A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar. – Stephen King
In my last post we looked at lifelines – following the story of your moments in patterns of pencil.
Along the way we talked about noticing defining moments, events that played a big part in making you who you are now.
Let’s talk about those in more detail.
Think of three defining moments
The purpose of this exercise is to search for cause and effect – the events of the past that make you who you are today.
We’re looking for events that stand out in your memory, perhaps because of how they affected you, perhaps because of how they shaped you and influenced you.
Most of all, we’re looking for the events that have developed the things about you that are at the core of your being, the things that you can form a structure and business around that is centred and stable and ready for the future you want to build.
Get your thoughts down on paper
Start by drawing a simple figure in the middle of the page that represents you.
We tend to think in terms of cause and effect as flowing from left to right, so on the left, list a few things that come to mind.
You just need to jot down a few words that mean something to you.
For example, I’ve put down boarding school, books and unix.
Behind each of these words is a story – one that is important to you.
And each of those stories has led to making you the person you are today.
I Went to boarding school when I was eight years old.
That early experience taught me many things, especially how little actual things matter.
At the start of a term you have to put everything you need into a trunk to go to school and at the end of the term you have to fit the things you want to take home back in the trunk.
You get good at getting rid of things – at being frugal – at only keeping the things that matter to you.
Books have always mattered to me.
I was one of those people who was always reading and had another book in my back pocket.
I have found that books turn up when I need them with answers to the questions that I have.
And that has led to a lifelong interest in writing as a way to make sense of the world.
I don’t write for money or for fame.
I write because I enjoy writing.
My first dog was named unix, after the operating system.
My dad had just bought our first computer, an IBM PC/XT with only a floppy disk drive and no hard drive.
I helped create a database for a conference he was organising using whatever database software came on the disk, using the DOS command prompt.
Someone my parents knew had a dog which gave birth to a litter of dogs and I went to pick out one.
We named the pup, a little pointer, unix – I guess because computers were in the air at the time.
Around ten years later I discovered GNU/Linux and I am writing these words in a unix environment.
And it’s an environment that enables problem solving, where your computer works with you to help you tackle things rather than, as most commercial systems seem to do, prevent you from getting things done.
You will have very different words and very different stories – and you may share some of my interests or have very different ones.
But they will be, they must be your own – because you have to start getting clarity on your own story if you are to build on it.
Why are these stories important to you?
These stories are important because you can go back to them and remind yourself that at your centre is a hard core, formed early in life.
This is a core that has been compressed and hardened a steel ball that you can build around.
These core experiences have defined and set the way you look the world – they are the reason for the perspective you take and the approaches you prefer.
They help you decide whether you should face obstacles head on or whether you should go around them.
And because they are what you’ve lived through it’s hard to see them for what they are – you’re inside them.
Step outside the circle
Take another look at that drawing of you on the page.
You’re looking at yourself from outside, seeing yourself on the page and the experiences that went into you and the characteristics that define you now.
Is this a picture you are pleased with, one that you can live with, one that you can build on?
Or are the experiences negative ones, are the outcomes ones you would rather change?
The end result of this exercise and all the others in this book is not about getting to some magical end point where you will find riches and contentment.
It’s about getting started on your journey, whether that’s building on the good that has happened so far or picking yourself back up again after the bad.
It about you, where you are and what happens next.
If the person in the centre of that image was a friend, what would you tell them to do?
Nothing yet, perhaps.
We’ve looked at lifelines, and at defining moments.
Let’s try a few more exercises first before we come to any conclusions and the next one to consider is stages of growth.
That’s in the next post.