Chris Brogan recently did a great review of a book called “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller. I went straight to Amazon as Chris’ review of the book resonated so deeply with me. You can read his review and watch the short video he made at:
Chris describes the book as a “book about story, but it’s not exactly a book about writing. It’s about seeing your life like a story. It’s about living a better story. It’s about learning how to be present and interact in your life’s story.”
Over the past couple of years, I’ve become fascinated, nay, obsessed even with the concept of seeing your life as a story.
I’ve always had a passion for storytelling. My Scottish grandmother was a raconteur and my father has that same tendency to weave a good yarn. So it’s in my genes to love a good story.
Last year, as I was studying for my Master Coach certification with Martha Beck, I was also taking writing classes to work on my solo show. During the writing classes, we did many prompted writing exercises. I was intrigued to see how many things about my life and issues I was struggling with would be revealed in these writing exercises. I became fascinated as to how I could combine writing and storytelling with my coaching.
Another part of the storytelling puzzle came together for me when I read a book called “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” by Stuart Brown MD. This book completely changed the way I saw my life, my children’s lives and my role as their mother. There’s a section in the book that discusses play personalities. You can see a Monday Mama Muse post that I wrote about play personalities by clicking here. I identified my dominant play personality as “storyteller” and that knowledge transformed and informed my life.
It made sense of the fact that I felt drawn to work on a one-woman show in the tradition of storytelling rather than pursuing stand up comedy exclusively.
It explained why I felt most engaged and satisfied as a mother when reading or telling stories to my children or when we were playing games of “let’s pretend”.
It informed my coaching as I started to see how I used storytelling to make sense of coaching tools to my clients and how I used storytelling to help them see how they were living stories that didn’t serve them well when they could be writing – and living – a far more satisfying and far more authentic story for their life.
A huge piece of the importance of story puzzle fell into place when I discovered the book “Life is a Verb: 37 days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally” by Patti Digh. If you’ve spent any time on my blog or in conversation with me since Amazon quite rightly suggested that I would LOVE this book, you’ll know that I’ve said that if I had to choose just ONE book that I could own, it would be this book. I cannot get enough of it. It sits by my bed and is read and re-read on a daily basis. It is not only full of the most-exquisitely written essays (which somehow inspire you as an aspiring writer rather than defeat you) but also has many prompted writing exercises which remind me of my writing class. It’s the book I would have loved to have written and yet I am still enormously grateful that Patti did. It’s a book that you don’t just read, you interact with. Patti Digh very thoughtfully designed the book to have wide margins to engage and encourage her readers to converse with the book.
“Taking pen or pencil to our books isn’t mutilation, it is conversation. As British author Hester Thrale Piozzi put it in 1790. “I have a Trick of writing in the Margins of my Books, it is not a good Trick, but one longs to say something.” One longs to say something.
… Perhaps you, too, long to say something. These wide margins are here just for that reason.”
I love the book so much that, short of stalking Patti, I joined a group coaching program that she offers with the equally fabulous David Robinson. You can read more about the work they do together at The Circle Project.
One of the assignments asked us “What is the story you want to live? Where would you need to place your focus in order to live that story?”
I found this assignment to be ASTOUNDING in its simplicity and yet enormously profound in its impact on how I live my life. I looked at my life and realized that my focus was placed almost exclusively on things, actions and individuals that had no place in the story I want to live. I was shocked how much time I spent engaged in activities that have no place whatsoever in the story I want to write of my life. I noticed how many characters were in my life who wouldn’t even have a background role in the story I wanted to write for my life.
In that moment, I truly got the concept of the importance of story and how my life is MY story. I don’t just get to write it. I’m freakin’ Tina Fey. I get to write it, perform it and be the executive producer too. I don’t even need NBC to decide whether my story gets shown. I get to decide if this story gets beyond the pilot episode and is put on the air.
Every single element of my story (my life) is here because I choose to include it – the location, what my character wears, eats, says, what she thinks and does, the characters who are in my life – all of these things exist because I choose them. If I don’t like the way a scene is turning out, you know what, I can start the scene over again and rewrite it the way I want it to be. I can shout “cut” and “action” whenever the heck I want. This is my story. My show. My life. Oh Lord, I’m feeling a Frank Sinatra song coming on so bear with me.
There will be times when you’re in the middle of a scene and you don’t actually know how you want this scene to turn out or things will happen over which you have no control. Well, bring on your Tina Fey one more time because at times like that you improvise. Just Bring Yourself (and yes, I wrote a Monday Mama Muse about that too). I remember reading an interview with Tina Fey where she talked about the art of improvisation and how so many of the things she’d learned about improv had helped her in how she lived her life. She said something like “improvisation is reacting in the most creative way possible to what happens to you.” So, if you can’t shout “cut” and you’re in the middle of a scene and don’t know what the hell to do, improvise. React in the most creative way possible. Which is becoming one of my favourite mantras for motherhood.
What is the story YOU want to live? Where would you need to place your focus to live that story? Is that where your focus is placed now? If not, do some editing. Significant rewrites even. Be your very own Tina Fey – write it, perform it, and produce every single detail of it. When in doubt, improvise.
“Life is improvisation. All of those [improv] classes were like church to me. The training had seeped into me and changed who I am.” ~Tina Fey