour workshop:
Learn to write your story for healing and helping
Handout for January 31, 2008 workshop
Ellen Taliaferro, MD
The stories you hear and observe each day weave the rich fabric of your work and personal life. No wonder that at least one friend or relative has no doubt said to you, “You should write a book.” If so, did you want to faint at such a daunting thought? Or did you just wish for more time to write a book while at the same time harboring a secret knowing that there would never be enough time.
Think again. You do have enough time. This workshop shows you how to:
- Develop a writing practice in the middle of your busy life
- Turn your life experiences into rich, captivating stories
- Decide to self-publish or find and work with a publisher
Discover the benefits of writing your story from true life experiences
The unexamined life is not worth living.
When you begin to write and immerse yourself in the writing process dedicated to relating your life experiences, you begin to live an examined life. Living an examined life provides insight and the healing effects of disclosure. Moreover, as reflected in Eastern philosophy, when you heal and help yourself, you heal and help others.
Dr. Robert Sommer, in his 2003 article “The Use of Autobiography in Psychotherapy,” notes that a recent explosion of published memoirs reflects the “public hunger for authenticity, a preference for the real over the fictional life.” (J Clin Psychol. 2003 Feb;59(2):197-205.) When you walk into a bookstore, you will find that nonfiction memoir books compete with novels for front-row billing.
Dr. Sommer notes that the benefits of memoir reading provide the reader with:
- An inside view of the issues and challenges of the author
- Personal and strong story lines that pull the reader through the book
- Identification with the author
I think that the compelling narrative of memoirs gives readers safety through distance. As they read about the struggles of the author they can see with clarity some of the struggles in their own lives and they have hope when they rejoice with the successes of the author. Such vicarious victory may be the next best thing to “being there.”
What a gift you bestow on the reader when you undertake the challenge of capturing your own stories and turning them into compelling memoirs.
Develop a writing practice to write your book
People working in the healing and helping professions refer to their professional activities as practices. What makes their work a “practice?” A practice implies a set of activities performed often and repeatedly to set the stage for habitual engagement and proficiency.
Make the practice of writing your own
To add a writing practice to your routine, take my 90-day WellWriting® challenge:
- Write 32 minutes every day at least three times a week
- Write fast, without thinking or editing
- Write about emotionally charged experiences
- Every 3 to 7 days read and reflect on what came out of these writing sessions–jot down any insights that arise from your review and reflection
Supplement your writing practice with writing your book exercises
On the days that you are not writing about emotionally charged experiences in life, write 32 minutes each day about your book:
- What is your life story about?
- How will writing your life story help you?
- What benefits will your readers reap from reading your story?
- What 10 to 15 points do you want to make in your book?
How to turn life experiences into rich, captivating stories
Writing for story marks the beginning of your successful writing journey. The trip doesn’t end until readers are interested in reading what you write.
The difference between a written memoir and a written-and-read memoir rests lin good storytelling. A good story draws readers in, challenges them, and then provides resolutions to the conflicts put forth in the story. Successful stories:
- Have a beginning, middle, and end
- Are rich with details that call forth the five senses of the reader
- Are fueled by conflict and resolutions
While bringing all of this together might seem overwhelming, don’t fret. Start with baby steps. Here’s how you do it:
- Outline your story
- Draft your story
- Craft your story
When I listen to successful writers, I often hear them refer to outlining as the “O” word. Once they introduce the concept of outlining, different writing styles emerge. Some writers outline in great detail, others start to outline and faint along the way, and others just plunge in with no outline. Each approach provides advantages and disadvantages.
One simple five-step approach has saved my writing soul and serves me best when it comes to story writing.
Every step consists of three-word sentences, each consisting of a noun, verb, and predicate. The first three-word sentence introduces a complication to set the stage for conflict. The last three-word sentence proclaims the resolution of the conflict. The three sentences in between detail the route the protagonist’s journeys between the first step and the last step.
Write the five steps in this exact order:
- Step one–complication
- Step five–resolution
- Step two
- Step three
- Step four
The inherent wisdom to this approach is that you set up your story by introducing the conflict. Next you decide how your story will end. From there, you fill in the middle.
Here is an example of this five step, three-sentence progression:
- Boy loves girl
- Boy charms girl
- Girl charms boy
- Boy loses confidence
- Boy loses girl
Steps two, three, and four would have been quite different had the author of the outline decided that the story would end with “boy gets girl.” The charm of this approach is that it is easily remembered and that it gives the writer a compass and map at the beginning of the journey.
How to decide whether to self-publish or work with an established publisher
Pros and cons exist for each publishing process. The following guidelines can help you choose.
Choose to self-publish if:
- Your book is a nonfiction book
- You want to revise it often
- You want the book to come out sooner rather than later
- You want complete control of the book from content to cover and from marketing to distribution
- You don’t have an agent and don’t want to undergo the expense of time and money to get one.
- You are working with a small niche market
Choose to work with a publisher if:
- Your book is a work of fiction or poetry
- You have a wide audience and want to reach as many readers as possible
- Your main concern is the content of the book. You are happy to leave cover and related details to an experienced publisher
- You are new to the book writing business and want the guidance of an experienced publisher
- You already have an agent or want to work with one
Today’s technology for publishing changes from day to day. As the technology changes, so do the cost and benefits change. Your best approach is to research the decision to work with a publisher or self-publish as much as you can before you make your choice.
Ellen Taliaferro, MD, has written three books and given numerous presentations on the healthcare aspects of family violence prevention and intervention, WellWriting® (a form of expressive writing aimed at healing), and stress management. She is the Medical Director of the Keller Center for Family Violence and Intervention at the San Mateo Medical Center in San Mateo, CA. Dr. Taliaferro is the co-founder and former executive director of Physicians for a Violence-free Society. In 1998, she founded the Violence Intervention Prevention Center at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, TX, and served as its first medical director. Dr. Taliaferro invites you to visit her website at www.healthaftertrauma.com and sign up for her free newsletter.