It Begins with One Sentence
How Life Changing Events Can Ignite the True Writer in You
“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious.”
-Anne Lamott, author
Often, when I tell people I’m an author, the response is… I’ve always wanted to write a book about my life, but I don’t know where to begin!
The truth is, everyone has a story, and everyone’s story has the potential to offer value and impact on the world. What holds us hostage is the inability to commit to writing until something happens that is so profoundly life-changing, it can no longer lie dormant as a desire; it becomes a demand.
My late husband was a successful television series writer and our idea of a romantic evening was sitting on our patio creating characters and storylines long after the children went to bed. For years I was a participant in the writing process, but I had never written anything on my own. I was too afraid and lacked confidence. Could actually write?
But, something changed that fear into a creative seduction.
Watch for those life-changing events… they are the “igniters” of the creative consciousness.
Most writers will tell you there was an event that ignited their fire to write. For me, it happened twice, the first, when my daughter was born with a bilateral cleft palate. It was unexpected, devastating… and a call to arms. I wrote my first book for her.
It was a fairytale to help her believe in herself by making her the hero of her own story (Rosey the Imperfect Angel). The book did very well and went on to be distributed to schools and hospitals, as a tool to help children discover the beauty of imperfection and value being unique. It felt so good to know my daughter’s birth and my book had an impact on children’s lives.
But I’m not alone. Thousands of authors have used their lives to make a difference in their readers’ lives.
And you can, too.
I thought I had it all figured out.
I was sure I was immune to anything bad happening again because I found a way to make peace with the upset. But life makes no promises. If there’s one thing that is certain, challenges are waiting in the wings.
Waiting for what? For you to discover you’re stronger than you ever dreamed possible.
The second event was the tragic loss of my 16-year-old son. He was alive one day and dead the next. Meningitis killed him in less than 24 hours. There’s no way to make sense of it because it doesn’t make sense at all.
On that darkest day, a friend showed up at our home. “I’m sorry you’ve joined this tragic club.” He lost his son a few years before. He handed me a book. It was a story written by a mother who’d lost a child. That book was my lifeline. I knew if she could survive, so could I, and one day I’d write about it.
That very night, I picked up my pen and wrote in my journal, “My son died, and my life will never be the same.” I could only write those 11 words, but that one sentence was the beginning of healing and the birth of my story. (How to Survive the Worst That Can Happen)
“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning.” –Dr. Viktor Frankl, author, Man’s Search for Meaning
I realized my story had the power to offer comfort, guidance, and the hope that bereaved parents would be able to feel joy once again. It takes a certain amount of courage to expose your thoughts, feelings, inadequacies, and vulnerability on the written page for others to see… terrifying, in fact. But I put it all in my book and through the process, I transformed my suffering into meaning and gave a legacy to my son.
The transition from thinking of writing to actually becoming a writer is a process, and it begins with that first sentence. Uncover your first sentence, and you’re on your way to telling your story. You’re already a storyteller… everyone is, you just need to sit down and start writing.
Here are a few of my writing discoveries (and some I borrowed from others):
- You don’t have to write your book in sequence. My husband taught me this. Sometimes his ideas would pop up as the middle of a script. He could write a whole story around it. I often jumped into the middle of my chapters before writing the beginning. This is the greatest antidote to writer’s block!
- Be prepared to capture ideas at all times. Once you start writing, your creative mind won’t leave you alone. Keep 3x5 cards in your car, in your bathroom, and at your nightstand. Unless you write it down, you’ll forget.
- Consistency is key. Schedule your writing time in your calendar, give yourself a completion date, and make it non-negotiable. I wrote after work, 5 days a week from 4:00–7:00.
- Rituals are triggers for inspiration. I begin my writing process by making a cappuccino and playing quiet music. I often take a few minutes to read something inspirational. From that point forward, words flow. What will your ritual and strategy be? The key to making your artistic expression come alive is to craft a ritual and a strategy to make it happen. (More about this in my article: Five Intentional Strategies to Jumpstart Your Next Creative Project)
- Map out your story arc. Who you were before (the beginning), what happened that changed you (the middle), and who you are today (the end). You’ll need a story arc for fiction too. Use these same questions for the characters.
- Don’t question how good you are as a writer; question how you’re changing the reader’s life.
- Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is the most powerful tool you have in processing your life! It’s also the best connection to your reader’s heart.
- The power of your work comes in the rewrite. First, read your work out loud to someone you trust. Reading out loud helps you hear the rhythm and all the glitches. It will become very pronounced what works and what does not work. Then, proceed to rewrite.
- Hire an editor. No matter how good you are with grammar and continuity, a good editor will always make it better. At that point, your work will come to life!
- Congratulate yourself on finishing with a big fat gift to yourself. Take a trip, buy a new handbag, take your loved ones out to dinner. One study says 81% of people in the U.S. have said they wanted to write a book, and only half of 1% have done it! Now that’s something to celebrate! Neil Gaiman, English author of short fiction, novels, theatre, and films says…
“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you.”
None of my books have become bestsellers, but they have reached the people I hoped for. I know my work has made a difference… and so can yours.
Your story has the potential to change one life, or many. It all begins with writing one sentence. Commit to doing that, then take the next step, and the next. A year from now, you’ll look back and realize just how powerful this moment really was.
Thanks for reading! If you’ve got creativity on your mind… I have a complimentary sample for you. A short ebook on how to establish some simple habits to set your creativity on fire: How to Develop the Creative Mindset.
**Previously published on The Writing Cooperative on Medium**