In a past life, I was a fiction and comedy writer. I wrote regular columns in the Australian press and when my kids were small, I did a great line in ‘motherhood stories’. I would dredge up the pitiful stories of life between the drips and spills as a ‘working mother’: the tragio-comic reality of having a Simone de Beauvoir aesthetic and a two-kids-under-two reality.
Looking back now from a strategic-story perspective, I’m starting to see that I probably underestimated the value of those stories. I thought they were just a laugh on Saturday morning but anyone reading them would have got a good glimpse of the chaos of young family life. And perhaps that would have led to a bit of understanding, empathy and compassion amongst people who could make a big difference to working parents. Their employers, service providers, bank managers, neighbours, decision makers and so on. (And I thought I was just having a moan!)
I wasn’t the only one to underestimate the stories though. I remember there was real resistance from editors and ‘serious’ readers about ‘lightweight’ material. I ended up writing one sort of column for the woman’s magazines and a totally different tone and subject for my work with the Sydney Morning Herald.
That was ten years ago. Recently I read a column in The Australian newspaper where writer Emma Tom complains about the same community resistance to her own real stories about working and parenting. She wrote that she often receives hate mail from readers who “claim such topics don’t belong in a weighty organ such as The Australian.” This article struck a chord because it reminded me how easy it is to underestimate the power of humorous and domestic stories: it’s as if being funny makes something less worthwhile.
Real human stories often seem small but in fact, they are usually the most powerful and lasting. When I’m crafting written stories I’m always looking for those small details that remind us that we are all human: details that create empathy by allowing us to see ourselves in the picture.
So let’s not shut our stories away because we don’t think they are going to be received well: as inappropriate, trivial, unpleasant or just not relevant.
The fact that people DON’T think the details of everyday life are important… is probably precisely the reason we should be telling them!
Don’t forget: moya will be posting from www.storydoctor.com.au from March 14, 2012. Sign up for newsletters. Follow me @StoryDr now