This blog was featured on 05/17/2018
Opening Up about Opening Up

As a writing, speaking, and author platform coach, I’m in the business of helping others tell their most authentic stories on the page, the TEDx stage, and elsewhere. I believe in transparency. I try to walk my walk. Pulling back the veil on writing and publishing processes was one of the founding motives Kamy and I had when we first started She Writes. But pulling back the veil in personal narratives calls for a different kind of transparency—one that I’m grappling with myself right now.

When you’ve written from a place of deep and raw honesty, how do you know not just when a piece is ready, but when you yourself are ready to share it with a larger world? I’ve been thinking about this question in preparation for a writing workshop I’m giving in collaboration with StoryStudio Chicago founder Jill Pollack and actors at Piven Theatre Workshop on August 8 called Openings and Opening Up: The Art of Authenticity.

I’ve been thinking about this question for a while, but recently I’d been going through something hard that I hadn’t wanted to be public about at the time. I needed to write about it though, for myself. So I wrote an essay. It was naked and honest and raw. As a writer who habitually writes more for an audience than for myself, I automatically started treating it as I would any piece of writing, revising until the words dripped with accuracy. And then something funny happened. In the gooey afterglow of seeing those words synthesize into meaning on my computer, my mind did a flip. Maybe I was ready to submit it somewhere, I mused while printing it out in hard copy. Maybe even somewhere...prominent!, I mused as I polished it off. I wrote a pitch and found the editor’s email address. In the span of a few weeks, I went from totally private to the fantasy of publishing it NOW! in insert-your-dream-publication-here.

There’s something about seeing our experience on the page that transforms us. We go from participant to observer to shaper. And in that shaping, we get attached to the shape we make.

But is that the shape to bring public? At first, the urgency of my attachment screamed louder than caution and self-protection. But at the 11th hour, before I hit “send” on the piece, I decided to call others in. I sent it to a few trusted friends—my informal board of editorial advisors (if you don’t yet have one of these, I highly recommend). The feedback from my crew came in:

Wrote one, “I think this is beautiful and brave and I think they will print it. For that reason, I would counsel you to sit on it for a little while longer, not because you’re not ready to go public, but because you might not be ready for the reaction it will get. It’s only been a few months, maybe give it three or four more, and then see how you feel about it? I think it’s perfect, and that you will always be proud to have lived it, written it, published it. I’m worried about mean people and judgmental people and dumb people and virtuous fundamentalists and blah blah blah and I don’t trust any of them.”

Confirmed another, “Many will have strong reactions. They will be aghast and vehemently critical. Because they will feel threatened they will attack you and not hear your story. Are you ready for that response? Are you in a place where you could absorb it with comfort?”

Not one to worry too much about negative comments under usual circumstances (haters gonna hate), I had to weigh my current state of being at the time with my desire to share. Would I be ok, at that time of vulnerability, with verbal attack? The answer was no.

Or rather, not now.

And then, there’s that question of time. In The Art of Time in Memoir Sven Birkets writes, “Memoir begins not with event but with the intuition of meaning—with the mysterious fact that life can sometimes step free from the chaos of contingency and become story.” He claims “circumstance becomes meaningful when seen from a certain remove.” Having been at the edge of the precipice more than once, I see his point.

It’s one thing to write while living through something for the sake of capturing it, and another to fix it in amber while parts are still moving.

I look forward to a future moment when I’ll look back and decide whether the shape I’d given it is the shape I want to share. In the meantime, I’ve found a way to satisfy my sense of urgency by sharing it in a way that feels emotionally safe. My piece will be one of a handful of narratives performed by actors at the evening’s performance on August 8. If you’re in the Chicago area, join us, and think about submitting a piece for consideration for the evening’s performance. I’d be honored to read alongside you! (If you’d like your draft to be considered for the evening’s reading, please submit a piece of no more than 1,500 words to [email protected] by August 3.)

And wherever you are in your own process of pulling back the veil in your writing, I wish you strength. I wish you the benefit of time to transform event into meaning, the mojo to turn chaos into story, and the patience to see it all through.


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* This post was originally published in July 2017.

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  • So much of what you said resonates with me! I find that I have to give myself permission to write as if no one will ever read a piece, to see what is there, and then, if I need to, I edit later with an audience in mind.