A step-by-step guide
by Brittany Taylor
published May 6, 2017
updated June 5, 2018
¶ Most experiences we live through aren’t Aesop’s Fables, with one tidy moral separating one chapter from the next. Most experiences can be looked at through multiple lenses. These lenses dictate the topics we consider and the lessons we learn from what we go through on a daily basis.
When you audition experiences to use in your content marketing, you want to begin by identifying the different lenses through which you could view the moment. These lenses will help you clarify a lesson that you can draw from the experience.
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Not ready to venture out on your own? No worries—I’m a hand-holder. Together, we’re going to walk through how to write a blog post based on a personal experience.
I’m going to walk you through how to write a blog post that’s based on a personal experience you’ve had at some point during your life.
We’ll journey from experience to lens to story to lesson to final product. We’ll start with one of my own experiences and break it down right here into three different directions the blog post could take, depending on how we interpret the experience and craft it into a story.
Days after July 4th, at 4:30 in the morning, my house was struck by lightning. I hadn’t fallen to sleep. My Goldendoodle, Georgie, bunks in my bed, and unfortunately for my beauty rest, he’s not big on storms—and this one was a biggie. We could hear the thunder come closer. It got louder, more insistent, until suddenly, the whole house shook. The fire alarms went off. Smoke filled the hall. And we got the hell out of there.
We’re all fine, and the house is fine. We moved back in about 10 weeks later, after wrangling a coterie of contractors to fix things up. And while this might sound like “the story,” we’ve barely even cracked the surface of possibilities.
Let’s take a look at the lenses through which we can view this experience, and the blog posts that might result from each particular lens.
Humans aren’t that far removed from the four-legged cuddle monsters we curl up with during thunder storms, and all of us are driven by instinct.
Fear is perhaps the strongest instinct that compels our behavior, signaling our fight-or-flight response. But not every prickle on the back of our necks—nor every fire alarm-like beep—is a reason to bolt. Good luck trying to explain that to Georgie, though.
Georgie has never liked alarms. The lightning strike hasn’t helped things. In fact, it reinforced his belief that beeps of all kinds are evil and ought to be done away with. And if that’s not a possibility, well, we ought to at least vacate the premises, stat. I can be watching gymnastics or Top Chef or Jeopardy. It doesn’t matter what the beep is or how little it resembles a fire alarm—he’s ready to go, and insistent that I come with.
It’s been a few months since the halls filled with smoke and we did, indeed, flee while the fire alarms blared. The time hasn’t made Georgie any more reasonable to my explanations about the fight-or-flight response or how that beep was really just a ding on the television signaling gymnasts to get the fuck off the beam. He is implacable, and I do have to give it to him: He was right, that one time. But just because the fear instinct that told him to GTFO was right on the money once doesn’t mean it’s the appropriate default response.
If only he would listen.
I’ve written about fear before. This story inspires me to write about fear in a different way. Before, I wrote about the things we fear. This post would focus on a different aspect of it: how we respond to events that remind us of trauma. Georgie responds to every alarm like it’s an emergency. And I, having experienced a house fire before, tend to panic when I smell smoke.
But just as every alarm doesn’t impend doom, nor does every whiff of smoke portend disaster—and that’s a lesson we have to remind ourselves of routinely so that we can squelch these instinctual responses and react rationally to the situation at hand.
Even with the experience condensed into this particular lesson about fear, I could take the blog post in a bunch of different directions. And, though I write about business and communication, we can bring the theme of fear into just about any field.
Let’s take a look at the different shapes this post could take in different fields:
¶ Whichever path we choose, the blog post itself could follow this format: an introduction that explains the fear response, a segue into the personal story (and then the story itself), followed by the educational portion of the post (the photoshoot tips, the workout encouragement, the 21 mantras).
There are lots of must-dos for natural disasters: You should have 3 gallons of water in your car per person when evacuating for a hurricane. You should have a house evacuation plan, complete with meet-up point, in case of a house fire. You should stand in an interior doorway during an earthquake and in an interior room with no windows during a tornado.
For the comparatively trivial, every-day problems, like a corrupted hard drive or a hacked website, we tend not to have contingency plans in place when disaster strikes. And by then, it’s too late.
As a little girl, I had a series of recurring disaster nightmares. There was a hurricane, a tornado, a tsunami, and a house fire, and for each, dream-me had the evac all planned out (it involved packing my favorite Barbie dolls and their clothes into a very small suitcase).
When lightning struck my house and smoke stung my throat, though, real-me froze. Real-me didn’t know what to do or what to grab first. Laptop? Birth certificate? Pants? Pants. Pants were a good first step. Then shoes. Then the dog.
As I watched firemen stomp through the halls, I created a list in my head, a tidy in-case-of-emergency packing list. If only I’d packed the bag sometime before the storm rolled in.
We don’t know what to prepare for until we go through it—or someone tells us. This is one of those posts.
In many situations, your response time matters. Often it can lessen the impact of whatever disaster you’re working through. When you don’t have to scramble or Google or ask your favorite Facebook group for advice and can instead pull the must-dos out of your own brain, you’re one step ahead.
See? There’s so much more to take from this experience than “lightning struck my house.”
With this story angle, I could take the blog post in any number of “prepare for disaster!”-type situations. For my own brand, that could look like: “The 13 disasters every boss experiences—and how to ensure they don’t happen to you” or “What to do first when disaster strikes your business and you aren’t prepared to deal.”
I’m not sure if it’s humans in general or bosses in general or just the sort of humans and bosses I tend to make friends with, but we seem to be a self-isolating, pity party-throwing bunch. Regardless of the circumstance, we immediately think we’re all alone with our burdens when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Shivering Georgie and shivering me were surrounded by my parents, my brother, and two trucks filled with firemen. Still, I felt terribly alone, as though no one understood the shock and trauma I was going through. Hours later, curled up in the guest room at a neighbor’s house that was packed with people, I felt tiny and huge all at the same time, like I was a dot in a sea of dots, but someone had highlighted me and drawn a bubble inside which was scribbled, “this girl’s house was struck by lightning!”.
Then I got up and saw another neighbor; his house had been struck, too. Another neighbor’s cable line was fried. It wasn’t just me. It wasn’t just us. The lightning stories trickled in. They disapproved the myth that “lightning never strikes the same place twice”—and that lightning strikes are a rarity. In a week, we were swapping storm stories with people across the area. Turns out it was a charged night for everyone.
It never hurts to be told that you’re not struggling through life by yourself. Even when the prevailing wisdom or research suggest that, statistically, your experience isn’t shared by that many people, there’s always someone who’s been in your shoes. Remember, there are 7.6 billion people on Earth! Even the tiniest percentage of individuals can yield thousands or millions of others who are like you.
And if you can’t find your crowd? Well, there’s always someone who will sit and listen and give you comfort, and that shouldn’t go unappreciated, either.
Part of life is these shared human experiences. They may not necessarily be “my house was struck by lightning,” but my story offers a natural transition to other experiences that tend to make us feel that we’re a party of one. An extension of this particular lens is the blog post format of “I survived this thing that happened and you can, too.”
Now that you have the story thing figured out, here's exactly how to turn your big idea into a blog post.
My name is Brittany, but my friends and clients call me "Britt." Online small business owners hire me to create content strategies and write their blog posts, email newsletters, and social media updates. I work with bosses around the world from the marshes of Charleston, S.C.