According to the gnostic gospels, if you bring forth what’s inside you, it’ll save you; if you do not bring forth what’s inside you, it’ll destroy you. Many writers ache to bring forth what’s inside them, but are challenged by inner saboteurs that thwart their efforts.
The premier saboteur is fear. A common fear among writers, especially memoirists, is that their writing will hurt, betray, offend, or enrage their family, friends, and/or associates. For years I believed that if my parents or in-laws read my poetry, which dealt with my sex life, I’d be disinherited. My inner saboteurs, or gremlins, launched into me, saying things like, “If you keep writing this stuff, you’ll embarrass yourself and people will think you’re an exhibitionist.” When I ignored those warnings, I faced deeper internal threats, such as, “Your husband will divorce you,” and, “You might end up in prison, or homeless—or crazy!” In retrospect, it’s hard to believe such nonsense, but at the time those fears loomed large.
When thoughts like these arise, know that they are fear’s diversionary tactics. Nothing more. It’s certainly not your truth. Don’t believe the lies. Your mind has a mind of its own and thinks millions of thoughts a day, positive and negative. You don’t have to believe them all. Tell the voice that’s trying to scare you out of writing, “I’m not publishing this work, I’m just writing it.” In other words, stay present and give yourself permission to get your story on the page. This is a liberating, healing, and sacred process. It will transform you. Your world will be different on the other side of telling your story. If you have the urge to write, it’s your soul talking. There’s a reason you’re doing what you’re doing. This is true for all of us, no matter our genre.
I’ve encountered some self-help writers, especially therapists and coaches, who worry about breaking client confidentiality. They have incredible healing stories to share, about themselves and others, but are afraid that if they write and publish them their careers will plummet and their cherished clients will feel betrayed. I give these writers the same advice: “You’re not publishing,” I say, “you’re just writing. Give yourself a break. You can deal with protecting the privacy of others later.”
There are many ways to protect the privacy of others. Once you’ve gotten your story on paper, you can loop around and clean things up. You can change identifying details, such as names, job titles, physical character traits, and more.
“But isn’t that lying?” some writers ask. No. What’s important is your emotional truth. The specifics are less important than conveying the heart of your story, the part that teaches and helps you and your readers heal. We’re writers; we make things up. We use our imagination, as well as our memory, neither of which involve exact science. And we construct scenes—all in service to our stories.
Some writers ask loved ones to read passages in which they appear to make sure they’re okay with what the author has written. I did this with my husband before publishing my poetry book. Of seventy-two poems he had an issue with one. So I left it out, because his feelings mattered more to me than that poem. But please note that I did this at the end of my writing process, as I was approaching publication.
Give yourself the gift of not thinking about sharing your manuscript too widely until it’s written. Until that time, you don’t know who will show up in your book and under what guise. Why worry about offending someone when they might not even end up in the final draft?
Some writers are afraid of failure. I tell them to forget about trying to be “successful”—since everyone has their own definition—and focus on being of service. Make a difference in your life and in the lives of people close to you. Know who you are and what you want, which will free you from the thoughts, opinions, and judgments of others. If you’re worrying what others will think of you or your work before it’s written, you’re basically switching off your creativity channel. I tell my students and clients that as writers our job is to get out of our own way. Our job is to let what wants to come through us do so. Our job is to let the words flow. It’s pretty much impossible to do this when we’re wondering about what anybody else is thinking of us or our work.
Letting yourself write despite your fears—and this is a practice—is also a wonderful way to soften your own opinions, values, and judgments of yourself. It requires you to be gentle and compassionate with yourself. You start to see that nothing you’ve done or said or thought is without redemption or outside the sphere of compassion. You’ve done your best with what you’ve known and what you’ve had. Writing your story forces you to walk a path of self-acceptance. And if you keep at it, you will grow. Memoirists know that sometimes the hardest parts of our journeys are the most difficult to write. But don’t leave them out. If you do, you’ll be doing others, and yourself, a disservice.
In her book, Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, Elizabeth Lesser writes, “As I explored the subject of change and transformation, I was most inspired by those who were brave enough to tell the whole truth about their journeys. When people left out the dark and bewildering and shameful parts, I lost interest, and even worse, I was led astray.”
If you vow not to lead yourself astray while bringing forth what’s inside you, if you trust yourself and this process, your writing and your life will be rich beyond measure—and so will the lives of your readers. In the end, writing is an act of generosity. Give your gift.
What stops you from bringing forth what’s inside you? And what strategies do you use to meet your resistance and move forward? I’d love to hear from you.