I haven’t lived. At least, not in the way people think about when they see the word “lived.” I’ve never jumped off a plane 10,000 feet in the air or even been on a goddamn plane. Hell, I’ve never even had a “real” job.
My life until this point hasn’t been crazy and filled with adventures — and yet, I’ve managed to write dozens of short stories and nearly five hundred articles in the past year and a half.
But I used to feel so guilty. I used to feel like I was a fraud for writing about my life, for giving advice, when I haven’t truly “lived.” I thought I wasn’t allowed to tell a story, especially because of all those quotes you read, such as this one:
“In order to write about life first you must live it.” — Ernest Hemingway
Then I realized something important: that advice is bullshit.
What Makes a Story Great?
The thing that makes a story great isn’t what it’s about, but how you talk about it. It’s not the topic readers care about — it’s the feeling. A reader may pick a book after reading the premise, but they’ll stick around because they empathize with the characters.
For example, women didn’t just like Wonder Woman because of the story. We loved Wonder Woman because she made us feel like we too could be strong and powerful. We love musicals not just because of the narrative, but because music makes our souls feel like they’re soaring beyond the sun.
If someone gave us an account of The Hunger Games, a play-by-play as if it were a game of chess, we would’ve been intrigued but we wouldn’t have felt a connection. We only care because of Katniss. Katniss is the reason we feel and care. Another example: A boxing match, a soccer game, doesn’t capture your attention unless you care about one of the fighters or teams.
Feeling. What you watch or read doesn’t matter as much as why you watch and read. What you write doesn’t matter as much as why you write it.
The lessons you learn, the way you communicate them, the feeling you give your reader — that’s what makes a good article.
The Definition of ‘Live’ is Simple: to Have an Exciting or Fulfilling Life
What we might forget is that ‘exciting’ and ‘fulfilling’ have different definitions for everyone. An avid reader might find the idea of spending a day in a library exciting while someone who doesn’t enjoy reading would find it dreadful. An extrovert might enjoy a party, but an introvert might enjoy a day inside with friends.
There’s no one definition for “live.” It’s a word meant to be defined by the individual because there’s more than one way to live an exciting and fulfilling life.
I may not know what it’s like to zipline in New Zealand, but I’ve skateboarded down steep hills in nearby parks despite the fear that told me no. I’ve never been in love, but I know different types of love. I know I would take a bullet for my siblings. I haven’t been to many concerts, but I’ve belted out songs with my sisters in our room — so loud that our throats end up sore.
I have felt love and hope and fear and weakness and despair and fury and joy and excitement. In my everyday life. In the in-between moments. I have felt and I have lived, and that’s why I can write.
You Decide Whether an Idea is Worth Writing About or Not
Ideas are everywhere. They are in the books you read, they are in the interactions you see when you’re grocery shopping, they are in those small moments you share with your best friend when your heart is broken. They’re in TV shows and chances you took and podcasts and car rides around your small town.
There are experiences in your everyday moments that deserve stories as grand as any other — and there’s not a day that goes by that something won’t happen.
I’ve written countless articles over one overheard sentence, inspired by one conversation, based on a mistake I made. From tiny habits to mottos to a funny thing my brother said to me. From stress to overthinking to the way my dad perseveres in all he pursues. A car ride, a walk in the park, a game of soccer with my family.
Maybe they’re not so exceptional that I’ll remember them in five or ten or twenty years, but isn’t that the point of writing? To cement it. To make it forever. Why wouldn’t we forever the small, forgettable moments so that they can be unforgettable?
I refuse to believe that others like me who supposedly haven’t lived can’t tell stories that make people feel like they’re floating amongst the clouds. I refuse to believe that we don’t have stories to tell at all.
There’s no denying that experiencing all types of adventures could add to your writing. But just because someone has explored doesn’t necessarily mean they can tell a better story than I can. Then you can.
If your stories sound stale, just keep practicing. It’s not because you don’t have any good ideas — it’s just that you haven’t found your voice or figured out what keeps your reader (and yourself) captured. That’s okay. You get better over time.
You Were Born a Storyteller
If you have terrible anxiety or don’t like socializing or are stuck inside because of a fucking pandemic or if you don’t have the money to explore, you can still write. If you’re “too young” and don’t have that much life experience, you can still write.
Everyone can cook — I mean write.
Don’t be afraid to share your stories, to tell us what’s going on in your head, to lay down the weight that’s pressing on your shoulders. You might think it’s ordinary but anything that makes you feel deeply, laugh so hard tears pour of your eyes, or understand something about the world is extraordinary. It’s worth documenting even if it happened inside your own home, between you and your best friend — even if that best friend is a tiny pup.
If you are breathing and reading this, you’ve lived. There’s no such thing as a small life. You are not less than or insignificant because you’ve never hitchhiked across the country or bungee jumped in South Africa.
You are a storyteller, and you deserve to tell those stories, no matter how big or small. And the rest of us? We can’t wait to read them.