Grab Life’s Lemons and Make Stories

I wrote this headline last week as I began my post.  But as I wrote that day, I realized I was creating an entirely different article.  I ended up creating a new headline appropriate for what ended up on my page, and decided to hold the lemon idea for today.

So here we go again.  Last week I was thinking on the stories I hear from writers about the life issues thrown in their paths, and how they find the strength and the will to keep writing.  New babies need attention, teenagers revolt against everything, elderly parents need constant care, homes burn down, are swept away by floods, and writers discover they have serious health issues that require immediate attention.  And still we write.

In the balance of good and bad life experiences, we’d call a lot of these “lemons.”  Too often, we dismiss those not-so-sweet life lessons and challenges as something that’s happening to us in the “real world,” but having nothing to do with our writing.

In truth, everything that happens in our lives becomes a tuning fork in our writing toolbox.

Maybe your investments are bouncing around so much with the market changes that they’re getting whiplash.

Maybe that medical test you had last week left you numb with worry or disbelief for the three days it took to get the results back from the lab.

Maybe your disabled child’s problems at school find you visiting the principal’s office more often than you did when you were the fifth-grader.  You’ve worked with the school district and the administrators to provide the best experience your child can have.  You’ve spent days educating the teachers on what they need to know about the special needs of your child.

And when you sit down to write you just want to forget all that.  But the “stuff” you’re trying to get away from is rich fertilizer for your stories.  No one can tell these stories better, whether fiction or nonfiction, than someone who has personal experience with these challenges.  No one can inject the realism that makes a story shine as well as can someone who’s lived some measure of that challenge.  Don’t be afraid to put that part of yourself into your writing.  That doesn’t mean you have to expose every corner of your life.  But do let your life experiences, especially the ones that were hardest to live, inform your writing, making your words ring true for your readers.

Your character becomes a retired woman, living on the investments she made while working.  She saved most of her pay for over twenty years so that when she finally left the work world she could travel and do all the things she put off in her youth.  But now she’s struggling to make ends meet because she lost most of her investments in the market downturns.  You’ve lived this.  You know how she feels, what she worries about, why she’s angry with herself for putting off adventure and fun.  You know how her mind works.  And you create her reactions and feelings from familiar territory.  Does she become bitter and hard?  Or does she find simpler ways to find joy in her life?

Or you ask yourself “what if” someone received a lab result that indicated he had only a few months to live.  How does he react to this news?  Would he decide to kidnap the leading researcher in the field of this character’s particular disease, and force the researcher to inject him with an untested serum?  What if there were unimaginable side effects to receiving the serum?  And then what if he found out the original diagnosis was flawed, and that he never had the disease to begin with?  What lesson would he learn, or would he?

Perhaps you hear stories from other parents about how they deal with problems their children are enduring, and you realize you can share what you’ve learned.  You collect all the information you’ve gathered on dealing with your child’s situation and create a handbook for other parents dealing with the same issues.  You share resources, encouragement, and inspiration with others who need to know that they can help their children live normal lives and enjoy school.

Your life experiences, good and bad, can inspire and encourage your readers that they can get past the lemon moments of life.  They’ll read your stories and know there’s someone who understands what they have endured.  Who connects with them through shared experiences.  And that connection with your reader is created through the vibration of familiarity, using those tuning forks you stored away in your toolbox.


Which stories of adversity have inspired you to investigate organizations, charities, or support groups?  What touched you the most about these stories?  How do you use life’s lemons to create your own stories?  Share with us in the comments.