Can YOU Write Your Life Story in 100 Words?

A few weeks back I read a piece by one of my favorite bloggers, Cate Russell-Cole.  The post, Your Life Story in 100 Words, shared six life stories from a magazine feature done for International Women’s Day.

It’s stunning how much these women got across in 100 tiny words.

Below is my favorite of the six:

Najeeba Wazefadost, Aged 20 Former refugee. Auburn, New South Wales

Born Afghanistan. Persecuted by Taliban. Came to Australia by smuggler boat. Sent to Curtin detention centre. Saw security guards; thought were Taliban with better guns. Finally sent to Tasmania. Realised what smile was. Got citizenship at 18. Mother and father in tears. Finally, we belonged somewhere. Dad said now that australia has given us identity, must give back and make it proud. Childhood was bombs, guns, persecution. Australia is about education, freedom, raising my voice. Have just finished medical science degree. Definitely want to get married and have kids some day. Proud they will have better childhood than me.

We did something similar here at More Cowbell with the Where I’m From feature, but that was a piece of cake by comparison.

When I took a stab at this exercise, I realized this is HARD.

Jenny Hansen, 40+, Writer and Technology Trainer, Orange County CA

American born and raised in a family of proud patriots. Child of early divorce ending in a long custody battle where all sides lost. In the 70s, therapy was part of that deal so I’m “well-adjusted.” Raised in Los Angeles; college in Missouri. Back to LA to mend relationships and eke out a career. Lost both parents by 35 – one by death, one by circumstance. Blood clot survivor at 37 (I am the 1%!). Married my soulmate at 38; motherhood was hard-won at 41. Fiction writer, humor and technology blogger, sister, friend. My heart is rooted in love and family.

I spent at least 30 minutes on that paragraph and, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t show any of the important stuff. It’s hard to get “the essence of us” onto the page that fast, but I’m really hoping to get my family members to try.

What do you think…Can YOU write your life story in 100 words? Take a shot in the comments!

Have you ever tried this exercise before? What stands out about the process for you? Which part(s) of the above stories did you like best? Enquiring minds love it when you share these things here at More Cowbell!

~ Jenny

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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63 Responses to Can YOU Write Your Life Story in 100 Words?

  1. Laura Drake says:

    LOVE this, Jenny – love yours! I can already tell this is going to stick in my head until I do it. I’ll work on it, and post later.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I felt the same way, Laura! If I wasn’t so busy with this project, I’d have written it a few times until I liked it better. I had to run with the first or second version, and it’s totally stayed on my mind.

      Like

  2. I’ve tried flash fiction, of various sizes, and that was tough. But an entire life? Have to respect whatever comes out. Great job, Jenny!

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  3. Amazing! I am definitely going to give it a try. AMAZING!

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  4. American born,sent to live with aunt.Not liked by mom,Honor student,two-children,marriage and widow by age 29.Single mom for eight years.Lost dad to cancer,second husband by age 45.Worked for D.O.D ten years.Have Transverse Myelitis.Proud Mimi to baby.Loving life ths second phase.Poet.writer,makes miniatures.Degree in Culinary arts.Devout Christian.Moving to Mississippi,lots o land first time home owner,nirvana.Huge Aerosmith fan,met the band.Oldest daughter married,youngest new mom.Tryed to make relationship with my mother age 73.Dismissed.Turning 50.

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  5. Sorry foe typo’s holding baby,pecking with one finger.Lmao

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  6. Those were both great, with the first one being amazing just because of the story she had to tell. I may come back and try this if I can think of more than has three kids, drinks to much because of kids, loves his wife and dogs and kids, did I mention drinks too much already? Yeah, I’ll work on it! Where did you go to school in MO, if I may ask?

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  7. Lottie Nevin says:

    Well, dear Jenny. I read your most excellent post and I’ve risen to the challenge. JEEZ! 100 words! I haven’t even started……..

    Conceived in Leeds W.Yorkshire UK; Born Hackney, East London. The coldest winter on record,1963 Very happy childhood ruined by being sent to boarding school aged ten. I was the eldest of three and only daughter. Virginity lost at sixteen but love was found. Sent away at eighteen to find someone to marry. I delivered the goods, all five of them; My greatest pride and joy. Divorced at 39, remarried at 40. But, it was a bad idea; I divorced again at 46. Met the most remarkable man two weeks later and married again at 48. I’m happy now. My motto? Never say never.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Lottie, i’m so impressed that you rose to the challenge! And what a fascinating life you’ve led. I love seeing pals like you who chase their happiness till they find it.🙂

      Like

  8. Katie says:

    This sent me into an existential crisis!! Not really, but still😉 Here’s my quick (and maybe not exactly the assignment) acceptance of the challenge:

    Born in Indiana, my life is Swiss Cheese and therapy appointments. Youngest by 8 years, saver of a life by existence, and spoiled since my mother’s death when I was 13. Married at 23, mother at 25 and 27, I’m a survivor and recovering addict. I am an exclamation point, and my life is an ellipsis. I love people. I hate people. My family is my world, books are my galaxy, and writing is the wormhole in which I traverse the universe. My 32 years are shorter than one hundred words.

