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Motifs of Life: Writing your own story

If you’ve studied English Literature, you’ll find motifs came up quite often. It’s a musical term, meaning a small repeated collection of notes/image. The more I write, the more I start to notice these little motifs and symbols reoccurring in my own life and my own writing. 

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It’s subtle, but you’ll start to notice the same images popping up- for a while, I kept using trees. Trees grow tall and strong, and up into the clouds, so they symbolise freedom, but they’re also rooted and heavy, so they’re grounded. The more I wrote, the more I found trees came to symbolise a whole bunch of things that I felt.

It might not even be a symbol, but a certain phrase that reappears. This phrase becomes a mantra, and the minute you recognise it from your other work, realise that it’s a repetition, it opens up doors for you.

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Writers often talk about the themes that interest them, or what they like to write about. But what about what they end up writing about, when they’re not setting out to do so? That unconscious leaning is what fascinates me, and what can give us an insight into how we’re feeling.

 

A few months ago, I kept writing about apples. Apples are seedlings, they symbolise growth, spring, Englishness. You can link them to the Garden of Eden myth, conveying innocence. I was writing about apples in response to children, to having children, to problems with childbirth, to the possibility of never having children, to responding to family members who ask these questions lightly. Are apples the best literary symbol for any of these things? No, probably not. But they became my personal marker. Every time I found an apple symbol creeping into my work, I could think ‘Ah, so I’m thinking about that again. Why is that bugging me today?’ and I could get to the root of what was worrying me. Often it’s just something that needs to be expressed, but if you’re being haunted by an image, and you don’t know why, then it has power over you, instead of you using it in a powerful healing way.

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There are no particular writing exercises for this- it’s just about being aware of the space that you’re writing from, and what it means for you. Have a look back through some of your old journals/stories/poems, and see if a particular time or event created a motif for your life at that time. It’s always fascinating, and can be useful.

 

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Wellbeing at the Weekend: Week 1

Hi all,

 

I’m going to try and offer a writing exercise every Sunday that will be gently creative, something for you to try out and explore for your wellbeing at the weekend.

This week we’re going to start with narrative. What is the story and structure of your life? What has been achieved? Where have your plot points and tailspins and adventures been?

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Imagine you are writing your autobiography. Choosing what to include and not include in the story of your life is defining for you- what makes your story? What was the making of you?

Think about what the title would be, consider how you would arrange your chapters, what those chapter titles would be. Where would you start and end your story? Is it a star chart, jumping from point to point, getting higher and higher? Did you have a dip? Have you risen again from the ashes?

 

Don’t feel you have to force a plotline to form. Our lives, day to day, are about plodding. They’re about slow and quiet realisations that look little but mean much. Looks for the simples and re-occurring themes in your life. This can be as simple as noticing the bluebells in the garden every year, and recognising the passage of time. The tune that recalls a certain memory when you hear it. These realisations and moments of contemplation matter, they are the fabric that binds us.

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Think about the stages in your life. Where are you now? Are you at the beginning of your journey? We are always discovering, always changing and growing. Do you think you can recognise the stages and phrases of those changes?

 

You do not have to write your biography, just plan our the chapters. Give them titles, decide what would be involved. Perhaps you would like to try to write a bit about some of those moments that you feel are defining. Try to get as close and as within the moment as you can- look for the sensory memories, the strange details. As you envelope yourself in your own memories you will often find these details appear. The taste of school dinners, the journey to your first job, the feelings and sounds and blur of having children. Look through photos, talk to people, try and regain the wholeness of these moments. To truly own your history is a beautiful thing, and to find the narrative is to feel like the journey carries on, open for exploration and new beginnings.

 

Don’t forget about my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in April!

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