Last week, I wrote about how you don’t have to sell your soul, breach your boundaries, or monetise your deepest traumas in order to sell first-person or personal pieces of writing.
I love first-person writing. I also love reading other people’s first-person pieces. When something is about you and your experience, it’s by definition a story that no-one else can tell. But what I don’t love is when people feel as though they have to delve into things they’re really not comfortable revealing, just to land commissions.
“But my life isn’t that interesting!” I hear you say. By some standards, neither is mine. The good news is that you don’t have to have had wildly unusual experiences or lived a completely unconventional existence to get first person writing mileage out of it. Some of the best first-person work I’ve read isn’t about the unusual, but about finding beauty (or horror, or meaning, or catharsis, or something) in the everyday.
Areas of Your Life You Can Mine for First-Person Stories (If You Want)
Everything here is only a suggestion. We all have different boundaries. There are things on this list I’d write about without a moment’s hesitation, and others I’d have to seriously consider or almost certainly wouldn’t touch. Take the suggestions that work for you and leave the ones that don’t. This list is designed to give you options you might not have considered.
- Relationships, dating, marriage (past or present)
- Religion or spirituality
- Places you’ve lived
- Health, illness, disability
- Experiences relating to aspects of your identify (e.g. gender, race, class, age)
- Skills or hobbies
- Food and drink
- Money, budgeting, spending habits
- Physical presentation
- Favourite books, TV, movies, etc.
- Rituals, habits, traditions
And this is before we get into shared experiences that we all engage with in a different way. For example: all of us have lived through COVID-19 over the last year, but no two people have had the exact same experience. We all have our own COVID story, and yours is probably worth telling.
The bottom line is this: you contain multitudes. If you’ve had a traumatic experience you want to write about, I fully support that. When it’s done well, trauma and grief can make for some incredible writing (see 2019’s The Crane Wife for an example that is near-perfect in my opinion.) The point is that it doesn’t have to. You don’t have to go there, now or ever, unless you want to.
You have so much more within you than you might immediately think, and so much of it is fodder for great first-person writing.