Refine Your Lens

Matt Dicks from "Where to Find the Best Stories," from The Gist, August 12, 2105:

"When I talk to people about finding stories in their life, I'm talking about finding things that are almost in their everyday that they can bring great meaning to and connect to audiences or to people around the lunch table with.

I do an exercise every day.

And I tell people, Here's what I'm asking from you: 5 minutes a day. 

I've told a thousand people to do this, including a hundred people at my publisher today, and as far as I can tell, of the thousand people I've told, about twelve in the world have followed my advice... 

So here's what I do. 

Every night, I sit down before I go to bed. I ask myself, If I had to tell a five-minute story about something that happened today, what would that story be? 

I track through my day—starting from beginning to end—and I find the moment in my day that has the greatest meaning. And then I write it down. 

I write it down in an Excel spreadsheet in between five and twenty words. Short. Not much commitment at all. Sometimes it takes me one minute to do this.

And here's what happens. 

Over time, you start to refine your lens as a storyteller. And you start to see your life through story. And even if you're not a storyteller, I tell people this, whether they're doing storytelling with me or not: It will—I promise you—change your life.  

Because...if I ask you what you did last Thursday, you won't remember. You hear all the time how life is passing you by, it goes by so fast, I can't believe how quickly that year went by. I'm here to tell you that, Life goes by, for me, very slowly.

It is a step-by-step, daily process. Because every night, I sit down, and I find something that made that day different than all the rest and I record it. The act of recording it, records the moment forever. It allows me to go back to that moment. And then as I do it ever day, my lens for storytelling becomes more and more refined... 

Now I'm telling stories about little moments in my life that have great meaning to me that I can connect to people. I can make them laugh and cry over the simplest things, because they're having those same moments and they're just missing them. They're just going away... 

The question I ask myself, because I'm a storyteller, is if I had to stand on a stage and tell a five-minute story about something that happened today, what would be the five-minute story I would tell? What moment in the day would I be forced to use? 

Now most days it doesn't work. Most days you don't get a story and that's what happens. People go thirty days without anything good for the stage or for telling at Thanksgiving and then they think it's a failure. I tell them it's not. They haven't refined their lens. And maybe they've gone thirty days without anything that's stage worthy, but the record that they're creating and the memories they're creating, and that touchstone they have for each one of their days change their lives. It will truly change their lives...

If you actually do this, your past memories will float to the surface very quickly. So you do something with your child, and suddenly you remember the moment when you were a child and this similar thing happened. 

If you don't record it, if you don't get it down, it's lost forever."