Where the Individual Meets the Universal Story

Saturday 29 February 2020 - Posted by Julia McCutchen

Over the last few years I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in the number of people who feel inspired to write the story of their lives.

For some it’s a personal journey of reflection and healing that will always remain private.

For others, the same process includes a strong motivation to share their story with others so they can benefit from the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Memoirs with a Message

These are the “memoirs with a message” that the publishing world fell in love with following a few books in this genre becoming runaway bestsellers.

Yet it’s not easy to write your personal story in a way that will truly resonate with people whose lives are likely to be very different from your own.

For a start, you’re so close to all that’s happened it’s a real challenge to know what to include and what to leave out when all of it feels so significant to you.

However, less is usually more with writing if you want your reader to stay the course to the final page and experience the “aha” moments of inspiration and realization you set out to share.

The Realm of Shared Experience

The conscious and creative approach I teach involves taking real time for reflection before and during the writing process to find the meeting point between your individual story and the universal story.

This is the realm of shared experience.

It’s where the importance of individual details decreases and the significance of universal principles take over.

Turning Point Moments

By way of example, my own life story includes a turning point moment when I suffered a head injury from a falling stage spotlight that took me out at every level and changed the course of my life.

Now, I don’t know anyone else who has had that exact experience.

But a high percentage of the people I know have experienced major incidents of some kind in their own lives relating to health, relationships, finance, family or business.

So the details may be different but the principles of dealing with any major crisis skilfully are similar; this is where the individual meets the universal story.

Connection with Your Reader

This meeting point is one of the most significant points of connection between you and your reader so your conscious awareness of it ideally needs to be an integral part of how you write your story and share your discoveries.

If you truly want to make a positive contribution with your writing, your reader needs to recognize and most importantly feel the relevance to their individual story. This will come from the relationship between the individual and the universal story.

It may seem obvious; yet it’s all too easy to forget and lose yourself in the details of your own story when you’re wrapped up in memories and struggling to find a clear way forwards.

So here are some additional prompts to help you find this subtle yet significant meeting point as you write your story. I recommend that you reflect on what…

  • overriding message you’d like your story to convey
  • themes from your life experiences that will serve to communicate your message
  • lessons you’ve learned from the key incidents in your life that may be of benefit to others
  • gifts you’ve discovered from your challenges, breakthroughs and major realizations

Once you have some clarity on these points, use them to decide what to include (and perhaps even more importantly what to leave out!) and draw on them to guide you to make a lasting contribution by consciously meeting your reader on the page.

What do you feel about writing the story of your life? Please share your comments and experience below.


  • I think the additional prompts here are really good. There is here the idea of an overriding theme arising out of separate incidents and experiences coming together in a weave of insight as to what one’s life has fundamentally been about. I love the prompt to consider what gifts we might have been given due to the experiences and how we’ve reflected upon them to bring about significant realisations.

    • Thank you Peter, I love your phrase “weave of insight” – beautifully put.

      In my experience there are always unexpected gifts to be found, even in challenging circumstances. The realisations we have from making time and space for conscious reflection are key to opening our eyes to see where our personal story touches on the universal story our readers, clients, colleagues, friends and family are likely to resonate the most with.

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