Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 11 comments
Photo credit: RoganJosh from morguefile.com 
How often are you going happily along in your routines when—BAM!—some misfortune or difficulty derails you? One's natural instinct is to get through, get out, get away from the hardship as soon as possible, looking neither to the left or the right.

But there’s another way to think about life’s rough patches—as opportunity.  This perspective is something I’ve been raised with, but didn’t always appreciate. A mishap with the plumbing in our hundred-year-old urban rowhouse was a poignant refresher course.

In early August 2009, I had a harrowing night when our third floor toilet’s water line broke. The problem went unnoticed for about 20 minutes, until the water started raining into the second floor through a light fixture and continued downward into the first floor and basement. The next few hours were eaten up with bailing, mopping, tamping down towels, laundering towels, running fans. The next morning, as I stumbled around, fatigued and worried a ceiling might still collapse, I couldn’t help but remember what my mother always says about these sorts of disasters: “it will make a good story later.”

If my life is a story, then it’s the messes, mishaps, and failures that actually make it interesting. Not that I seek these things out, but when disaster does occur, it carries with it the promise of bringing something ultimately transformative, maybe even redemptive. “It will make a good story later” makes me notice things I otherwise wouldn’t, from the shape of stains on the ceiling to the way my husband’s shoulders slump as he contemplates them.

Watching Mom over the years ferret away details in the midst of turmoil then transform them into captivating comic stories has been quite an education. Not only have I learned to see the humor potential in all things (and to never take myself too seriously), I’ve also gained a habit of attentiveness when life goes awry—a valuable skill in any writer’s toolbox.

As you come to grips with the possibilities of  “it will make a good story later,” you can begin to develop both a habit of attentiveness and a new perspective on what makes you truly the writer you are, with stories only you can tell.

Life’s interruptions to routine can be a creative gift to you. They put you in new places with access to new relationships and experiences. They force you to understand suffering, fear, frustration, anger, sorrow, and all other shades of negative emotion necessary to create deeply real characters that readers connect with.

Don’t panic when life interrupts your writing routine. Pay attention. It will make a good story later.

What hardships have made you the writer you are? What storytelling mentor has shaped your approach and how?

11 comments:

  1. Good lesson from your mom! My mom has pretty much the same attitude. Hope your house is recovered!

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    1. Yeah, it's a line Mom always trotted out in the midst of the calamity of the day, so it has really stuck with me. Don't you find that it helps you approach both life and story in a different way than those raised without this motto?

      The plumbing problem happened five years ago--and the ceiling did not collapse. :-)

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  2. Since I was homeschooled, my mom used to always say, "Can't wait to read the essay you're going to write about this!" Often, that gave us much quicker perspective on our problems!
    I love this post, Laurel. :)

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    1. Without conflict and problems, one has no story, so storytellers of all people need to appreciate the odd gift that troubles can be. :-)

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  3. I relate to this so much, in little ways, like the painful conversation I endured yesterday with someone obnoxious. I kept thinking, what a great character she would make!! And in big ways, like the way I threw myself into writing during a particularly hard year. It was my safe place where I processed all my emotions.

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    1. Great examples. I especially love the idea of seeing difficult people as characters to observe and recreate. Awesome.

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  4. Glad you listened to your mom! My mom has given me lots of great material to work with. It has proven to be therapeutic for both of us! Thank goodness your ceiling didn't cave-in from that flash flood years ago.

    Julie

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    1. Mom's attitude about life as story has proven more and more helpful the longer I live. :-) And it's cool that family stories themselves have become useful material for you.

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  5. I love your Mom's attitude. I don't know if my parents ever said it exactly that way, but I had similar lessons from them about attentiveness to detail. "Remember this . . . and look for the silver lining later." And, they were/are storytellers, along with my grandmother, always bringing out stories that fit situations at the right time. I went through a phase of accusing my dad of purposely plotting on telling me all the "my brother's bad temper got him into trouble stories" whenever I lost my temper, and his answer always was, "I didn't plan on it, but you remind me of him so I told you about what happened to him." :) Stories always come in handy when figuring out the meaning of our lives within God's great story. :)

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  7. I think hardship for me is a good motivator but honestly just life circumstances in general have put on me a desire to write. I just have this burning desire to tell the world everything God had put on my heart, therefore I must write.

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