Story Time: Take Charge of your Narrative with this Writing Exercise 

By May 18, 2023July 31st, 2023Personal Development
woman exploring a writing exercise at desk

Authors with Authority

There is a connection between the word author and authority. When we are restored to the role of author of our own life stories, we also retrieve our authority

There is a form of therapy that especially embraces this truth, called Narrative Therapy. Narrative Therapy was developed in the 1980s in New Zealand by Michael White and David Epston. The two therapists developed the impactful techniques of Narrative Therapy specifically to help us restore agency, expertise, and power. 

By lending conscious attention to the way we tell stories about ourselves, others, and our world, we can take authorship back into our own hands. 

Narrative Therapy works because of a natural truth of the psyche, which is that we are made to be the protagonists of our own lives. We see life from our own point of view, as the heroes and heroines of our own story.

More clinically said, one of the core mechanisms of human psychology is to make sense of our experiences in the human body by telling a story about it. We forge a narrative that makes sense to us, to give order to an otherwise chaotic set of sense impressions. 

These narratives we make up live internally in our own heads, but are also very often shared with the world, out loud. What comes out of our mouths does so because of our core narratives.

What we say aloud is allowed. So let’s start looking at the stories we tell, and whether or not we want them to continue to be allowed. 

Writing Exercise for Rethinking Your Core Narrative

Step One: The Current Story

Start this writing exercise by setting a timer for 20 minutes. Write the entirety of your life story from birth until now. You may want to start with Once upon a time…

If you get caught up to today in sooner than 20 minutes, go back in and add details, flesh out details. 

If you didn’t get to your current day in the 20 minutes, give yourself a short extension of 5 minutes and complete your narrative. 

Step Two: Externalize Your Current Story

Now it’s time to take a look at your story by externalizing it. 

Externalizing your story means getting it out of you, getting some distance from it so you can see it with more objectivity, or simply from a new point of view. 

If you have a safe person who can hear your story, this is a good way to do it – read your story out loud to them. 

If you do not have such a person on hand, or would rather not share your story, record your own voice as you read your story. 

Listen back to yourself reading your story, and take notes of anything that seems relevant, including how you tell the story, the quality of your voice tone, and breath, any curiosities of wording, and anything that grabs your attention. 

Step Three: Deconstruction

Now it’s time to think about taking this story apart a little bit. 

Perhaps you may like to think of yourself as Agatha Christie’s famous fictional detective, Hercule Poirot, or Sherlock Holmes, poking holes in a story and seeing where the narrator might not be so completely reliable. 

Look out for anything that doesn’t actually make sense, or places where it seems that someone or something else has “told you to say that.” 

You can also put on your English teacher hat and see if you can break your story down into some core esthetic and creative themes.

If your life story were a bestselling book or a film, what would you say this story is about? What genre is it? What images, ideas, and metaphors seem to underpin the work?

Step Four: Rewrite Your Narrative

Now it’s time to make some amendments. You are the author of your life story and you are allowed to make changes during this writing exercise, to alter what you emphasize, what quality of light you want to shine on the events of your life. 

Maybe you want to add more humor, more compassion, more joy, more celebration, more self-recognition. Maybe you want to bring greater emphasis to your innocence, your valiance, or the role of your spirit, which has been with you all along, throughout your ups and downs. 

Setting a timer for 20 minutes, start from the beginning again, and re-tell it in a way that emphasizes things that make you feel better about who you are, and more optimistic. Lighten the tone, if you want to. Richen the details that you want to richen. Have fun with it. 

It’s your story to tell, after all. 

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