Your 2017 Story

Annie Dillard writes this bit of subtle genius in her book, The Writing Life: “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.”

It’s the kind of wisdom that sounds obvious at first but contains layers. We can go for days at a time without remembering that all of our days will eventually tell a larger story. But the turn of a new year invites us to pay more attention to how this set of 365 days contributes to the story of our whole lives.

You could argue that it’s only a turn of a calendar page, an arbitrary way of marking time and keeping track of how the days go by.

But the end of the year and the beginning of another is also a chance to look for the threads and themes that fill in the story of a life.

What kind of year has it been? What was gained or lost? What held the year together?

As you head into 2018, what are your hopes? What are your intentions? What are your fears?

Stories provide a sense of order where there might otherwise be chaos. Where we might only see a collection of days, seeing this year as a story can help us see our whole life with clarity.

There’s a useful story structure that comes out of the world of improv comedy and is often credited to improv teacher Kenn Adams. It’s been made famous in recent years because of an association with Pixar and the very good stories they tell and animate:

Once upon a time…

And every day…

Until one day…

And because of that…

And because of that…

Until finally…

And now…

Filling in this story spine moves a character from one place to another. Good stories establish settings and describe what every day feels like to the hero. Then the stories move onto pivotal moments where danger or adventure calls the character to experience something new. In most of our favorite stories, these adventures lead up to a defining moment that leaves the character in a new reality than the one they started with.

How would you fill in the story if it was about you this year?

How did the year start? How did most of your days begin? What were your normal routines or struggles?

Did anything happen along the way this year that invited you to change or try something new? Did anything difficult come along that challenged you?

What did you learn or overcome?

What do you know or hold at the end of this year because of the story you’ve lived?

How are you entering into 2018? Who are you as the next story begins? Where do you want the story to go?

Seeing your year as a narrative takes you from days on a calendar to the making of a whole life. If you think now about the story you want your life to tell someday, how should you make your way through the day, or year in front of you?