I am no stranger to writing about other people. I started this blog when I was 20–a junior in college, and very problematic. As I continued sharing my story, I lived for the echo of others saying they shared the same experiences. I still live for that. In fact, it’s why I write, honestly. But in my earlier days, I would feel great about sharing my story most times, and then terrible at other times. I couldn’t figure out why some pieces didn’t sit right, but I did know that readers felt it too. It took me a year or so of writing to understand what I needed to do in order to move forward with writing about others. The four tips below might be helpful for your work and for your spirit.
1. Write in the moment things are happening, but don’t publish right away
When emotions are high, writing is raw and limitless. It’s a heavy release of emotional vomit and inspiration tends to take a hold as I type or scribble furiously. This is an important part of the process but I do not always want to hit publish right away and share with the world. The most important thing for me is to let the dust settle and let my emotional intensity dwindle to look at the situation clearly. This leads to intention…
2. Write with the intention of sharing the lesson, not the drama
Setting my intention is most important because it determines the outcome. When I was younger, I would sometimes let my ego be the driving force when writing about someone who done did me wrong. This never worked because I just looked real petty. I never even use people’s real names but still I felt guilty and terrible. Publishing without a clear intention does a huge disservice to the reader and to your work. Let the lesson drive you. When you keep the lesson at the heart of the piece, you can share the messy parts of the story while coming from a place of clarity and peace—not from trying to make another person look bad or get back at them. If there’s no intention of offering a lesson or words of healing in memoir writing, the story is just drama. Sharing our stories should always be a pure experience, offering our truths, our vulnerability—it’s essential in connecting with others who may have had the same experiences. Let that be your guide.
3. Stay true to your perspective (but don’t assume you know the perspective of others)
Staying true to my story is essential in sharing something truly authentic. The reader expects you to share the story from your perspective, how you saw things, your feelings in the moment and your takeaways. The person you’re writing about may not have that same perspective and that’s totally fine. But also keep in mind that assuming what the other person feels or thinks isn’t always helpful. You’re not the other person. I go through stories and do an edit check on whether or not I make assumptions about how other people feel. Unless I know the reason for a certain behavior, I just say what happened and leave out the “why.”
4. Heal your wounds
Without healing, there is no clarity. When I began writing for the blog, I saw the power of putting my pain on paper. Writing out my pain in vignettes is a beautiful way of letting go, but if I post something I haven’t healed from (or accepted) I find myself looking for the approval of the people reading it. It’s like I’m looking for a response. So first, you have to forgive the person who hurt you and forgive yourself. Putting blame on a person for your misfortune or pain breeds toxic energy. In my earlier articles, I put a lot on the other person and failed to realize I had my own hand in the situation, whether it be I didn’t have enough respect for myself, thought too highly of myself, etc. Let go of all of that. Share what happened, but don’t do it in a way that makes it seem like you’re just complaining about how terrible people are. Writers like Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert and Glennon Doyle Melton have echoed this for me.
Sharing a painful experience when the wound is still open is harmful to your spirit.
Sharing a painful experience when the wound is stitched up becomes true liberation.
When you take ownership of your mess, practice forgiveness, reflect, and find the lesson, it will guide you in storytelling. You’ll also find that it will guide you in life.
(Image via unsplash)