But That’s What Really Happened!

Rewrite Your StoryWhen I started looking into creative-writing programs, I got a book called The Creative Writing MFA Handbook.

It’s a guide for people applying to MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs, covering everything from choosing the best-fitting school and submitting your application, to making the most of the experience once you get there — especially during the workshops, which are at the heart of most writing programs.

The author’s #1 piece of advice for being workshopped (i.e., having your piece critiqued by fellow students) is: Don’t get defensive!

Aside from not criticizing readers’ feedback (which harbors ill will and stifles honest discussion), he also discourages authors from explaining their work. (As an author, you aren’t generally sitting next to your reader, telling them what you really meant — it’s got to come across in the writing itself!) And most of all, he discourages workshopped authors from defending their work with one of student-authors’ most common (and least relevant) lines of defense:

“BUT THAT’S WHAT REALLY HAPPENED!”

Once I got into workshops, I actually heard this rebuttal fairly often. And more than once, I had to stop myself from voicing this thought regarding my own work — because I realized (thanks largely to the MFA Handbook) that it doesn’t matter one bit! Just because a story is 100% factual doesn’t make it a good story!

This is true for fictionalized accounts of real-life experiences, as well as creative nonfiction. And perhaps most of all (and this is the whole point of writing about this in a personal-growth blog), this is true for the stories we tell in everyday life!

You might repeat an anecdote about an unpleasant encounter you had while shopping. You might spend hours griping about your mean boss. You might spend years rehashing tales of unfair treatment you experienced as a child. And all of these stories might be 100% true, yet none of them are good stories!

(By which I mean they’re not good for YOU.)

In creative writing, a “good” story is one that engages the reader, reveals interesting aspects of life, and embodies artistic beauty/truth. But in everyday life, a good story is one that serves you! Or, to put it another way, it’s a story that not only is true, but that you WANT to be true!

With this in mind, my advice for all of us is:

DON’T REPEAT STORIES THAT YOU DON’T WANT TO BE TRUE!

There is no surer way to reinforce and relive a negative experience than by telling and retelling stories about it — in conversations, online, and even (and perhaps most importantly of all) in your own thoughts.

It’s like every time you tell the story, you increase the volume (or font size) — making it a bigger part of your life…and more likely that you’ll have similar experiences in the future. And if the experience really was that unpleasant the first time, why would you want to relive it — in stories or in your life?

But then what are we supposed to do — lie?

No, you don’t have to fabricate happy endings; nor do you need to ignore (or remain secretive about) the lower points of your daily ups and downs. But you can choose HOW you tell (and think about) the stories of your life.

And here’s where the creative writer’s bag of tricks can serve you well! Just like an author writing a piece of creative nonfiction, you get to choose which details to focus on, how you frame them, and what points you make with them.

For instance, if you’re telling a story about your day at work, you could focus on the many pleasant interactions you had, or you could go on and on about the one person who was rude to you. Yes, that’s what really happened. Yes, the story is true. But it’s not a good story!

But even if you did decide to tell the story about the rude person, you (as the “author”) get to set the tone. You could yell about it, cry about it, or laugh about it. You might even use one of my favorite techniques, “clarity through contrast,” and use that one unpleasant interaction to reinforce your intention to treat others well, your expectation that your positivity will be returned to you, and your confidence that you’re able to keep feeling good no matter how you’re treated!

You might even frame an unpleasant incident as the “before” picture in an uplifting story — by having it inspire you to effect positive changes in your life and to live a more enjoyable story!

The key is this: Each time you tell (or even think of) a story — which can be anything from a lengthy anecdote to a one-line “truism” (or “falsism,” such as “nobody really cares about me” or “everyone’s struggling these days”) — ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I WANT this story to be true?
  • Do I want this story to be true in the way that I’m telling it?
  • And if the answer to either of the two previous questions is “no,” ask: How can I retell this story so that I DO want it to be true?

Or you might decide that the best option is to not tell this story at all!

After all, there are infinite stories that you can tell and live. Why not choose the ones that you actually like?

P.S. If you’d like to start telling new and better-for-you stories, click here to check out my Rewrite Your Story ecourse. It’s available to everyone — and FREE to Soulful Life Sanctuary members!

(If you’re not yet a member, click here to learn more about the sanctuary, which includes Rewrite Your Story and over a dozen other courses and classes, plus a vibrant, supportive community that lets you connect with like-minded souls — and reconnect with yourself! Also, now for the first time ever, month-to-month membership is available for just $24/month! Click here for details.)

You can take this course any time you’d like, but we’re going to be going through it as a group in the sanctuary, starting November 1 — allowing us to discuss the course, interact with other students (and with me), and create new, more empowering stories! I hope to see you there! :)

Click here for more information and to sign up.

Photo by Yuri Bizgajmer

Step Right Up! (…or don’t)

Have you ever been to a carnival where the carnies call out to you from their rides or games: “Step right up! Right this way! Two throws for a dollar!”?

