Ellen Blum Barish

Ellen Blum Barish

 “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”

Maya Angelou

There are as many reasons to write a story from your life as there are people.

Some may want to lift a burden by getting something off their chest. Some might want to write an “About Me” page for their website, update their LinkedIn bio or write a personal essay for a graduate school application.

Others may want to craft or revise an essay for publication or get a story onto the page for a significant birthday, anniversary or reunion. I recently met a writer who is working on transforming her social media posts into something more complete. I am working with a writer who wants to contribute to the body of work in her field and another who simply wants to better understand parts of his life.

What brings someone to the page may vary widely, but it really comes down to the desire to get a memorable moment, insight or story from their life into words and onto the page to be seen, heard or remembered.

Usually that moment is the one after which everything changed. Some call it a defining moment.

I call it a marker moment.

A marker identifies, predicts or characterizes something. It describes the one who marks as well as what is used to make that mark. Like Magic Markers, we want to leave our stories behind, permanently. So that people know we were here. That we had a life. That we had some responses to that life that we’d like to share.

What’s so magnificent is how many ways there are to do this. One of my students –  she’s 91 –  told me that she read one chapter of her self-published memoir each night at dinner on a vacation with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It was a life highlight, she said, adding that she was grateful to have started the writing well before her eyesight and use of her hands became more challenging!

It provided her with a trio of benefits.

  1. Reconjuring the memories, though sometimes difficult, felt really good.
  2. Though it was challenging at times, writing it down felt like an accomplishment.
  3. Sharing stories from her life with the people who mattered most  – while she was still alive – felt like she brought her family closer.

There are so many ways to write a marker story. You can write it in the form of a personal essay. A collection of essays. A memoir. A letter. A comedy routine. A heartfelt speech. A story for stage. A recording, visual or voice only.

The desire to write it is an incredibly human yearning which gets stronger as we age. And it isn’t only about writing the words or making a mark. It’s one of the very few things we have some say on, some control over.

It’s about leaving parts of our best-self behind.

Want to learn more about writing stories from your life?

Join me for one of my upcoming writing workshops in Evanston, Skokie and Chicago.

Read new writers. Talk about essays. Write from prompts. Find out more here.

Writing for Personal Discovery

Ice House Gallery, Evanston


Reading and Writing the Personal Essay

Private workshop, Skokie


One True Sentence

StoryStudio Chicago, Chicago


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