Blog Academics, Faculty

Write for Your Life

By Judith Hougen on Wednesday, March 11, 2020

close-up of pen writing on paper

I don’t know about you, but I love a good story. Whether it’s binge-watching The Crown on Netflix, losing myself in Jeannette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle, or sitting in a coffee shop while a friend recounts her life since our last chat, true-life narrative fascinates me.

One of my favorite courses to teach at University of Northwestern is Autobiographical Writing. I enjoy encouraging students to tell their stories and giving them the tools and spaces to learn to do that with growing excellence. To take pieces of our lives—especially the hard stuff—and make art out of it helps us to more fully own our journeys and to see the hand of God in our past as well as our present, making us more brave and hopeful. It’s also a spiritual service to the community around us because we all need to know we’re not alone in our struggles. It can be a beautiful thing.

So what about your story? Have you ever felt compelled to record pieces of your own journey? You’re not alone. Many participants who attend the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference have felt a call to share their story on paper. Let’s say you sense a holy nudge to write your story, what should you do next?

I have three suggestions for anyone who wants to write out his or her story for possible publication:

  1. Find a writing community for feedback and support as you record your memories and shape them into a narrative
  2. Receive good instruction on writing in general and writing life stories specifically—learn the tools of the trade through how-to books or memoir writing workshops
  3. Read good autobiographical writing by published writers—delving into good literature in your genre is the best way to get on-the-job training as a writer.

If getting started on this list feels a bit daunting, take heart! The Northwestern Christian Writer’s Conference is a great way to begin!

For the first time, the NCWC is expanding to include a full workshop on writing life stories. I’m excited to be the facilitator for Write For Your Life, which will include reading work by professional authors, writing prompts to get you going, instruction on writing personal narratives, and small-group feedback on your work. This workshop will motivate writers to keep writing their stories and will better equip them to do just that. It’s going to be a rich time.

And my hope for the workshop is that it will only be the beginning for many of the writers who attend. Writing conferences—and more intensive workshops in particular—are great spaces to find like-minded folks who are looking for ongoing support in their writing lives, whether through face-to-face gatherings or online. I’ve met invaluable writing friends who have helped me with my own work through writing workshops.

Your story matters. It is a gift from God. Exploring it with words can be a way to honor this gift. So feeling any holy nudges around writing your life story? If so, I hope to see you at Write For Your Life this July!

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