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  9. Betty Bolte says:

    Laura Drake challenged me to write this, so instead of working on my story, I took up the gauntlet. Here goes!

    Betty Bolte, 50+, Writer and Tech Editor, Taft, TN
    Born to and raised by Southern WWII Vet father and accountant mother in Maryland. Reading/writing was my childhood first love; music as a teen. Loved to perform in orchestra on viola, band front in flag squad, and choir. Jobs: bussing tables; waitress; sales clerk; office clerk; secretary; word processor; tech writer/editor. Daughter; sister; wife; mother. Now writing fiction. Met current husband though didn’t marry him then; married someone who was a mistake; wised up and married current husband. Two fabulous adult kids. Breast cancer survivor. Lost both parents now. Motto: Family first always.

    I think I hit the highlights at least! This indeed was a challenge, too.

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You totally hit the highlights, Betty! Great job.🙂

      I was so intrigued by this sentence: “Met current husband though didn’t marry him then; married someone who was a mistake; wised up and married current husband.” Now THAT’S a story!

      Like

  10. Okay, this was HARD.🙂 But I gave it a shot:

    Flower child born in wrong decade to a former Marine and his childhood sweetheart. Middle child and only girl, so spoiled rotten. Went into radio to be close to the music and the bands who played it, and made fantastic memories with them! Left at age 22 with beautiful daughter to raise alone, but stumbled across the love of my life by chance one night in a seedy bar. Married him, had another beautiful daughter, settled into domesticity. Decided to write down memories made with those rock bands, and am now a published romance author. Life is sweet!

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  11. zkullis says:

    Powerful stuff. Talk about knowing how to make each word count!

    I would have a hard time doing this, not because my life is special or interesting, but because I have the propensity for being verbose.

    Nicely done Jenny!

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Zack! And I’d love to see you try it, even if you did it in 200 words to start. Verbose… Heh.

      Like

      • zkullis says:

        Oldest of five, oldest grandchild of two WWII vets. Born into a legacy. Moved between various states and a few countries. I have lived as part of the majority, yet grateful to have spent some time as part of an odd minority. Walked dark paths, struggled, but carried on. I KNOW pain, which helps me appreciate joy. Worked through success and failure, attained the job of a childhood dream. Hope to wear my boots proudly under large shadows. Love foreign cultures and people. I’m an avid reader, closet nerd, SWAT member, and budding author. I’m also intentionally vague and misdirecting.

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  12. Wow! That is a challenge! I will try it when the road trip is over! My brain is rolling, rolling, rolling. LOL

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  13. rpmas says:

    In 100 words?

    Born in South Central Pennsylvania. Grew up on a farm until Grandmother died. Moved to small town. Hated it. High School: boring. Weightlifting. College for Journalism: Boring. Weightlifting Navy: Travel. Weightlifting. Back Home: Boring. Weightlifting. Went to work in Acute Psych: Not Boring. Weightlifting. College. Working in Forensic Psych: Not Boring. Injured on Job. College. More College. Teaching. NanoWrMo: Writing? Teaching. Weightlifting. Writing book. Jeeps. Teaching. Weightlifting. rewriting book, Jeeps. Creating a blog. Creating a stand-alone blog. Now.

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  14. Cate Russell-Cole says:

    Jenny, you did a great job. I had that article sitting on my desk for three years before I was able to do it. In the end, it was while reading someone else’s life story I found the theme I needed to focus on, then it all came spilling out. I love your last sentence.🙂

    Thank you for sharing the blog. We need help with publicity for the writing challenge. There is just so much to be done and so much going on.

    Cheers.

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I was shocked at how hard it is. I’ll be going through and doing another draft or two of it as time goes on. Thanks for writing the original post!

      Like

      • Cate Russell-Cole says:

        My pleasure! Someone decided to do 100 words to cover every decade of their life. That was a great idea too. You could theme it… must be many applications.

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  15. Cate Russell-Cole says:

    Reblogged this on "CommuniCATE" Resources for Writers and commented:
    Jenny Hansen has shared a great writing exercise on her blog More Cowbell, which I posted on Write Your Life Story. If you like short writing challenge, you will love this one. For those of you who are interested in the Memoir Memory Prompt Challenge, please visit our blog (Jenny links to it here) and see what we’re up to. The twice weekly blog posts will equip you with the tools you need for the challenge; plus writing down you life story will help you build the essential fiction writing skills of character and plot development. It’s not just charity that begins at home!

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  16. Sharla Rae says:

    Great blog Jen. Tweeted.

