5 Tips to Writing Your Life Story: Start with Yesterday

Have you ever seen a comic, a Toastmaster winner, a one-person show and thought: “I have great stories! Better stories! I should write them down and DO SOMETHING with them.” But that intention usually gets lost…between the demands of your job (okay, of trying to find a job), your family, and getting loaded.

We all have stories, but HOW do we tell them so they inspire audiences and make them laugh, applaud and think, “I’m so glad I heard this.” (Don't worry, I'm getting to the "Ducts.")

Here’s the thing – you don’t need to have lived a dramatic life to come up with interesting stories. What matters is HOW YOU TELL THEM. Matter of fact, your incredible story that can impact an audience might have happened YESTERDAY. When looked at with the right perspective, the best stories can come from the SMALL incidents of the day. I find that EVERY DAY HAS A STORY. Sadly, we all have relatives who buy into that and believe that every story is worth telling, even if the way they tell them is, how do I say this…boring. (Feel free to forward this blog to them.)

So you don’t become that boring relative, I’m sharing my formula, which is to shape the story using traditional story structure.

Approach your journal entry (BTW – I LOVE The “Day One” Journal App) by answering these questions about YESTERDAY:
  1. What did you DESIRE yesterday?
  2. What were the OBSTACLES that got in the way of you achieving your goal?
  3. What is the BACK STORY?
  4. What was the RESOLUTION and MESSAGE – where you got what you wanted or failed to, but you learned something
If you have ever taken a screenwriting course, you learned that a story requires a character having a DESIRE – something he or she wants.

So, let’s look at my yesterday, another mundane day except my DESIRE was to get my FURNACE DUCTS CLEANED.

This happened because last week when I asked my friend, Laura, what chores she most hated, she said, “Changing the filters on the central air furnace.”

“Filters?!! They have filters?” My mother never told me that. She didn’t tell me about sex either. Luckily, my friends did. But NOBODY said anything about filters.

The look on my friend’s face said it all. She now saw me as someone seriously flawed, unaware of why we had been put on earth. OMG!!! You HAVEN’T CHANGED YOUR FURNACE FILTERS… EVER?”

She couldn’t have been more horrified if she’d found out I’d never changed my underwear. According to her, with all the DIRTY AIR my furnace has been spitting out, I’m lucky to be alive. And this explains why I have allergies, asthma, depression, and overeat. And maybe why the Queen of England never swings by my place.

What are the OBSTACLES that prevented you from getting what you wanted?

I needed a furnace expert. My first regret was not having signed up for Angie’s list, where I could trust the recommendations were real. I had only the reviews on Yelp and was hoping all the people who raved about Brandon weren’t his relatives or paid reviewers. My ignorance was certainly my biggest obstacle -

Not only was I unsure about the reliability of Yelp, but, the questions duct cleaners ask were mind-boggling: How many vents? How many ducts? How many furnaces? “Look, I know where the stove is, but this was way over my head.”

3. What is the back-story?
What in my life was relevant? Could there be any connection between my failing to clean out my heating ducts and the fact that I’d had an emergency hysterectomy when I was 32? Did I think once I got rid of my Fallopian tubes, nothing else would ever need to be serviced or removed? Were ducts anything like Fallopian tubes…or just in my mind? I have no idea how furnaces work and was trying to use what little I know about how my body works to get a handle on how ducts get clogged. I don’t want my furnace to end up in a hospital, the way I did. Especially now, when the health care system is so messed up. I’m a worrier and was wondering if a clogged furnace is a pre-existing condition.

4. Escalating Obstacles
Brandon, the duct cleaning guy, came over and he left his tools on the sidewalk. I’d neglected to tell him about my whack job neighbor, who thinks my driveway is a recycling center. She assumes anything sitting there for more than thirty seconds is in the public domain. I had to go to her house and persuade her to give back the tools.

Next, the duct guy left the garage door open, letting Boo, my cat out. My cat is very important to me. She has a GPS tracking device on her, but I don’t stay on top of things and I didn’t pay attention when the battery died. That’s why we had to mount a neighborhood search. And I had trouble getting support because the whack job neighbor bad mouthed me, saying I’d accused her of stealing tools, didn’t take proper care of my cat and organized a sizable resistance group.

That’s not everything. Brandon had to go to Home Depot to buy filters, there was traffic, my dogs tried to kill him when he returned, and of course, my whack job neighbor watched it all with binoculars from her roof. (You think I’m kidding… no!)

5. Resolution and Message
Where you got what you wanted… or you didn’t, but you learned something.

In the end, my ducts got cleaned out and Brandon showed me how to change the filters. I should have been relieved, but, as I said, I’m a worrier. There’s always something else. My something else was: what else don’t I know I should be doing that might kill me and those I love?

The lesson I learned is we can’t know what we don’t know. I’m refraining from making any jokes about our past president, forcing myself to stick to the message – that we are always learning to care better for the things we love. “Entropy” is it’s the nature of things to fall apart, and in order to make things last, we need to care for them. This is not just true of furnaces. When I was 17, I learned that cars use not only gas, but oil, that calories count even if you’re eating directly out of the ice cream container, and sex needs interesting outfits.

What is the story of your day? One other thing, can I get in on your Angie’s List subscription?


  1. OMG. Here I was writing Part 3 of The Muslim Romance Trilogy and had just polished up a scene re: The Air System Decontamination and The Emperor's New Clothes when I saw your excellent tip in my inbox. The lonely, horny, unfiltered Senior Citizen Hero Women needs two things: her vents cleaned and a new lover. She foolishly lets the HazMat team into her Hollywood bungalow; they leave without even a pinch to her cheek, a check for $300, and invisible dust mites in an environmentally correct metal box. I am now going back in to TWERK the scene by using your tips. Thank you so much, Judy!

  2. LOL loved your article. im on a journey that is off the grid with my machete in hand to chop away the BS that my mind may tell me about succeeding. Loved this approach and I'm reading more of your articles. Thank you for sharing and for now i'll send you an IOU.


Judy's Blog

Judy Carter blogs on comedy, storytelling and public speaking techniques, using personal stories and her adventures as a stand-up comic turned motivational public speaker. Her weekly blogs are read by fans of her books, “The Comedy Bible” (Simon and Schuster) and “The Message of You” (St. Martin’s Press), which include comics, speakers, and entrepreneurs. She is also known for teaching the value of humor and storytelling to businesses as a leadership and stress reduction tool.