Believe in the Value of your Story

They (my essays) will remind you not to write for the wrong reasons—marketplace reasons that crush your true identity. Give yourself permission to believe in the validity of your own narrative. Bill Zinsser (author, teacher)

I belong to an organization of writers who are Christian. Each year hundreds of us enter work published during the previous twelve months, vying for awards in several categories, fiction and non-fiction books and articles. I started entering 3 years ago. The first year my work was shortlisted but didn’t place. The next year I placed first in personal experience and second in another category that slips my mind.

Last year, I entered two of my published articles. I thought both were good, very good in fact, and so you can imagine my surprise when I didn’t shortlist, never mind place. At first I felt miffed. Something must be wrong with the judges. Yes, for sure, it had to be them, it couldn’t be me.

After the awards gala, I received as is the organization’s custom, copies of the pieces I entered with comments from the judges. Two articles. Different judges. Almost identical comments that went something like this: This writer knows how to tell a story. (Thumbs up.) Then each went on to say how disappointed they were when my personal essay descended into stories and quotes from other so-called experts. “I wanted to hear what you had to say,” one commented.  (Seriously.)

One judge wrote that I’d begun well, hooked the reader, then lost the reader when I gave my voice to someone else who wasn’t nearly as interesting. (he said that, I didn’t).

I remembered my previous shortlisted and winning essays. I’d written from my heart, opened a window for the reader to see into my soul. Somewhere between year 2 and year 3, I’d decided my views needed confirmation from others. I know how this happened. I wrote a few articles for a magazine that sculpted my outlines. They suggested who to interview. I followed their advice. I had to or my work wouldn’t be published. Some subjects require confirmation from experts but I’d carried this practice into my personal experience essays – a mistake.

Each writer comes to the task of writing with her own life experiences. Those experiences shape us. I can quote other writers and I still do but I’m careful now not to give my voice to someone else. The writer’s voice is his greatest asset.

You’ll notice a quote from Zissner at the beginning of this post. The reason I quote him is, you guessed it, to confirm that the judges of my work were right – my story has value. For that reason I need to treasure it and express it, in my words, not in the words of a stranger.

You may not be a writer but you have a story to tell. Tell it from your heart as simply as you can. Tell how your story connects with God’s story. His big story is what makes our small stories significant.

Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.
Tell how the angels in chorus,
Sang as they welcomed His birth.
“Glory to God in the highest!
Peace and good tidings to earth.”  (Fanny Crosby)

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About rosemccormickbrandon

An award winning personal experience writer, Rose McCormick Brandon is a frequent contributor to faith magazines, devotionals and compilations, including Chicken Soup for the Soul. Rose is the author of Promises of Home: Stories of Canada's British Home Children (2014). One Good Word Makes all the Difference (2013), He Loves Me Not, He Loves Me (2012) and Vanished: What Happened to My Son. She's a frequent contributor to The Testimony, Today's Pentecostal Evangel and other faith magazines in Canada, U.S. and Australia. Rose also writes about Canadian history, specifically the era of Child Immigration from Britain. Read her stories of child immigrants at: http://littleimmigrants.wordpress.com
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12 Responses to Believe in the Value of your Story

  1. storygal says:

    Thanks, Rose, for your insightful piece. I, too, have sent material that did not place nor was short listed—until this year. I think your advice can be helpful to others.
    I want to mention one thing to Carly. A small public speaking course is a good start. You could also go to Toastmasters http://www.toastmasters.org/ which has been a great help to me.

    • Thanks for your input Carolyn. I haven’t taken Toastmasters myself but know others who have – it gives writers/speakers a great start. Congratulations on being shortlisted too!

    • Carley says:

      Thanks. The course I did was from Toastmasters – called Speechcraft. I did it through my abuse survivors support group. The instructor is planning on starting up a sort of speech club for the group so that we can get more practice.

  2. Once again you have been a great source of inspiration to me over the last 7 years. I appreciated your constructive critism in the field of writing. So glad we reacquainted after several years apart. Each one is asked to be His messenger.

  3. Carley says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been working on my first book since November. It’s been a dream for many years; but I never had true confidence that I had a great story, or that anyone would want to hear it even if I did. I also didn’t have confidence in my writing because I don’t have any formal education in writing. I’m not familiar with lots of author’s works as most writers are. It was just a world I felt I didn’t fit into. But, I did feel God calling me to write my story. I’ve had a few blogs over the past few years. I’m told all the time that I have a natural talent for it. I’m trusting their judgment because some of these people are are in positions in the world that tell me I should respect their opinions; which I do. Last October, my friend from church, Brenda Wood, encouraged me to join the NaNoWriMo challenge. I did. I reached the goal; but my book is still not finished. I’ve been working on it as much as I can considering my busy schedule. Lately, I’ve been wondering if putting myself through reliving all the trauma’s that I have had to endure is worth it. I don’t even know where to go or what to do once I’m done. I’m trusting in God to send me the next people when I need them. I’ve already been invited to be a guest speaker at a Weekend Women’s Retreat in Orangeville next fall. It is another challenge. I’ve been social phobic for many years. I’ve been taking a small public speaking course hoping that it will help me step out of my comfort zone. God has a funny way of insisting that I do that, and I’ve learned that arguing with God is not at all productive. Your article has encouraged me today. Thanks.

    • Carly – I’m so impressed that you are not only writing your story but taking a public speaking course. And now an opportunity has opened for you to speak at a women’s retreat. Just as God has opened this opportunity for you, He will open the doors to publication when you’re ready. Here’s a link to an article I wrote about Joan Sepp called Out of Her Comfort Zone (a phrase that you would likely use to describe yourself)
      http://www.christianity.ca/netcommunity/page.aspx?pid=6844
      I hope it encourages you to keep going. Also, you might like to go to Nikki Rosen’s link – it’s on my home page – she wrote her own story, an extremely difficult one to tell.
      Grace in Christ, Rose

  4. Anonymous says:

    This is inspirational, Rose. Thanks. I definitely don’t always give myself “permission to believe in the validity” of my own narrative. Or my own anything (sigh). I think it’s partly from the way we women are often raised — to think of our own voice as somehow insignificant, or at least as less significant than other people’s.

  5. I like your comment that personal stories “connect us in wondrous ways.” So true!

  6. Margaret says:

    yes, yes, yes – the best writing advice I’ve ever received was to write about the closest things to my heart, those thing we secret in fear of being judged or shamed, and that those things are universal connecting us in wondrous ways…what a great learning experience for you!

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