On Writing: The Audience

Who Needs to Know Your Stories after Grief?

Behind our sorrow and loss are stories. Stories of love, of life, of pain and grief. Stories of happy times, traditions, maybe even of life cut short. They are stories of me, you, us and we. Each of them have a place in grief and memories. They are the stories about people, which is always at the heart of grief.

Walking through your grief journey means discovering and sharing your personal stories. The more you can express your loss through stories the quicker you will move from stories of loss into stories of love and memories.

Who needs to know your stories? This fundamental question is one of the most important determinants for creating lasting and healing memories in storybooks, and even sharing grief in general. The answer may surprise you as your journey through reflection on life, grief, and the gifts you find along the way present a new understanding about your loss.

In writing for others, identifying your audience will provide you focus for your story, help dictate the level of detail you write and even set the parameters of language so the finished product is reader friendly.

Whether your writing arises from journals, a package of saved love letters, or one of the Navigating Grief programs doesn’t matter. You’ll need to look at the whole of your materials to decide what story or theme is predominate (there may be more than one), as well as who needs to read this story.

These two writing elements –theme topic and audience– are similar to the question of “which came first… the chicken or the egg?” Writing for an audience can determine the story as frequently as the story can determine the audience. Depending on your motive for writing, either decision can come first.Usually, one will be more apparent to you than the other. For now, we’ll look at the influence your audience has on writing your story.

Writing for Self

Journals, diaries, perhaps a blog (which often has an audience or gains an audience), random phrases in a notebook, even notations on a calendar are all ways you may be writing to remember.  The free writing of a journal in particular offers a wide range of opportunity for storytelling. This may be self-centered (in a good way!) about how you cope day-to-day, your top-of-mind feelings at any given moment or the poignant recall of memories about your loved one. When you write for yourself and no one else, you can forget about spelling and grammar to concentrate on your thoughts. You have the choice to be as honest as you allow; you can write in rambling, unstructured sentences, or short cryptic random ideas; you can sit with the writing or throw it away at any time.  When you truly write for you alone, there is no filter on what content comes out from the pen, and this can yield the most insight into your inner being and thoughts.

Writing for yourself is the most pure form of writing. It has no boundaries, has the clearest voice and does not need to satisfy anyone or anything. You may not want this all to be shared, and that’s OK. You don’t have to!  You may find this type of writing yields many starters for your shared writing.

Writing for Offspring and Family

Preserving your loved one’s life story for family, especially children and grandchildren, is one of the easiest audiences to identify. When you know your reader as you do, because they are family, your story can unfold quickly. Often this is similar to writing a very long letter, with photos, directly to one person, or “children” regardless of their age.

This audiences accepts the most casual and personal voice of the author. Mixing stories of the loved one and “us” stories, personal interactions and observations are all acceptable and welcomed.   This may be the most important audience in your grief journey as it assimilates the loss into your present life while preserving your valuable memories.

Writing for an Universal Audience

In grief writing there are usually two stories: Your grief journey story and the story of the loved one. Either can be important for a larger audience. This usually emerges from the writing itself, after a theme makes itself apparent.

The grief journey story may be how you overcome ordinary or extraordinary events of loss. It may be your desire to reach out when a rare disease takes the life of a loved one, or a tragic event turns your life upside down. Often this follows along the line of “if I can share so one other person doesn’t experience the heartbreak and loss I’ve endured…” These are lessons we can all learn from; the stories that just feel larger than us. We know this story needs to be told, and there are others out there like us who will identify with the journey.

Our loved one’s life may also have a story that can contribute to a larger population. It may come in the form of achievement, service, experience or invention that others can benefit from by hearing the story.  This biography usually inspires or motivates or provides insight for the reader. As the person closest to the subject of your story, you carry the message outward once you discover the theme.

Writing for a broader audience is the most formal writing. The level of formality is dependent upon the final publishing requirements and the intended distribution.  This isn’t to say that this writing isn’t personal, of course it is, but that there is more attention to how the story is written along with consistency in voice, grammar and mechanics of writing.

Who Needs to Know Your Story?

Once completed, authors take great satisfaction and pride knowing they have investigated, preserved and given voice to the life they loved. When you take your personal writing into the public shared story through blogs, social media and storybooking, you assure that your loved one matters and will not be forgotten.  Whether for yourself, a small circle of family or for the good of humanity, sharing your and your loved one’s story is important. Start today… Who’s story do you carry and who needs to hear it?

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Now what?

Action ideas for On Writing: The Audience.

  • Make a list of people who’d like to own a remembrance story of your loved one.
  • Create some possible books titles.
  • Find a photo that includes your loved one and other people. Write a note to each person about the picture.
  • Navigating Grief community prompt: If I knew then what I know now… about the type of loss your experienced.
  • Publish your photo cards and storybooks as gift to family and friends of the deceased.
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