The next time you are not sure what to write about, maybe take a crack at your own story. It doesn’t have to be a biography, or a college essay about an adversity that you overcome, maybe just a few pages on a childhood memory, or a piece about the chasm between what you thought your life would be and what it became, or an essay about the first time your heart was broken, or when you broke somebody else’s.
Everyone has a story, it’s all in the framing, the insight, how you build it.
In Exhalation, the beautiful new collection from Ted Chiang (whose “Story of Your Life” was adapted into the movie Arrival), he has a story called “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling.” It’s a future fable about a world in which everyone will have cameras that record everything, which can then be instantly accessed, dismantling the entire concept of memory. Chiang writes this:
People are made of stories. Our memories are not the impartial accumulation of every second we’ve lived; they’re the narrative that we assembled out of selected moments. Which is why, even when we’ve experienced the same events as other individuals, we never constructed identical narratives: the criteria used for selecting moments were different for each of us, and a reflection of our personalities. Each of us noticed the details that caught our attention and remembered what was important to us, and the narratives we built shaped our personalities in turn…
The best stories are not from people who have the best stories. People who lead exciting lives can tell very, very dull stories. The best stories come from the best storytellers.
Do your best.