While pulling together bios for this year’s Chautauqua attendees, I became entranced by this quote from Dora Yuet Lan Tsang of Hong Kong:
My best advice came from Max, a seven-year-old. One day I asked, “Max, when you grow up, what would you like to become?” Bewildered, he frowned and answered, “Of course, I would like to be myself. What else would I want to become?”—Dora
I don’t know about you guys, but as a shy kid I spent a lot of energy trying to either disappear or appear to be someone more amazing than who I thought myself to be. It’s taken me many years to figure out that what I should always have been doing was becoming the best version of Kim I could be. In other words, the only life I should have been living was the one granted to me and me alone–complete with scabby knees, cat-eye glasses, and scraggly strawberry-blonde hair. A life sogged out by humid Georgia days and kept in line by a list of rules for being “ladylike” that didn’t seem to allow for my love of climbing trees and capturing turtles.
This reminds me of what I tell writers who attend my “Finding Your Voice” workshops: The only stories worth telling are those that are only yours to tell. What exactly do I mean by that? I mean that unless you have a personal connection to the story, don’t bother writing it. It won’t have enough guts, enough energy, enough spark to light a fire in your readers. A personal connection to a story might be anything from an emotion you’ve felt to a place you’ve lived. Most of all, any story that rises from your personal understanding of the human condition–because you’ve experienced a particular aspect of being human–will be stronger than stories arising from ideas or concepts or abstractions.
Take a look at the stories you’re writing now. Honestly evaluate each one for your personal connection–the thing that makes it truly your story to tell. If you don’t find one, I would encourage you to move on to other stories. But don’t forget, a deep interest in a topic is also a personal connection. The things that fascinate you, draw you in, and make you want to know more arise from a deep place within you. Those things can lead to “your” stories, too!