Wednesday, 26 February 2014

How to Identify Your Life Lessons
At my creative writing class this week we worked on character development.  The exercise our tutor set for us challenged us as writers' but as I sat staring at my notes, I couldn't help but apply the writing exercise to my own life.

The exercise went as follows:-
  1. Think of a person you know and make them your main character, they can be family, a friend or neighbour, work colleague or a fellow club/church/slimming group member and they can be dead or alive.
  2. Write a single sentence, including physical descriptions, of how this person looks.
  3. Write a second sentence and describe how they show emotions.
  4. Write a third sentence using key words to describe gestures they use.
We then had to interview each other and took on the role of our characters.  We asked basic questions about age and name (most of us used fictional names) and interests we had.  The most interesting part for me was when we asked about family - it really stirred up an emotion in all of us.

Now the character I had chosen for my exercise was an ex-work colleague who I haven't seen for many years.  When we worked together I was very young and naïve and she therefore felt it
appropriate to undermine and bully me in the workplace.  She was also the type of person who, if you had a headache, she had a brain tumour!  Quite an interesting character to work with.
As I was 'interviewed' my fellow writers' asked if I had a husband, my immediate response was 'he doesn't care about me, I get no love and affection from him, work is too important so I turn to cakes.'

I don't know if this was true of my ex-colleague, she was a portly woman with very large hands, but it did make me sit up and take notice of what I was saying.  Were these just seeds of a character in the making or was this bubbling up from somewhere else?

I've been divorced for ten years so I can't remember if I turned to cake when my own ex-husband chose work over family, and I'm not about to open up those memories, not even for the good of my writing!  I decided to carry on with the interview and see what else emerged.

I had picked this woman, seemingly at random, and yet as my interview progressed, more and more of those annoying traits she had outwardly projected, bubbled to the surface.  Yet again I had no idea if what I was saying held any truth in relation to this woman but they certainly resonated with me.

Our role-playing concluded and we were set with the task of writing a fiction piece and placing our new character in a scene that would be out of their comfort zone.  The object of the game was to see how they handled new conflict.

Some of the stories I begin in class fill my head for several weeks after and I feel compelled to polish them and finish their tale but I was almost relieved to close my notepad after this session.

As I drove home, the similarities between myself and this woman, played on my mind.  I cut this person out of my life years ago and that was the right thing to do.  Emotional vampires have no place in my world (fictional vampires however are always welcome - Damon Salvatore I'm talking to you!)

So it dawned on me that the reason I disliked this person was because I could see my own flaws glaring back at me through her.

I don't think I'm dramatic (my mum may disagree with this one), if I have a headache then it stays a headache, even if a friend told me they were suffering with one, I still wouldn't upgrade mine to migraine status.

I do know that I need to listen more, everyone knows I can talk for England so life lesson number one, is to learn when to shut up and let someone else get a word in.

I won't bore you with the long list of annoying traits I managed to jot down on a post-it when I got home, let's just say I have a lot of self-work to do...

Take a moment to think about the people in your life - family, friends, colleagues, parents at the school gate, and fitness crazy people at the gym.  Are there any that spring to mind immediately in a negative way?  Maybe great aunt Susan is always finishing your sentences, or maybe there's that one mother on the school run who always looks like she's stepped out of a hair salon.

Then take a look at what it is that annoys you about them.  Do you finish other people's sentences but hadn't noticed you do it?  Maybe you never let your children finish an argument before defaulting to 'I'm the parent, therefore I'm always right' mode.  Why does that perfectly coiffed mother grate on your nerves, do you crave extra time for yourself?

Go on, own up.  You're safe here - vent all you want, I promise not to judge, who did you think of (no names please) and what did you see in yourself?


  1. Interestingly enough I have quite a few things that bug be but it is definitely me deflecting air the things I dislike about myself. I have fallen out of love with myself and as a consequence of that people who are self assured and can crack on and just get things done, are beginning to irritate me because I would like to be that person again. I know I will be eventually but as yet not there. It is very frustrating. Shelley I completely understand your article because I am living it.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my post, and for being so honest. Recognising that you deflect is a huge step in the right direction. It's hard to correct our thoughts, I know, but understanding the 'why' and 'how' gives us something to work with. Perhaps writing a gratitude journal, or listing all of your achievements might help you see yourself in a favourable light. Ask your friends what they love about you. This can help you to realise how wonderful, unique, and loved you are which, in turn, can help improve self-love. Good luck on your journey xx

  2. Oh yes I am definitely trying this....I'm sure there are many people I can't stand because they are too much like me !

    1. Haha, it's a fun exercise to try and can be hugely illuminating!

  3. Wow! What an amazing insight! The antagonist in my first novel was inspired by a boss I had years ago. Similar to your realization, I couldn't deny the reason I reacted so strongly to her and her tactics was because I saw some of the same things in myself. It horrified me to think people who reported to me would feel as demoralized as I had under her leadership. Finding kinship with this woman was both a way of forgiving her and forgiving myself. Seeing her not as a cartoon villain, but as a real person helped the character I created have an inner life. She (the character) is not a person I'd want to be friends with, but she's a human being struggling with her own demons.
    Your class sounds amazing! I may try that exercise today during my writing session.

  4. Excellent exercise on so many levels, Shelley! I may have to squirrel this away for a future writing project. And yes, I was just griping last night to my hubby about a particular person who, every time I turn around, has bought yet another new toy (car, house, shoes), yet complains about being "poor." I think it grates on me because we're truly having money issues, and deep down (okay, not so deep - LOL), I'm jealous. I need to learn to turn my knee-jerk negative reaction to a positive one (like, being happy they can enjoy their money), and thanks for the reminder. :)

  5. Wow, someone popped to mind immediately and I wanted ro run toy journal amd write it all down. The similarities between me and this person I always knew were there but I never thought of it in terms of why I couldn't stand them. Mind blown Shelley! I feel a crazy free-writing session coming on. Thanks for sharing!