“Telling the truth matters even when it involves hard questions.
Showing up even when it’s difficult often gives strength for others to show up as well.”
Good news! If you write nonfiction, you are already equipped with all of the raw material you need to craft a unique, interesting story.
Our true life experiences can provide the plot, the setting, and the main characters for our writing. However, not every detail of a true story is interesting or beneficial to a reader.
When writing about your own life experiences, you will have to wrestle with how much to reveal within your work, especially if your story is a hard one filled with painful circumstances, or if your story involves other people. The difficulty of deciding when, how, and how much to share of your own story can be discouraging.
At hope*writers, we know this fear of oversharing on sensitive topics can keep writers from sharing their story with readers who need it. To help you make these challenging decisions, we sat down with author Michele Cushatt, a writer of both memoir and narrative nonfiction, to discuss her process for writing and sharing hard stories.
Michele says, “Telling the truth matters even when it involves hard questions. Showing up, even when it’s difficult, often gives strength for others to show up as well.” Michele shares four key areas to pay attention to while you’re writing your hard story.
Before writing your story for the public, it’s important to test your own readiness to share. Emotional volatility around the topic of your story is a telltale sign that you may not be ready to share it publicly. Tears are not necessarily a red flag, but extreme or unpredictable reactions to certain topics serve as a warning that perhaps your story is best kept private for the time being.
Michele encourages writers to keep writing no matter what: It’s always the right time to write your story, but it may not be the right time to share it. Your emotional response is one clue that will lead you towards a decision to publish or wait.
After you address the hurt and emotions that surround your hard story, pay attention to how you respond when someone disagrees with you. Michele suggests that you should be able to talk about your story comfortably, even when others don’t agree with your perspective. If you begin to feel defensive over your behavior, your experience, or how you’ve chosen to share your story when you receive pushback from others, reconsider writing publicly for a time.
Your words will be in dialogue with many readers, some of whom may not agree with your conclusions about your experiences. If you are able to receive feedback from others without becoming defensive, you may be ready to share your hard story publicly.
Readers connect with pain, not perfection. As writers, our focus is on the needs of the reader.
Ask yourself, what does the reader need to hear from me? How will sharing my words help them?
If we are driven by our own need to share rather than the need of the reader to hear and connect with our story, we are not ready to publish.
We need to be responsible and share our stories from a desire to create connection with others, rather than from a place of desperation. Desperation keeps us from serving our reader.
When we sit down to write our story for others, we should have clarity on what our story is and why we want to share it. Michele says, “Confusion is a sign processing needs to happen.” She recommends giving yourself enough time to fully process and understand all of the underlying issues at play within your story, as well as your response to them.
It’s your job to know your objective and what you want to accomplish before publishing a hard story. Some hard stories will require more processing than others, and to honor yourself and your story, you must give it the time it needs.
Time will either bring clarity and understanding, or it will teach you that your story isn’t yet ready for others to read it.
Michele’s wise advice for writers: Connection through mutual pain should be the reason we write our hard stories for others in the first place. Writers who turn inward and determine their own readiness to publicly share a hard story are ultimately serving their readers with great care. Understanding our own pain helps us understand the pain of our audience better.
Want to learn more about how (and when) to share your hard story? Click here for free access to our hour-long conversation with Michele and take one step toward balancing the art of writing with the business of publishing.