A Blythe Coach

Writing True Stories to Reflect and Connect – Camp NaNoWriMo Recap

“When we really listen to people talk about themselves, we get to learn about ourselves and it’s beautiful and it’s interesting and it wouldn’t happen in any other way.”

The Daily Stoic Podcast:

Rick Rubin on The Creative Act, Overcoming Ego, and Enjoying the Process” (about 1 hour 7 minutes in)

My Camp Memoir Journey

Hello again! In my last blog article, “Let’s Write! Camp NaNoWriMo & Creative Structure,” I declared my participation in the writing challenge Camp NaNoWriMo this July, focusing on developing real-life personal memoir-type stories. In the past I’ve done tons of academic writing, dabbled in fiction and poetry, and I’ve been working through my blog and email newsletter to refine my voice further, but had yet to dig in and develop any of my true stories that I’ve journaled about over the years.

Yes, it was emotional to take the memoir route, looking at my own personal history, diving into true experiences of growth and personal transformation, large and small. I wanted to use the challenge as an opportunity to both study and practice storytelling techniques, so I set a few goals for the focused month, developing habits I can carry forward to enrich my creative practice and life.

Here I’m sharing my results, what I learned from participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this year, and benefits you too might glean from such a personal writing practice.

Goals and Results

My goals and outcomes for Camp NaNo / Memoir July 2023 were:

  • Finish Reading Storyworthy book by Matthew Dicks (I did, they also have a great YouTube Channel, and I found a lot of other great memoir resources online as well!)
  • Daily Story Ideas (generated 38/31)
  • Weekly Story rough drafts (wrote 5/4)
  • Continue to practice the new writing strategies I learned
  • Create a second draft/polish one story (in-progress, see below)
  • Blog about it

Tracking Writing Progress

Creating spreads in my Bullet Journal makes keeping track of my efforts more fun, so I set up a handy place to measure my progress towards my goals:

The Bullet Journal spread I created to set goals, track progress, motivate, acknowledge and celebrate

Writing Stories Improves Your Life

In the “Personal Writing as a Method for Change, featuring Michelle Tea podcast on shewrites.com, writer Michelle Tea: “The challenge is to remember exactly what happened, get to some sort of truth or some sort of heart of the situation and really play with language to basically manipulate my reader. So that’s what I’m doing when I’m writing memoir.” (about 7:30) Both Tea and Dicks express the importance of getting at the gems of truth, value, and learning from our personal experiences in processing them to share. It can take time to heal from some

In the book I chose to guide my storytelling growth, Storyworthy, author Matthew Dicks talks about how writing, such as his daily exercise called “Homework for Life,” and his “Crash and Burn” freewriting session that resembles Morning Pages, provides an opportunity for reflection, growth in understanding, and can even stretch our and our audience’s perception of time.

Here’s how you do Homework for Life: “Five minutes a day is all I’m asking. At the end of every day, take a moment and sit down. Reflect upon your day. Find your most storyworthy moment, even if it doesn’t feel very storyworthy. Write it down. Not the whole story, but a few sentences at most. As you start to see importance and meaning in each day, you suddenly understand your importance to this world.” (Storyworthy p.58)

Yes, each of our stories matter!

Writing Stories Stretches Time   

Dicks claims, and I have experienced to be true, at least at moments: “As you begin to take stock of your days, find those moments — see them and record them — time will begin to slow down for you. The pace of your life will relax.” (Storyworthy p.53-4) Just as sketching can deepen how we see the world, what we witness and perceive, so can crafting stories from our lives.

Storytelling Time Travels Your Audience

Storytelling can create a sense of time travel for listeners/readers, as Dicks explains: “If I am doing my job well and telling an excellent story, you may, for just a moment, forget that you exist in the present time and space and travel back to the year and location that I am describing. My goal as a storyteller is to make my audience forget that the present moment exists. I want them to forget that I exist.” (Storyworthy p.291) 

Writer Michelle Tea on the”Personal Writing as a Method for Change, featuring Michelle Tea podcast at shewrites.com

Write Rough Drafts

I decided to take Matthew Dicks’ advice to focus on small moments, and underdog experiences in storytelling–not necessarily the big life-changing or success stories we might first think of.

