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How to Identify Life Lessons Using a Writing Exercise #AmWriting

How to Identify Your Life Lessons Using a Writing Exercise

I know first-hand the benefits of writing for healing purposes, and this exercise is one of my favourite personal development tools. It was my creative writing tutor who introduced me to this as we worked on character development. Designed to challenge us as writers, however, I couldn’t help but apply the writing exercise to my own life. It goes as follows:-

  • Think of a person you know and make them your main character, they can be family, a friend or neighbour, work colleague or a fellow club/church/slimming group member and they can be dead or alive.
  • Write a single sentence, including physical descriptions, of how this person looks.
  • Write a second sentence and describe how they show emotions.
  • Write a third sentence using keywords to describe gestures they use.

Be HappyWorking in pairs, we interviewed each other taking on the role of our characters. We asked basic questions about age and name (most of us used fictional names) and interests we had. The most interesting part for me was when we asked about family – it stirred up emotion in all of us. The character I chose for my exercise was an ex-work colleague who I haven’t seen for many years. When we worked together, I was very young and naïve, and she, therefore, felt it appropriate to undermine and bully me in the workplace.  She was also the type of person who, if you had a headache, she had a brain tumour! Quite an interesting character to work with.

As I was interviewed (in character), my writing partner asked if I had a husband, and my immediate response was ‘he doesn’t care about me, I get no love and affection from him, work is too important, so I turn to cakes.’ I don’t know if this was true of my ex-colleague, she was a portly woman with very large hands, but it did make me sit up and take notice of what I was saying. Were these just seeds of a character in the making or was this bubbling up from somewhere else?

I’ve been divorced for fourteen years so I can’t remember if I turned to cake when my ex-husband chose work over family, and I’m not about to open up those memories, not even for the good of my writing! I decided to carry on with the interview and see what else emerged.

I had picked this woman, seemingly at random, and yet as my interview progressed more and more of those annoying traits she had outwardly projected, bubbled to the surface. Again I had no idea if what I was saying held any truth about this woman, but they certainly resonated with me.

ConflictOur role-playing concluded, and we were set with the task of writing a fiction piece and placing our new character in a scene that would be out of their comfort zone. The object of the game was to see how they handled new conflict.

Some of the stories I begin in class fill my head for several weeks after and I feel compelled to polish them and finish their tale, but I was almost relieved to close my notepad after this session.

As I drove home that night, the similarities between myself and this woman played on my mind. I cut this person out of my life years ago, and that was the right thing to do. Emotional vampires have no place in my world (fictional vampires, however, are always welcome – Damon Salvatore I’m talking to you!)

So it dawned on me that the reason I disliked this person was that I could see my flaws glaring back at me through her.

I don’t think I’m dramatic (my mum may disagree with this one), if I have a headache then it stays a headache, even if a friend told me they were suffering from one, I still wouldn’t upgrade mine to migraine status.

I do know that I need to listen more, everyone knows I can talk for England, so life lesson number one is to learn when to shut up and let someone else get a word in.

I won’t bore you with the long list of annoying traits I managed to jot down on a post-it when I got home, but let’s just say I have a lot of self-work to do.

Take a moment to think about the people in your life – family, friends, colleagues, parents at the school gate, and fitness crazy people at the gym. Are there any that spring to mind immediately in a negative way? Maybe great aunt Sally is always finishing your sentences, or maybe there’s that one mother on the school run who always looks like she’s stepped out of a hair salon.

Then take a look at what it is that annoys you about them. Do you finish other people’s sentences but hadn’t noticed you do it? Maybe you never let your children finish an argument before defaulting to ‘I’m the parent. Therefore I’m always right’ mode. Why does that perfectly coiffed mother grate on your nerves, do you crave extra time for yourself?

By taking part in this exercise you can create an abundance of characters for your writing, and hopefully, do a spot of personal development along the way.

Go on, own up. You’re safe here – vent all you want, I promise not to judge, who did you think of (no names please) and what did you see in yourself?

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5 thoughts on “How to Identify Life Lessons Using a Writing Exercise #AmWriting”

  1. I can think of an old boss who was a total bastard to me a few years ago. I could easily write him into something not necessarily as the main baddie but certainly as their number 2 becasue to me they’re always the most awful people in a story.

    Liked by 1 person

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