The words we use and the stories we tell ourselves matter. Narrative therapy for example is grounded in the idea that by shifting the accounts and descriptions of our selves and experiences we can change our lives. Suzy Greaves at Psychologies is also great believer in story telling and that’s why the magazine invited literary agent Jacqueline Burns to run a workshop all about our life stories – and changing them to be more empowering. Called Explore Your Story, Review Your Life Script and Start a New Chapter in Your Life, the promise was high. But Jacqueline Burns knows her stuff. Co-director of the London Writers’ Club and author of Write A Bestseller she helps novelists and non-fiction writers tell their stories.
The tool we used was simple. A line drawn across the page and plotted with events or experiences. But simple doesn’t mean ineffective. Looking at the things we choose to put down and the emotions and words that surround them tell a great deal about what sticks in our minds and what we focus on.
Mixing storytelling with neuroscience, we worked through exercises that explored names and labels, habits and attitudes, events and experiences. Like directors, we reviewed the script that we live by every day. As editors we explored what to keep and what to drop. Like designers we storyboarded a plan for the next chapter. There’s also wider practical applications. The tool can be used to map out a presentation and selecting the most important messages to be taken. Seeing the plot of a book and charting the emotional ups and downs within it shows how the reader might experience it – and whether more or less drama is needed.
Stories are ultimately about connection – connection with others and ourselves. Through the words we use and the framework we place them in those connections can be more empowering, strengthening and enlivening. Seeing where we have been can help us work out where we are going – and if it’s the destination that we want. It’s all about knowing the kind of story you are telling and exploring whose story it is – your story. All from a line on a page.