Sunday, August 9, 2009

Truth or Fiction? Write Your Stories

In an interview, author of That Old Cape Magic,“ Richard Russo says: “The deepest failures any fiction writer is likely to have are failures of not quite comprehending the truth of the story that he or she is telling. And I think that's why Jack Griffin can't write this story ... there's something about himself that he hasn't quite recognized."

Russo goes on to talk about how missing the truth of one’s life happens in real life as well as in fiction. Memories of the past are not necessary shared precisely by the participants, much as eyewitness reports frequently differ. So where’s the truth?

What does this have to do with anything? It speaks to the need for all of us to address our own truths and try to gain perspective about ourselves, our choices, our behaviors.

There’s a great exercise in Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life (Steven Hayes). It calls for you to write the story of your suffering, including the main problems and all the reasons (historical, situational and personal) for the presence of these problems in your life. Suffering being a bit strong for some of us, you could just write the story of your present difficulties. Then you underline only the facts of your story…not interpretations or analyses. Finally, you take the facts and write a completely different story, with a different ending. As you can imagine, the meaning of the facts changes dramatically in the two stories. Hayes goes on to suggest that you can write yet another story using the same facts to further demonstrate how the stories we tell change the meaning of the facts.

In other words, our interpretations of the facts of our lives change our beliefs about the truths of our lives. It suggests that we can change those truths by re-writing or re-interpreting our story.

For example, it’s possible that you’ve been less accomplished, less intelligent and less capable than all your siblings. It’s equally possible that you’ve taken the road less traveled, made unpopular choices and picked experiences you desired over those preferred by others. The question becomes how can you be the person you wish to be instead of the incompetent you’ve believed yourself to be? (It’s just one possible example.)

My suggestion: Write and re-write your story. See how it comes out each time. Stick with the one that feels true and good at the same time.

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