The trick to telling better stories. (It's not what you think)
When I was about 13 years old, my sister and I spent some time visiting a friend at her family’s cottage.
She had an older brother and he had a friend visiting as well. So naturally we pulled all kinds of stunts and pranks on the boys.
When we inevitably got into trouble, our excuse was that we wanted to have stories to tell our grandchildren one day.
The funny thing is, I can’t remember much, if anything, about those pranks. (OK, someone’s underwear may have been stolen, but that’s another story.)
But that time at the cottage did leave me with lots of memories. Just not the ones I expected.
I remember boating around the lake and looking into the deep, black waters around us, poems quietly forming in my mind. I realized then that nature can be my greatest inspiration as a writer.
I remember begging our friend's dad to let us canoe out to a nearby island and camp overnight. The wilderness adventurer in me was alive and strong.
I remember being awakened by her dad on a dark night. He took us outside to the dock, and we saw the clearest, brightest bed of stars above. I learned that if you are willing to get up in the middle of the night you can see things other people miss.
These memories have become stories I love to tell. I didn’t manufacture them. They were just part of being there, part of being 13 and feeling awake to the experiences around me.
The little, unpredictable, day-to-day things add up to tomorrow’s stories.
But there’s a catch.
You have to pay attention.
This past summer, I spent two weeks with my family at a cottage in a sleepy beachside town.
I knew I didn’t have to play any pranks or manufacture any stunts to make this special. (I am a grown up and I did not steal anybody's underwear.)
But I did actively participate.
I got in the lake with my sister in the early mornings when the water was still cold and crisp and the beach deserted.
I got on, and fell off, and got on, and fell off, and got on and stayed on a stand-up paddle board.
I hiked a long day of hot, sweaty hiking on rocky cliffs and swam in the icy waters of the bay to cool off.
I made countless s’mores and got covered in sticky marshmallows and melted chocolate.
I swung on the beach swings higher and higher until it felt like I was flying into the sunset.
What will I remember from this trip? The things I just listed, or something else? Will I read my diary years later and be reminded of details I long forgot? Or will the moments be etched into my memory — stories to tell and retell for years to come?
It doesn’t really matter. What matters is being there. Showing up. Participating. Living all-in.
You can travel far and wide but the best thing you can do, wherever you are, is just be there.
The trick to telling better stories is this: just be present.
The best stories happen to those who live them.
What story will you live today?