I’m really good at finding my way around. Even in an unfamiliar town, I get my bearings pretty quickly and remember landmarks easily.

I wish the same were true for writing.

How many times have I sat down with an idea for a story I wanted to write, and stood up a few minutes later because I didn’t know where to go with it?

So. Many. Times.

I’m not getting any younger, people.

About a year ago, I decided it was time to figure out a roadmap for myself. Something I could do in advance that would help me focus once I began to write my story. Something that would encourage me to keep writing once I sat down, because much of the hard work was already done.

I asked myself a simple question. What do I need to know before I start?

I do love a good “to do” list.

Here is what I came up with:

I need to know the events.

The details. The anecdote, as I wrote about in the last post.  The answer to the question: what happened?

I need to know the universal theme – the big idea – which my story illustrates.

These are the subjects that we all grasp simply because we are living the human experience. Themes such as love, forgiveness, loss, heartbreak, beating the odds, etc. By acknowledging a universal theme, I will be able to connect with my audience.

I need to know how I changed as a result of the events.

Internal change is what drives the movement of events. Yes, the circumstances alone may have been compelling, but the audience wants to know how I changed as a result of them. The change might be small or it might be profound, but it has to exist.

I need to know who my audience is.

Sure, anyone could read or hear my story. However, if I identify my specific audience in advance, I will tailor my voice and tone in a way that will strengthen and sharpen my story for maximum impact.

I need to know my intentional message.

What is it that I want to tell my audience? What do I want to leave them with? This is not something that will be explicitly stated. However, as with determining my audience, understanding my intention will make my story more purposeful and therefore give it more impact.

I need to know what structure my story will follow.

There is the traditional story arc (as illustrated here and here). There are also other options, some of which are described here.


These six guideposts have made the act of writing a first draft faster and more intentional. I have to stop short of saying easier because, let’s face it, writing is never easy!

All of this to say, your stories are important.

Getting lost in the midst of them doesn’t need to stop you from sharing them.

To join the conversation and get to work on your stories, join our FREE community! 

Write on, writers.

writer + story coach

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