Why some stories never get written down (and how I can help make sure they do)

We all want to (or at least, I think we all want to) write our stories down. It’s almost like proof that we’ve been here – proof of our own thoughts and experiences, proof that goes beyond a picture. The desire starts out with writing a sentence to go along with our drawings in elementary school, grows with our middle school journals, and then flourishes in college creative writing class (that admittedly might just be my experience). Then, it stops.

Why? It’s not as if everyone has to go onto become a famous author, however, why do we stop writing down our own stories?

Some day, we will want to pass on stories of our childhoods, adulthoods and in-between onto our family members for them to cherish and continue passing on. I’m not talking about those angsty journal entries that you would die if anyone unearthed. I’m talking about those once in a lifetime experiences, those transformational times, or those stories in which you’ve learned something you wish to pass on.

But…we still don’t write them down. I don’t know if these reasons are true for everyone, and there are no doubt others, but here are some reasons I’ve found that people don’t write down their stories:

1)   We think no one will want to read it: Somewhere, we start telling ourselves that our stories and experiences aren’t interesting enough to write down. If we didn’t scale a cliff or almost get run over by an elephant, we think no one will want to read our stories. Not true, I say. If Jhumpa Lahiri can make washing dishes interesting, so can you. It’s not necessarily what happens, but why and how.

2)   We stop ourselves as we are writing it: That down draft that Anne Lamott references is much easier said than done. For us perfectionists, we may never finish writing once we start since immediately we start wondering where the commas should go.

3)   We just don’t get around to it: We’re busier than ever, and that doesn’t always allow time for writing stories down. 

4)   Writing can be a solitary, lonely process and not everyone likes to write: It’s scary to be vulnerable and open, to share your thoughts, and have only the blank page to offer you feedback. Also, some people love to tell their stories, but don’t necessarily want to write them down. 

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and simultaneously wishing that my grandma and parents would write down their stories. How, I wondered, could I help people write their stories and preserve their unique voices at the same time?

I spent a lot of time working with clients and figuring out what worked and what didn’t work. Finally, I created a process in which I guide clients through the process of writing their stories, from start to finish.

It’s a beautiful combination of all of the below and more:

  • Clients share their stories with me through oral storytelling.
  • I ask specific, targeted questions that help guide them through the process.
  • Together, we find the common threads/themes that run through their stories.
  • I record and transcribe our conversations.
  • I take our conversations and shape/revise/edit/etc. until it becomes a true collaboration of a story.
  • All the while, I offer support/reassurance/etc. to beat the lonely writing blues.

Case Study:

Fran Spooner Jarratt grew up in the Belgian Congo in the 1940's and has desired to write a book of short stories about her childhood for years. Her goal was to be able to share her stories with her brothers and sisters, their children, and their grandchildren. However, when she tried to write down her stories, she got distracted and kept stopping herself when she felt like her writing wasn't good enough. We devised a system where Fran and I would talk every week for an hour; I would ask her questions and she would tell her stories. Afterwards, I would transcribe our call, edit, and shape her content. As a result, we are well on our way to co-creating Fran's book of short stories that she has always dreamed of. You can read one of Fran's short stories created in collaboration with The Storyologist by clicking on the image below, The Little Hut Beyond the Leopard's Lair.

I feel much more confident now that I’m working with the Storyologist. I feel I can own the compliments I have received from my family and friends over the years. They told me that I was a good storyteller, they told me I was a good writer, but I could never own these compliments until we started working together.
— Fran Spooner Jarratt

You can view my offerings for this project here.

However, if you are interested in a smaller project (and a great holiday gift) I’m offering a Family Stories Holiday Special that I am SO excited about! Check it out by clicking below.

I would love to answer any of your questions – send me a message by clicking here.

I’ll help you or a family member get through the fear and overwhelm of writing down their story while retaining their unique voice. The result? A book of one or more stories for your family to pass on for generations.