“Never go to bed until you have a story to tell,” says Kevin Lynch, Creative Director at Oatly. I heard him interviewed on a podcast and stopped jogging to write down what he said about that daily story:
It could be a deep thing that you learned, it could be a movie that you saw, it could be a way you took home, it could be a conversation that you had…it could be anything.”1
Indeed, we can live a “storied life” without a celebrity-level lifestyle full of famous people and fabulous soirees. We’re living “story-worthy” moments each day—we simply need to notice them…and capture them.
Every day we have understated interactions and flashes of insight that create meaning. In fact, simpler, subtler, more relatable stories can captivate readers far better than wild escapades that don’t show any change.
These daily stories serve as fodder for our work, weaving into what we write as anecdotes, illustrations. Sometimes they serve as the narrative spine of a full-length project.
Thus, the more stories, the better—as Kevin Lynch observed in that interview, capturing a story each day gives us 365 stories every single year.
To start your story collection today, try these three ways to ensure you have a story to tell by the time your head hits the pillow tonight:
- Reflect to discern your “story-worthy” moment from the day
- Create a story worth telling before closing your eyes for the night
- Gather memories that come to mind and use those as story prompts
1. Reflect on the Day to Discern Your “Story-Worthy” Moment
In his TEDx Talk, on his podcast, in his book Storyworthy, and at his blog, storyteller Matthew Dicks invites every person, not just writers, to document their “most story-like moment from the day” for what he calls Homework for Life™.
He takes five minutes at the end of each day and thinks back: What made this day different from all the rest?2
The idea is so simple. He writes a sentence or two—sometimes just a string of words—and later, when he has time to write it out in full, he’s got what he needs to bring back that memory from that day: the moment he chose to document.
With his Homework for Life™, we note the small discoveries, the daily surprises, those meaningful moments we don’t want to lose. In other words, these daily stories don’t need to be earth-shattering events. They can be quiet, understated internal shifts.
He keeps his in a spreadsheet, making it easy to search keywords and find connections and themes from year to year.3
Begin this process, and you’ll be transformed by seeing how ephemeral interactions, observations, and moments are actually filled with meaning…that a day that seems like any other day is packed with specificity.
We are living stories every single day.
2. Create a story worth telling
The next way to avoid going to bed until you have a story to tell is to create a story.
That’s what Kevin Lynch suggests: “If someone asks, ‘How was your day?’ and you don’t have a story to tell them, go create one.”4
He continues, “By doing so, it pushes you out of your comfort zone and kind of gets you used to doing a little more experimentation and being vulnerable and putting yourself in vulnerable places or situations.”5
What story could you create before bed? Could you…
- read a surprising story?
- pull off a stunt?
- record a silly video with a family member?
- send an email to someone famous?
Or maybe the story you plan to tell before going to bed isn’t something that happened on that day—maybe it’s a memory, and that’s what you’ll create?
If so, this next approach will be worth incorporating into your daily storytelling habit.
3. Gather memories to use as story prompts
During the holidays, as an example, you may string some lights, stir up mugs of cocoa, and next thing you know you’re flooded with memories. Some might be magical childhood Christmas mornings; others might be hard years of loss.
When you’re in the company of loved ones, and you’re chatting amidst familiar aromas and eating from heirloom dishes laden with classic family favorites, these memories resurface.
We can bat them away and live in the moment, or—because we’re writers and storytellers—we can share that memory as a story with those people who might enjoy the nostalgia. We can do that right on the spot.
Or we can jot down details and return to them later, crafting them into a story to slip into our projects.
How to capture those memories
You might recreate in vivid detail last year’s trip to a Christmas tree farm, or you may recall only fuzzy mental snapshots of opening Christmas stockings when you were six years old. Either way, these are memories you want to grasp, to collect.
These are packed with multisensory textures—colors, fabrics, foods, smells, sounds, and sights. For a moment pretend you’re a cinematographer filming your mind:
- Imagine turning around 360 degrees within that memory.
- What and who do you see as you pan that space?
- What’s in the center of the memory’s frame?
- What else can you see—what colors, fabrics, foods, smells, sounds, and sights?
Record enough details and you’ll be able to flesh it out later, when you’ve got time to write.
When the memories are hard
As I said, the memories may be positive and uplifting, but some may bring up a twinge of pain or the weight of grief. Those can be crafted into unforgettable stories. They can demonstrate growth, resilience, hope, and healing.
Writing out the story flowing from a hard memory can be cathartic and healing. However, if a memory stirs up trauma of any kind, exercise caution and absolutely avoid revisiting a traumatic event that’s going to trigger a response.
Start Collecting Your Daily Stories
I hope you start collecting your stories in the way that makes the most sense on that day.
When you commit to telling a story by the end of the day, your story collection expands and provides material for the rest of your life.
Again, as Kevin Lynch points out:
It gives you a raft of stories. You do that for a year and you probably have 300+ stories. As you’re kicking around concepts for an assignment or you’re in a presentation or you’re trying to connect with a potential client or what have you, you’ve got a lot of things to draw from.”5
As writers, we want a lot of stories to draw from. To build that “raft of stories” available for your creative work, wind down your day with at least one memorable moment.
You can tell the story about something that happens today, you can create a story and make it happen, or you can remember a story from your past.
Whatever approach you take, you can live a “storied life” starting now.
What’s your story?
- Back to Basics: Generate Ideas to Find What You Have to Say
- Cultivate Curiosity for Your Best Writing Life, Pillar One
- Come to Your Senses as You Write
- Trauma-Informed Writing Transforms You and Your Words, with Michelle Stiffler
- Source: Interview with Kevin Lynch, Creative Director at Oatly, on The Beautiful Thinkers Project podcast with Caroline Hadlock (beginning at 21:17 mark)
- Dicks, Matthew. “Homework for Life | Matthew Dicks | TEDxBerkshires.” YouTube, TEDx Talks, 8 Dec. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7p329Z8MD0
- Lynch Interview