Yes, I Have an Idea
In my last post, I shared that often times, people do not know what they want to write about. I experienced this mostly with my college students. But what if you do know; what if you have a story that you’re itching to tell, and yet, you don’t ever get around to writing it because you don’t know where to start?
People have said to me, “Julia, my life should be a book.”
I was at my gym a while back — it’s 2020 and all gyms are closed now, so if you’re reading this in the future, do they still exist? I digress — and after swimming for an hour, I moved to the spa. This is not something I get to do often because I’m usually in a rush, but this day I must have had extra time.
An elderly lady came in shortly after, and she started to talk. I didn’t really want to have a conversation, but I listened because it’s polite. Also, sometimes I feel that some people may not have anyone else to talk to and they need to have some human interaction.
She began to tell me about how she’d lived in my city and the surrounding area since before the city was a city. My city was founded in the late 1980’s so it didn’t seem so far fetched. The more I listened, the more interesting the story became, not because her life was extra-ordinary. It wasn’t. And that was what made it interesting. The commonness of people’s regular life is interesting. Hearing about the cycle of life and what used to be captures our attention because we identify with what others have experienced.
She was currently a caretaker at a senior facility, she said, but she’d known and worked for families who helped to build the city. She told me about buildings that were erected and orange groves that had once stood where today there is an Amazon warehouse. I learned about celebrities who had visited a theater that is no longer in use (none that I recognized), and how streets had earned their names.
At some point, I was starting to turn into a prune and overheat, and she grew embarrassed and said she was talking too much and that I was probably bored. Actually, I wasn’t. I found the history interesting. I was not longer listening because I was being polite. I was listening because her story mattered.
She said, “I could write a book about the things I’ve seen and the people I’ve met.”
“Why don’t you?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Where would I even start? she said.
I didn’t say it, but I thought, in the most interesting spot. People seem to think that to tell their story, they have to share their entire life story. No one wants to know the entire life story of anyone’s life. Daily life of most people is uneventful. But without knowing, she had hit on major turning points in her life and our community’s history when she was verbally sharing her story.
There are moments where change happens, where a family decides to sell an orange grove and the city begins to evolve into something different. An airforce base closes, and thousands of families leave, changing the economic nature of the town. These are the moments that become chapters in a story and that should be told.
These points of change make great places to begin a story and lead the reader into the drama of a person’s life. The points of change are what make or break us. These times can be points of decline. Who lost their job when the orange groves disappeared and ended up spending nights drinking as their life spiraled downward? Or points of triumph: whose life started that day because they bought the land to build warehouses that would bring wealth to his or her family?
What we love as readers is to hear the stories of people like us who sometimes catch a lucky break and other times experience pain and disappointment. I know I do.
I encourage everyone who tells me that they want to write their story to do so. Write that book you have inside you. It does not have to become a successfully published book sold on Amazon, though it can. Maybe only a few people will read it and that’s okay. The important thing is that the story was told and it feels great to get that story out of your head and written into book.
Probably the most wonderful thing is that you never know what impact your story might make on others. When I left the gym that day, I was glad that I sat in that hot jacuzzi spa and had a conversation with that woman. I looked for her many times after that wanting to get her name, wanting to learn more. I never did run into her again, and it’s a shame. I hope someday she writes her story and sells her book. I hope that I get the opportunity to read those stories she shared with me verbally.
Don’t keep your stories inside you. Share them. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your audience.