How to Write a Personal Story
For Geeks and Other Kinds of Humans
Writing, like life, is personal. Do whatever works for you. But if you need a hand writing a personal story, here are some tips from my experience editing Fray.
First, tell the story to someone out loud. Doesn’t matter who. Call up an old friend and say, “Hi! can I tell you a story?” Doing this will help move the story out of your brain and into words. It’ll also help you know which parts make the listener laugh or ask questions. Do this a few times to get a feel for the story.
Now it’s time to write. Turn off the television, disconnect from the internet, and take away all distractions. Listen to music if it helps you concentrate, but not if it’s distracting (I have a special playlist of wordless music I like to write to). My most productive writing sessions took place on long flights. There’s a reason for that. (Internet-enabled airplanes will ruin me.)
Understand that the writing process is totally different than the editing process. They actually take place in different parts of your brain. During the writing process, you must turn off all self-doubt. Just shake the words out of your brain. They will be in the wrong order, misspelled, and generally awful. This does not matter. All that matters is that you get them out.
You will be tempted to stop and edit, fuss about, be perfectionistic. Geeks are especially succeptible to this because we’re detail-oriented people. Don’t do it. When you switch gears between writing and editing, you increase your mental overhead and produce less. Avoid the temptation. Just write.
When you’re done writing (you’ll know), switch gears to editing. Editing is just as creative and twice as important.
When you’re editing, think about bullet time. You know in the Matrix movie when everything slows down so you can watch the bullets zoom? If the whole movie was filmed that way, it’d be boring, right? Storytelling is like that. You can speed up time (by skipping over details) or slow down time (by taking more words to describe a moment). Make sure you’re using bullet time to savor the important moments, speed through the rest.
The most common edit I make is to lop off the first few sentences (and sometimes paragraphs). Your story doesn’t take as much setup as you think. By all means, write it to get past it, but edit it out if it’s not completely necessary.
One technique is to start in the middle. It’s an internet truism that people don’t read online, they skim. But the truth is, that’s how people read everything. So you have to hook the reader early. Pick the most “whoa!” moment in the story and start there. Then go back and explain how you got there. (For example.)
A well-written story is different than a verbal story. Our vocal crutches (“Well, I’ll tell ya,” etc.) are just clutter in writing. Edit ’em out. When people get nervous, they get wordy. The shorter the description, the better. Don’t say you were “happy and elated”– they mean the same thing. Pick one.
Finally, make sure you end with something that wraps up the narrative. If the story has an action that naturally caps things, awesome. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to add closure. End it with a lesson learned or a funny line – something that makes the reader feel rewarded for the time they spent reading.
And never, ever, end with, “but that’s another story.”