Barry Lopez: The world is held together with stories and compassion.
We all have an origin story (a term from comic books). They need to understand how they got their superpowers. These superheroes had problems like humans and responded like humans. Over time it became clear that they had special gifts. Their superpower wasn’t their true superpower…superman’s strength? No. His altruism was the special part.
Focus on what your superpower is as a human being or business leader. Business: how your business became what it is. Memoir: focus on where you’ve arrived today. That’s where you’ll find your superpowers.
We start at your beginnings and how you’ve arrived where you are today.
Phil Knight, Steve Jobs, etc = humble beginnings. We want to build a story of humble beginnings and lessons along the way that give us our expertise/superpowers.
Why an origin story?
Tell the truth. We want to create a truthful story with authenticity. Sharing vulnerably, share who you really are.
Answer questions–tough questions–about who you are and how you became who you are.
Knowing your audience. One realization I’ve had is that “we aren’t for everybody”. When we try to, we water ourselves down. Who are the people I’m trying to reach? Who are my readers? The more you know who you’re talking to, the stronger your story comes.
Weird holy truth of personal narrative writing. It’s about you and not about you. Whenever you tell a story, you’re creating a sort of fiction. The fiction is inherent–lives are messy. Stories have shape, they build. We can leave things out and emphasize other things. Build yourself into a character. You choose what you reveal–quirks, vulnerabilities, strengths. Embrace the paradox that memoirs are true and not true.
How to write your origin story:
Start with the now. Journal. Who you are, what’s your superpower. Where you’ve arrived. What is your expertise? You can have several origin stories.
Go back to the beginning. Pivot back and find the story from your life that’s most relevant to setting up the origin story, sets up your expertise. (Think about the ending). Building a story from 3-4 key anecdotes of your life. All stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. How you broke through to the other side, build to the ending you desire.
After you tell the anecdote, reflect. Pull the meaning out of the anecdote. Ask: “How do I feel now about how I felt then, and how do I think now about how I thought then.” (retrospection) It brings out the lessons you learned.
Write your way to the next anecdote with a transition. All anecdotes lead to your superpower.
Emphasis is on humanity and simplicity of it. You don’t always have to be serious either. Lean on some humor and some way to see that there were luck and persistence involved but you got there anyway.
Brad Wetzler is an author, journalist, podcaster, and yoga + mindfulness teacher, and writing mentor. He writes books (and articles) and hosts a podcast about adventure healing, emotional wellness, and faith & spirituality. His memoir, “Adventures in Healing,” will be published in 2023.
I began my career as an editor and adventure-travel writer. I served as a senior editor at Outside magazine, and I was a contributing editor at Outside, National Geographic Adventure, and George magazines. I have written hundreds of articles and essays on far-ranging topics.
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