Where Don’t You Want to Go – Go There

by | Nov 13, 2017 | Writing Tips

My friend Ilze, who is a gifted group facilitator, says, ‘You can only take others as deep as you have gone yourself.’

Writing is like facilitating – it’s leading people (your readers) into the places you’ve visited within.

As writers, we’ve tacitly undertaken to our readers that we have gone within. Good writing is honest. Honest writing is more than just telling the truth. We have to know what the truth of an experience is before we can write it.

When we write about love, we’ve not only ‘been there, done that,’ but been burned, hurt, thrilled, shocked, broken, transformed by love. And we’ve distilled the best of that inside knowledge into our sentences with a slow and loving hand.

We’re all processing grief, loss, heartache. They’re orphans of our consciousness that lie dormant and that can mask the real story inside of us that is crying out to be told. But we can’t get there without parenting those orphans or releasing them in some way.

What stops so many people from writing, finally is this fear of confronting what they have spent so much time and energy avoiding.

One of my students once said, ‘I don’t want to write about my own pain.’

And that is fair enough.

We don’t all have to write about our pain. But we must write from it.

 

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We sometimes come to writing believing we need to write a particular story. It’s often a version we’ve constructed to protect ourselves from the real story that needs to be told. It’s a ‘distraction’ story, rather than an authentic one. It’s a front story that we present to the world, like the clothes we wear. It’s presentable and it looks groomed. But there’s often an understory – the narrative equivalent of underwear – that few people see and we don’t generally show around.

Some of us don’t even know what our understory is. Or we pretend we have a different one. I believe that our real writing voice comes from that place, and I encourage you to go there.

So how do we tell if our story is a distraction story, or an authentic one? It’s a distraction story if:

  • It’s too safe: A distraction (or cosmetic) story is a safe story, and a safe story is not an interesting story. A distraction story will usually be some sort of cliché. If you don’t risk breaking apart, find a harder story.
  • No-one changes, nothing transforms: Stories are about character arcs – transformations from darkness to light (usually). Our own writing should mimic the story arc. We should be changed by the end. Writing is all about that journey of moving through pain into transformation. If no-one changes and nothing transforms, there’s nothing really happening, is there?
  • It’s too neat: A neat story e.g. ‘happy childhood,’ ‘the love of my life,’ ‘the worst experience,’… is begging for investigation. The more polished a person’s story is, the more one-dimensional, the more the rubble beneath is being masked. Get your shovel and start digging. Make a mess.
  • Nothing is revealed: every story has a secret at its heart. It’s a secret we may not even know about upfront. It cowers in the deep caves of our story. To find it, we have to get in there and lure it out.
  • It leaves us unmoved: If our own writing doesn’t make us tremble just a little bit, we’re playing it safe. Safe writing is a paddle in the shallows. Be brave. Dive in. Find the story inside you that will change you in the telling, and in turn, those with whom you share it.

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