    Char Blogging at http://www.writersinthestorm.wordpress.com

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  17. Can’t do it in one hundred but can distill it to six…”stories inside fighting to get out ” Excellent post! More cowbell!

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  18. 100 words? I don’t think I’ve done enough to fill them all up😉

    Back in the UK, a gang of us used to summarize our year at the New Year. Course, we did this sat in the pub, so often they were pretty wild. One friend of mine, who met a girl, fell out with said girl, and got beaten up by the girl’s ex, summarized his year as humped, dumped, and thumped. Mind you, that was just one year!

    Cheers!

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  19. Marcia says:

    Loved your story, Jenny! I’ll give it a try.
    Born American with middle child syndrome to a Dad who said I wasn’t “good enough”. Rebellion and independence, positivity and a giving nature became my hallmarks. Rode a Harley, married at 24, divorced at 52. Found love of my life at 55 and learned that I’m sexy, smart and strong. I’m better than good enough now. Two loving kids, two awesome step kids, a son-in-law and four grandkids. Cancer patient. Living fully everyday, supporting and empowering women, writing, refurbishing old furniture, reading and family love feed my soul and make my heart smile.

    That was fun! Thanks for the opportunity, Jen-Jen.

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      This is fantastic, Marcia. You got a TON into this. And you made me smile with: “Found love of my life at 55 and learned that I’m sexy, smart and strong. I’m better than good enough now.”

      (Yes. You. Are.)

      Like

  20. Love your 100-word life story! Mine is boring by comparison, but here it is. Of course if WP still hates me tonight, you won’t see it.🙂

    Kristy K. James, 29 and holding, Writer, mid-Michigan
    Oldest of four kids, grew up close to extended family. Fell in love with writing at fifteen. Made my fair share of mistakes (and enough to cover some for a few other people), have experienced more losses than most, but have learned and bounced back. Worked at a variety of jobs (some that seriously sucked). Being a parent is my number one priority, followed closely by writing, and figuring out what will make me happy. Will someday learn to play the piano and to crochet afghans instead of teepees.

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      “Will someday learn to play the piano and to crochet afghans instead of teepees.” <– You can crochet teepees? That's a lot of crocheting, girlie! Or perhaps that was a metaphor…

      *pondering*

      Like

      • Nope. I’m sorry to say that it is NOT a metaphor. I’ve never actually finished one, but when I try to do a zigzag pattern, I can start out with a chain that’s about five feet long…and by the time it’s two feet wide, it’s nine feet long. So if you figure an additional four feet in length for every two feet in width, So if I were really trying to do a teepee, it could be done. It would probably need telephone poles to support its weight though. So good thing that’s never been a goal of mine. I’d just like one measures five by six feet. It would be more like 5′ x 6′ x 13′ so…maybe I’ll just stick with the piano.🙂

        Like

  21. Reetta Raitanen says:

    Loved your description, Jenny. This is a great excercise but difficult.

    Reetta Raitanen, 31, writer and back office worker, Jyväskylä, Finland
    Finnish born, divorce kid but with happy childhood nonetheless. Moved away from home young, married my first love and we’re still together. Lived in the same town my whole life but love to travel. Spent my 20s studying and at home with kids. I searched for years for the perfect college major and what I want to do when I’m grown up. Still looking😀 Chronically curious and interested in gazillion topics. Finally pursuing the writing dream for real. Devoted twin mom and working full time for the first time save for summer jobs.

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  22. filbio says:

    That is really good! So are some of the others here. I need to try this when I have time as I know it will take a while to whittle it down to 100 words. I feel that so much will be left out as you mentioned about the essence. It’s not easy.

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      It’s not easy, but it was really fun to list everything I thought should be there and then start cutting the items that weren’t as important. As hard as it was to do the paragraph, it was interesting to see all the non-essential events that could be cut from the description.🙂

      Like

  23. Jenny,thank you for the writing exercise,it was very thought provoking.Deciding what to share,how to word it,and what i could leave out,with still getting my life on paper. I appreciate your feeling on my mom,she never liked me,i just wasn’t the little sister she wanted for my older sister,but i had wonderful times with my Aunt. Thank you for this lesson,it really was a good way to learn to edit yourself when writing. xox

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  24. Great post! I just tried my own and it was 133 words on the first effort. Tough exercise! Thanks for the inspiration.

    http://www.misswrite.co.uk
    @misswriteuk

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  25. Jan Joe says:

    Born in the year of the dog, 1958, my life began in a cocoon of simulated happiness. Fast forward, because one had to – things developed at a record pace after the astronauts waved from the moon. Blonde haired, brown eyed, I wear the shoes of the last wave of boomers. I grew up smiling, but silent. Married, twice. Lost a daughter overnight and still considering a tattoo to mark her presence. Educated myself, lost myself for a while, hid under the covers. I broke my silence – I write to be. Northern California still cradles my family, my hopes and dreams.

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