When I sit down to write, I pretend I am speaking at an event. I’m the plenary at the Festival of Faith and Writing, for example. Or I’m giving my acceptance speech for this year’s Newbery Award. Once, I pretended I was giving the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame. I was never a student there, but I did teach step aerobics and my inspiring, motivational, and encouraging personality led the university to request my presence at graduation. In my fantasy, they would be giving me an honorary doctorate. For teaching aerobics.
“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours.”—Frederick Buechner
“Make it more obscure,” a student says in an undergrad poetry workshop. This after the assignment says be specific, always specific, and avoid abstraction. And cliché.
If I’d known what I was getting myself into, I’m not sure I would have done it.
For as long as I’ve been teaching, I’ve been giving the same assignment. I ask my students to write a story about their lives, a “personal narrative.” And when I explain the assignment, I’ve always, always, met with a chorus of “but nothing’s ever happened to me! My life is so boring!”