Maybe they’re trying to lure you over to the ring toss or some other game (that probably looks easy but is next to impossible to win). Or maybe they’re trying to coax you into taking a ride on a roller coaster or a Ferris Wheel or the Tunnel of Love or the Haunted House.

Many of the games or rides might appeal to you. You might be very happy that the [...] Continue Reading…

Don’t Listen to Me

I love the personal-growth community.

I love the millions of people who share their hearts and their wisdom in books, blogs, courses, workshops, and all sorts of ways — online, in print, and in person.

I’ve gained life-changing inspiration and insight from a wide variety of teachers, writers, mentors, coaches, and friends. I’ve been moved, touched, and motivated. And I’ve gotten lots of really good advice.

So now I’d like to share my own heartfelt advice regarding all of the wonderful personal-growth/spirituality teachers out there:

DON’T LISTEN TO ANY OF THEM!

(Not even me.)

Does this mean that I don’t think they have wisdom? Not [...] Continue Reading…

You’re Getting Warmer

If I’d meant this title literally, I probably should have written it in spring or early summer, rather than waiting until the week before Labor Day. But I was thinking of it figuratively — as a personal-growth metaphor based on the common variation of hide-and-seek. Here’s what gave me this idea…

I recently listened to a recorded talk in which the speaker (Esther Hicks, presenting the Abraham teachings) described our Emotional Guidance System by using this example: You know the game where you’re looking for something, and as you get closer someone says, “You’re getting warmer” (or, “You’re getting colder,” [...] Continue Reading…

The Welcome Wagon

Moving to a new place (literally or figuratively) can be very exciting: you feel a sense of adventure, new possibilities, and a fresh start.

But once the initial excitement fades (or perhaps even sooner), you might begin to feel disconcerted or uncomfortable.

After all, this new territory is totally unfamiliar. You don’t know your way around. You get lost just trying to find the grocery store. You don’t know where the nearest gas station is. You don’t even have a library card.

The people here have strange customs and strong accents — and they use unfamiliar jargon, regional slang, or even a different language altogether. [...] Continue Reading…

How much would you pay for something you don’t want?

Some people say: “Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want.”

To put it in more earthly terms, we could say, “Worrying is like PAYING for what you don’t want.”

Think of it like this: Imagine that every word you say, write, or even think is worth $100. And every time you say, write, or think a word, you’re spending that $100.

So, how do you want to spend your “word-money”?

Would you buy what you don’t want — spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on junk that will clutter your life with worry, stress, or unhappiness?

You’d probably say, “Of course not! [...] Continue Reading…

Balance vs. Immersion

When I was a senior in high school, I spent a month in Spain as part of an exchange program. Aside from having fun, making new friends, and being exposed to an amazing culture, I can honestly say that my Spanish improved more during those 4 weeks than it had during the previous 4 years of taking classes.

I went from barely being able to squeak through a basic vocab quiz to the point where I could carry on a decent conversation in Spanish. Within a few weeks in the country I even began to dream primarily in Spanish!

What was [...] Continue Reading…

Are You Expressing It…or Feeding It?

Feeding Joy (Revisited)

In my previous post (“Feeding Joy”), I wrote about the importance of “feeding” the parts of our lives and ourselves that we want to flourish — presumably, the parts that bring us joy, gratitude, and happiness.

But I also said that it’s natural (and probably even healthy) to express yourself, even when your thoughts and emotions aren’t joyful — rather than repressing, denying, or letting negativity fester within you.

So, is this a contradiction? By expressing negativity and giving it “air-time,” aren’t we just “feeding” it? How can we tell if we’re fanning the flames of negativity or releasing [...] Continue Reading…

Feeding Joy + Sanctuary Registration is Open (at 40% Off)!

I’m thrilled to share that my wife, Jodi, and I have just realized a long-term dream: opening registration for the Soulful Life Sanctuary!

The sanctuary is a beautiful online community that helps you reconnect with your soul while connecting with like-minded friends. It’s also an all-encompassing collection of tools and resources to help you live your most soulful life — including ecourses, live and archived classes, plus Sacred Spaces and Soul Guides in more than a dozen areas, such as Wellness, Creativity, Soulful Parenting, Self-Care, and Spirituality.

I’m excited to share more about the sanctuary (as well as how you can [...] Continue Reading…

Enough!

Last week a friend of mine finally put her foot down.

After years of being mistreated and taken advantage of, she finally said one of the most empowering and important words in the English language:

ENOUGH!

After we exchanged several congratulatory emails and virtual high-fives, I had some time to reflect on her situation, and I was reminded of other times when I or other people I know finally said, “Enough!” — whether it was by leaving an abusive relationship, quitting a soul-crushing job, or setting healthy boundaries in any other way.

I was also reminded of Nietzsche’s parable of the three metamorphoses, [...] Continue Reading…