This week I got to have coffee with one of my beautiful friends who I’ve known since we were both teenagers, and her amazing husband who I’m just getting to know. They’re both just delving into the world of writing themselves, she, with a blog, and he, with an allegory-style novel. We sat down in our town’s brand new Starbucks (which took way too long to reach our little mountain community) and just talked writing for hours.
One of the main topics that kept coming up is being open and honest in your writing and showing your vulnerable side. Writing of any kind is scary, a lot more than non-writers realize. To write a story or a blog that’s truly profound and moving and thought-provoking, you have to dig deep into places inside yourself you never thought you’d have to go. I always call it bleeding onto the page. Especially when I’ve written a really hard scene, or a really honest post, I say “I really bled all over the place with that one.”
It’s kind of a grim image, but it’s more true than you know.
I’m definitely having to bleed on the page right now with the novella I’m working on, and it was one of the the things I mentioned to my friends as we talked about how hard it is to show your true self in your writing. The main character of my novella, Raine, goes through a lot of hard things in her story, but she also has some truly amazing moments and gets to witness some incredible things that would never have a place in the story if she weren’t coming into it so broken.
One of her arcs that’s been really hard for me to write is the fact that in the main book, she loses her leg trying to save the life of her best friend Aurora. She comes into the novella a mere handful of weeks after the loss of her leg which means a big part of her story is how she learns to deal with such a drastic loss.
Writing a character with such significant losses in her life is always hard, but her specific loss really affected me deeper than I realized. In the main book, So Sang The Dawn, Aurora has to watch Raine go through the difficulties of life with a missing leg, and if you’ve read the first book, you know how terribly heartbreaking it was. Raine is so kind and tenderhearted and so innocent in all of this, and yet she’s the one who has to bear the majority of the physical pain and loss, which just seems so unfair. It was hard enough for me to write about it through Aurora’s eyes, but in Raine’s novella itself, I’m inside Raine’s head, feeling that loss personally, not just watching it happen from the outside.
I never realized how intimately I resonated with Raine on her loss. If you’ve read my bio on my Meet The Author page, you know that I suffer with a lot of painful and chronic health issues, and so I relate to Raine on a really personal level — more than I even knew. There are a lot of days I feel like only half the girl I should be, or simply feel inadequate or worth less than the people around me because of my physical shortcomings. The upside is that Raine’s story has turned out to be really vivid because I’m writing from such a real and personal place, but the downside is that it’s taken a lot out of me during the writing process.
So what are the benefits of writing vulnerable then? How is it a good thing to rip open those dark places inside you and let them spill onto the page?
Everyone’s journey is different, but here are a few of things I’ve been learning about writing vulnerable:
One, it’s incredibly therapeutic to be able to be so open and honest about your inward struggles. Not only does it feel great to just acknowledge that the pain or struggle is there, but it makes it easier to talk about with people in person, if you’re already used to being honest with your words in writing.
Two, it helps people to better understand you and what you’re going through. It opens their eyes to a new side of you that they might not have considered before, and helps give them an understanding of what it’s like to be you.
Three, sharing your struggles can be a major encouragement to other people. It’s always easier to be brave if someone else has gone before you and given you proof that it can be done. I’ve had people reach out to me and say that me being up front and honest about the struggles I go through has given them courage to be more open and honest in their own life. And even if people aren’t ready to take that step and open up, you’ve at least helped them to realize they’re not alone, which is so, so powerful.
Lastly, being honest in your writing and showing your own struggles through your characters is incredibly healing. I’ve made amazing progress in my personal life and come to heal (or begun to heal) from all kinds of things I thought I would have to carry forever. When you write out your pain in your characters, it gives you the opportunity to reflect on those experiences through your characters’ inward thoughts, and to search for healing and hope, for both the story, and yourself. It’s also a way to give yourself a voice about things you may have been hiding for a long time, and to give yourself the freedom to decide how you truly feel about the things you’ve been through, without the walls and masks.
Writing vulnerable has completely changed my life. It’s not about the publishing journey for me, and it never was. From the very beginning, I set out to write the story that I wanted to write, and I didn’t box myself in, either by the “rules” of writing, or by my own insecurities. I opened myself up, fully and completely, and let the story flow onto the page, and let it be what it wanted to be.
Which is why So Sang The Dawn came out at 723 pages. I had a lot to say, and a lot to figure out.
I think it’s also why people love So Sang The Dawn so much. It’s very obvious that I didn’t hold any part of myself back when writing this book. It’s all very real, very raw, and very emotional at times, and not all in a bad way either. There are a lot of moments for the characters that are true moments of healing and redemption, a lot of which have come straight from my own life.
My advice to you? Write as vulnerable as you can. Be cautious with it, as you don’t want to destroy yourself in the process, or create a story that’s so dark and depressing that it’s unbearable to read. The So Sang The Dawn series is going to be a long one, because there are a ton of things I haven’t been able to explore yet, and a lot of healing I have left to do. I didn’t try to cram every aspect of my life and every experience into the first book, or it would be WAY longer than 723 pages! It would also be a really heavy story, and probably very messy.
There’s a definite finesse to writing vulnerable. When you set out to do it, listen to your spirit, and listen to the story. If you feel compelled to write something hard, write it out, bleed onto the page, don’t hold yourself back or worry about what people will think. Then, move away from it and let it sit for a while. Go back to it later and sculpt it with new eyes and a new approach, and make sure what you’re writing not only fits the story (if you cram a gritty experience into the book where it doesn’t belong, it’ll be glaringly obvious to your readers, trust me) but also make sure that you’ve done it delicately, so as not to shock people with your realism. You want to bring your readers to a level where they can relate with your struggle, but you don’t want to traumatize them all over again and make them feel haunted.
And above all, bring hope. Don’t just write a bunch of hard things and let it end there. As you open up those deep places inside you, use it to explore hope and healing, for both you and your characters. Write in such a way so that when other people resonate with your pain, they feel understood in their own struggle, and feel less alone, but write so that they’re also receiving a huge dose of hope for their future as well. Use your vulnerability and your bravery to bring light to their darkness.
Because in the end, that’s what true writing is all about, isn’t it?