The vacant seat beside me on a recent flight to New York meant I had room to spread out. This was a bonus. Other passengers were absorbed in watching movies on the little screens in front of them, or were snoozing, but I had work to do – a feast of short stories to read.
Reaching down, I pulled a grubby but much-loved canvas book bag from under the seat in front, and took out a bundle of A4, typed pages – containing the annual collection of works from a Melbourne Life Writing Program.
Very soon I forgot that I was cruising at hundreds of kilometres per hour, at a height of 30,000 feet, between Australia and the United States.
The stories and poems were so absorbing, I began to feel airborne in an entirely different way: like being swept up on a magic carpet ride, not to an eating disorder conference in New York, but back to my childhood in rural Australia and many other places besides.
This is why I find life writing exciting: either by writing our own story, or by reading that of somebody else, we get treated to one adventure after another.
Pilot and Navigator
As the writer, we are the pilot and navigator of our own story. Our choice of words maps our journey and destination. Memories and imagination are our fuel.
Our pen races and paces as we duck-dive into the past to pick up thoughts and feelings, take them on board, and preserve them in stories for future generations.
Our soul is our creative engine and writing is one of the best ways to keep it cleansed and primed, enabling us to reach great heights of contentment on our life journey. When we connect with our soul, we can write without fear, cruise confidently and candidly, through emotions both calm and stormy.
I looked afresh at the bundle of ‘best efforts’ in my hands. At some time in the past year the creators of these short stories and poems had sat down to connect with their memories, set them free, and guide them like a stream onto the page. I pictured the writers and poets, each sitting in their favorite writing place, with a cup of tea or coffee on the side, poised with pen and paper in hand, adding a word, crossing one out; or tapping on a keyboard, watching words run across the screen.
And now, here was me – sitting on a Boeing 737, between Sydney and Los Angeles, reading these stories, and enjoying a literary picnic.
I had been invited to select stories or poems that I found particularly engaging and impressive as a prelude to launching this book at an upcoming community literary event. The task was both pleasurable and challenging. I would like to have selected them all for a mention, for I enjoyed each and every one.
My criteria for selection were probably influenced by geographic location at time of reading – up in the air, a long way from home – and that ever-present companion, nostalgia.
Connecting with the Reader
Many memories shared were shades of my memories, too. A measure of a well-written story is its ability to connect with the reader. Even though we have not met, our journeys through life occasionally may have shared the same path. Some part of us identifies with the message therein.
Along life’s way, we each gather experiences which, combined with our genetic makeup and personality traits, make us who we are today.
Every person has their own story and nobody can tell your story better than you. Life writing requires connecting with our memories and feelings to write creatively about something that may or may not have happened – remember, you are the captain of your own perceptions in life. Even when we are the same age, and share the same experience, our stories may be entirely different, and yet we are both right.
Words Bring Pictures to Life
As we grow older, life writing enables us to remind ourselves and perhaps others, that we, indeed, have had a life: a purposeful and meaningful life. We cannot tell all this by looking at a photograph. To bring it to life, we need to write.
Creative writing also allows our imagination to heal old wounds. If we have had a painful experience, we can write about it in a way that enables us to repackage it, lighten our load and produce a happier, more tolerable ending.
By writing a life story, no matter how fanciful, we are preserving part of our true self too. If we have a chronic illness or lack mobility, life writing helps us and others see that we are first and foremost a person, worthy of respect.
Benefits of Sharing
Life writing has many benefits, especially when we have a mentor or encourager to guide our path. To write, we need ‘a room’ or space of our own because to connect with others, we first need to connect with our self. Writing is about being alone, but also about being with others.
As part of the writing process, when we share our stories with others in a supportive and safe environment, the experience is both enriching and inspiring.
Memories Come Alive
There are colorful moments galore – as the reflection of one writer sparks a memory in another, and another and another, and soon everyone is wanting to talk at once, everyone is energized, and the ambience is as bright and vibrant as a sparkling Christmas tree.
The seemingly impossible challenge suddenly seems possible; the long-held dream of setting the record straight starts to become a reality; the bucket list item (‘write my story for the grandchildren’) starts to get a big tick.
You Can Write Your Story, Too
Participants in my life-writing workshops share why they enjoy being part of a writing group:
I am sure you relate to these sentiments. With our imagination, we can fly anywhere, be who we want to be. Keep writing: https://lifestoriesdiary.com/memoir-writing/start-today/