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January 05, 2007

Writing and Healing Idea #19: The Good Part in Other People’s Stories

When I was in graduate school, taking a writing workshop, one of my teachers told us that we would probably learn more in the workshop from looking at other people’s stories than we would learn from our own. The notion, I think, is that sometimes we can become too close—too attached—to our own stories, and that sometimes it’s easier to see other people’s stories because we can see them from a fresh perspective.

So---the writing idea:

Consider a story, any story as long as it is not your own story. It could be from a book, a newspaper, a movie. It could be from a recent conversation with a friend. Now consider the good part. What was the good part of the story?

Of course it may happen that you might not know at first what the good part is—in fact I think that might be the best way to begin. I have no clue what the best part of this story is. . . But then say you keep writing—say you keep writing I don’t know. . . I don’t have a clue. . . And then maybe you write, I don’t know but I wonder if maybe. . . Or, I don’t know but I’m beginning to think. . . Say you keep writing like this. Then—it could happen—something could jump off the page—your own words—and they could surprise you. (I didn’t know I thought this. I had no idea. . . )

There’s a writing teacher, Donald Murray, author of A Writer Teaches Writing, who says that we become writers when we are surprised for the first time by our own writing—that that in fact is the kind of thrill that can bring us back to writing again and again.


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