Writing Assignment #2: Your 3 Minute Autobiography!

What can the mirror see?

For work direction, for life decisions, for noodling your way out of the dark, writing your life story is an essential process.  Ah, but why spend months writing your story when you can do it in 3 minutes! Why not do it now…in 3 minutes!

True, there are differences–200 pages of fly-by-the-pants writing about your torrid mixed-media life beats covering it in only 3 minutes–but until you do that, and as an aid to doing it, try this: write your life in 3 minutes!

Insane, I know but here’s how to do it and why:

Think of twitter and tweets and the restriction of messages to only 140 characters (which we’ll translate into 35 words). Poets and other word people love cramped boxes and mind-bending formulae to work inside of (think haiku, sestina and stories containing only the names of paint colors).  Here you have 35 words to capture the whole to date: huge chapters are summarized in 3 or 4 words or a phrase, your holy cat is given 1 word, your first 6 marriages condensed into 5 or 1 visual image, Herbert gets 2, your work in Altoona a piddling 4, your spiritual quests…well, maybe another 4. The numbers add up quickly.  Living with Napolean shortened to 3.

But you see, you do it all fast–your brain is spinning, your heart pumping and soon your mind drops out of the picture and you’re left with a greater chance to access the unrehearsed, the spontaneous, the newest twists on old info, the real juice that’s been running through your life.

What will appear if I set the stage?

Here goes: my dad instead of Billy, inheriting shadows, nickels for bowling, dying at 56, attracted to glitter, born old getting younger, Iran forever, arches, architecture, loving teaching, writing, learning to say good-bye,  marry, children, wonder, night painting, music, blue eyes.

Add a title that captures some of these words and phrases: Started Old Growing Younger / Look What Appeared Around the Corner!

You never know what may drop from the sky?

It will take several shots at this 3 minute writing to start seeing themes, patterns and surprises and to be loosened to the point that inexplicable phrases emerge that have power: inheriting shadows was new to me while nickels for bowling elevates what I thought was a minor event into something more major, something for me to think about. I may have even gone over 35 words (39 in fact!) but the point is to use the form to tease out essences and if you find yourself on a roll, keep rolling.

Try this and let me know what happens.

Do it 2 x a week for a month and see what emerges.

Specific use of this tool: Why the 3 minute versions of your life story can help is because each of them is composed of key words and images that can be mined for specific purposes. These key words become research tools to help you sort through your life for relevant data.  Imagine if you were a retail manager frustrated by work and references to helping, problem-solving, directing, humor and crisis kept emerging. For a client of mine, they were the beginnings of a shift into international crisis management.


About kendalld

Bio for Kendall Dudley Kendall Dudley, MA, is a Career and Life Design consultant who works with individuals and organizations, teaches art and autobiography, and leads self-discovery journaling trips to Morocco. He presents at major conferences on career and life direction, runs grants-funded public art and writing projects, has taught at Tufts and Lesley Universities, and was career consultant at Harvard for 15 years. His current travel essays appear in books and journals; he’s appeared on TV and radio; and his novel, Speedway / A Racy, Comic Novel About Grief will be out in 2015. He has traveled to 36 countries, lived in 5, and launched his real life while a Peace Corps city planner in Iran! He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania (BA) and Columbia University (MA) and pursues life-long interests in Islamic architecture, art, and adult development. A lifetime ambition: to design and take a group of travelers to Iran! Projects On The Front Burners: ARLINTON WRITES! 2014 / A town-wide journal writing project funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council YOUR ILLUSTRATED LIFE STORY / a 6 week project that invites people to draw, paint and write their life story; sponsored by Emerson Umbrella Center For the Arts, Concord MA WRITING FOR A WEEK: ISTANBUL / 2015 is a new project built around a writing workshop in the old city of Istanbul with excursions out into the old and new city each day. CURRENT WRITING PROJECTS: • Publishing “SPEEDWAY / A Racy, Comic Novel About Grief” that draws on Kendall’s travels through Tucson, Mothers, Marriage and Mayhem! • Writing and Distributing ADVENTURE TRAVELING IN YOUR OWN LIFE STORY: A A Journal Approach to Discovering Meaning and Direction in Life!
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