That in mind, I wrote out a few of the ideas I came up with as free-writes, then typed them up and began the editing process. None are yet refined, but I thought I’d share one of the stories-in-progress here just for giggles:

Biscotti at the Bridal Expo

It’s 2019 and my girlfriend Ela and I attend the Cologne Bridal Expo at Koeln Messe (the trade fair), having received tickets from her ex, who wanted to show her appreciation for Ela and another friend’s helping her prepare the graphics for her Grillmaster Hang Vietnamese street food booth. I have been working very hard to integrate myself into a new country and culture, cried through German language intensive courses, toiled to be sensitive and understood in my teaching, in applying for my work visa, in the grocery store, learning the customs and showing respect to the best of my ability, but I am still new to Germany, far from fluent.

We take the subway across the river, walk through the entryway, festooned with a massive multicolored balloon arch, several other dazzling examples of which are also on display, the competing concepts jostling for attention. We make our way to the booth, which looks awesome with slick yet distinct ambiance evocative of a fantasy Eastern street scene I have yet to experience in real life, with colors of wood, bamboo, green plants, and eye-catching graphics. We all embrace, congratulate the team on getting everything together for the expo, and sample Hang’s delicious appetizers. Her summer rolls are to die for, and we toast with tea. Definitely recommend!

We then drift around all manner of booths to the stage area where our eyes are treated to fashion shows, we listen to live music from harp to Schlager (German hits), peep at diamonds and decorations, view and taste everything Germany’s wedding market has to offer. I reflect that though I’ve been married twice, I have yet to attend such a grand exhibition of wedding wares, and what a funny perspective that is from which to view the festivities.

After much serpentine wandering, I’m wending my way to the back left corner of the huge hall. I pull up to a biscotti booth, where the crispy oblong cookies are appealingly arranged, the array of flavors shining through polished glass jars.

A few people are currently gathered talking to the lady in an apron inside the booth, her hair drawn back into a smart chignon. Taking it all in, I consider which variety to try, and draw one out. I bite into its gratifying expected crunch and wish I had a coffee to go with it as well.

The booth person turns to me, a silver tray of tiny cut-up pieces of biscotti in one hand, tongs with to distribute them in the other, her eyes widening, her face transforming to one of horror, her mouth uttering, all too late, “NEIN!”

But the time to stop me has passed. I’m caught red-handed, the dry texture aleady sucking the moisture from my mouth. Instantly, heat rises to flush my cheeks and chest, turning fully red as I chew and swallow my biscotti bite in shame. All eyes in the group are on me, and only then does my party find their way back to my side.

Deeply embarrassed by my faux pas, indignant at my confusion, and hysterically tickled at the absurdity of the whole situation, I erupt into laughter, scarfing the rest of the biscotti as I round the corner, explaining the shameful debacle that just ensued.  

Despite my efforts to blend, I still can’t fully escape coming across as inconsiderate or entitled, even rude.  My fear come true, I still, and apparently always will, manage to fulfill many people’s expectations of a “rude American”!

I’m grateful there is no penalty, no long-term consequences for such minor foreigner foibles. However, I am left with the knowledge that try as I might, however experienced or sophisticated I work to become, I will always experience embarrassingly human slip-ups! Learning a new language and moving to a new country as an adult is proving terrifying, humbling, and hilarious. 

Next Steps after NaNo

Going forward, I’d like to continue to generate story ideas by doing my Homework for Life, to develop stories to eventually share, and to apply the storytelling tactics I’ve been learning. I’ll share some of my stories on the blog, and hope to eventually publish them in other contexts as well as publish a memoir. The daily habits and storyteller’s ear will continue to be my focus, the enhancement of my quality of life and observation, with lofty goals to inspire.

Considering if I want to participate in NaNoWriMo in November, the next Camp NaNo in April, and what other structures I’d like to support my writing in the future.

Questions for Reflection

  • Do you have an existing “Homework for Life” practice or will you take it on?
  • Which of your stories are waiting to be told?
  • What stories do you find most engaging to hear told or to read?
  • Which practices help you slow down time when life gets frenetic?
  • What support do you need to take your next creative plunge?

Resources for Further Exploration

Feel free to reach out to me via email or on Instagram​ @ablythecoac​​h​, I’d love to hear what you’re creating and I’m grateful we’re connected.

Blythe Stephens, MFA & Bliss Catalyst
she/her or they/them
A Blythe Coach: ablythecoach.com @ablythecoach

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