I’ve been reading a book about writing a breakout novel. The author, Donald Maass, suggested an interesting activity to help distill my passion and therefore my theme. As soon as I read it, I thought what an interesting idea to do with the story of our own lives. After reading the following instruction from the author, we’ll discuss how to apply to the real world – that is, your world.
“Imagine government agents bursting into your writing room, smashing our computer, grinding your backup disks under their heels, burning your hard copy and hauling you off to prison.
Now imagine that you are subjected to a monkey trial in which you are not allowed to defend yourself. You are sentenced to hang. In the week before your execution, the compassionate warden of the prison lends you a typewriter and paper … but only ten sheets. You have time and paper to type out only one scene from your novel … which one is it that you would begin to type?
Take this mental exercise a further step: To torment you, a sadistic guard seizes your scene rips it to pieces and laughs as she walks away with the scraps. All that is left is one blank half sheet that fluttered to the floor. Now you have room only for one paragraph from your novel. You roll the soiled scrap of paper around the platen of your typewriter and tap out … what?”Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
Your life is a story. There is a beginning, a middle and there will be an end. Many, many scenes have already been written. Flip through the book of your life. Find several scenes that have importance for your life – you define what “important” means.
Maybe you want to focus on the “feel good” scenes. Or maybe those “drama” scenes that shaped who and where you are now. Maybe the “trauma” scenes hold the most interest for you. What significant moments appeal – the wedding, the birth, the death, the career? Some of you masochistic types may choose to focus on those “mistake/regret” scenes. (Note: depending on when you do this activity, your important scenes may change. For example, if you’re feeling down, you may focus on more negative scenes.)
Take a few minutes to jot these choices down – I’m not asking for long narratives. Just write a few words so that you can don’t have to try to hold them in your brain. To show how simple I want you to make this, here are a few of mine:
Now, imagine you have to choose ONE scene to tell. Before you can choose one scene, you need to decide the purpose of your choice.
If you have the time, choose a scene for each one of those scenarios (or other scenarios that fit your life). You’ll have your own unique, interesting perspective – or a variety of perspectives.
I WOULD LOVE FOR YOU TO SEND ME YOUR SCENE!
The beauty of whatever scenes you have chosen is that you are still only in the middle of your story. What scenes do you want to add before the end? What scenes do you want to avoid? Just like I get to write my novel in anyway I choose, you can write the scenes of your life.
Before you get angry or frustrated, I know that you don’t get to decide all the scenes of your life … some things will just happen to you. An acquaintance recently lost a child – her scenes are forever altered. Another acquaintance has a child in prison. Another had a spouse walk out. There are tragedies everywhere that we can’t control.
But, you can plan your future scenes based on where you are right now. Yes, tragedy may fall – the beauty of being an active participant in your own life, however, is that when tragedy hits, you get to write new scenes. Even when the unwanted strikes, you have options/choices/directions to choose.
I lost a lot when I had my mental breakdown: my career, most of my friends, my god … for a long time, I didn’t choose. I just let life unfurl. Now I choose. I took those losses and the lessons learned and I create the scenes I want in my story. When my scenes get knocked around by life, I start re-writing.
This activity sort of feels like that age-old scenario where you are asked to write your obituary. That’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking you to generate ideas on scenes/actions/dramas you want to be sure are in the movie of your life … then make ‘em happen.
My future scenes include:
Do you see that these are scenes? They aren’t over-arching lessons I want to have mentioned at my funeral. We do leave a message behind and being proactive with that message is important. But so is living our lives – LIVING our lives by choice.
Did you notice that all of my scenes are realistic? This was not an activity in dreaming the impossible – I fully expect to see each scene become reality. When the end comes, I want to be able to flip through the memories of my life and enjoy some of what I see.
Picture your life – what scenes from the past flash up? What do these scenes have to say? What scenes do you want to add? Are you doing what it takes to create them?
I mentioned above that that we have feel good, drama, trauma, and regret scenes. Maybe intentionally select some scenes in EACH category. Looking at those may give you some real insights and help you create the best next scenes of your life.
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....