This Story Hurts

how to write when you are still emotionally attached

14 years ago, we lost a baby in stillbirth.  I have shared this story before, so I won’t go into the details here. 

“Writing has always helped you,” my mom said. “Maybe try writing about it.” 

I threw crumpled pages, journals, and even my computer keyboard on the floor.  I put my head down on the desk and sobbed. 

I wasn’t ready. Yet. 

Four years later, I realized that remembering no longer crippled me. And I sat down to write the story of our baby girl. 

Writing it was still painful. To write the story in its entirety, I had to remember some details – physical and metaphorical – that hurt to bring back to the surface. But I was able to recall the events of that day with enough emotional distance that I could keep going. I wrote that story with the intention of supporting other mothers of lost babies. And I sent it out into the world. 

There is a fine line when it comes to sharing a story that holds deep emotional attachment. Too much, and the feelings will overpower your ability to craft a readable story. Too little, and the emotion in the story may not resonate with readers. The sweet spot is there in the middle, where the emotion is easily accessible but doesn’t threaten to bring you to your knees. 

Every writer and every story is different, so there is no amount of time or distance from the events that I can prescribe. However, as someone who has written many times about deeply personal topics, I can offer a process to move the story through. 

Step 1:  Journal. Every feeling, every detail you recall, put it all on a page where no one will ever see it. Let out all of your anger, your irrationality, your fear. Write about who else was affected, and how you think they feel. Write it ALL. 

Step 2:  Breathe. Cry. Scream. Throw things. Take a nap.

Step 3:  Ask yourself  Am I ready to be objective about this?  Becaue the truth is, if you are going to write the story with the intention of it finding an audience outside of your immediate circle, you are going to have to be at least somewhat objective about what stays and what goes. If the answer is no, let that be okay. If the answer is yes, then…

Step 4:  Map it out. I will be the first to admit that I often start writing a story without a clear plan of where it is headed. But the truth is that stories we are still emotionally triggered by will trick our brains into thinking that we need to include every background detail, every bit of backstory. because those things matter to us. But they may not matter to your audience. Do we need to know that you were eating a meatball sub when you first laid eyes on the man who broke your heart? Probably not, unless the story is that of your meeting him in the first place. If you map out your story, you will not spend time writing a description of the sub sandwich which will eventually be cut out. Decide how you will structure the story, who your audience is, and what you want to say to them. 

Step 5:  Start. Write until it’s finished. Put the first draft away (and see step 2.) Come back to it later, and finish. 

Writing can be incredibly theraputic, and sharing our stories is a wonderful way to connect on a human level about difficult topics. It is really important, before we dive headfirst into an emotionally triggering story, that we ask ourselves if we are truly ready to share it. And if we are, we have to know why. 

Photo by burak kostak from Pexels

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