Using Our Right to Write

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Photo credit Dorothy Greco. Also a writer.

Yesterday, Rebecca commented on my Facebook page that my post inspired her to write. “It’s cathartic!” she said. I was standing in line at Target when I read that, and I did a little fist pump & whispered, “Yes!”

Getting other people to write their stories is one of my dreams. I’m constantly quoting memoirist Carlos Eire, whom I watched graciously take down a snotty writer he was on a panel with. She claimed that only VERY SPECIAL PEOPLE should be allowed to publish memoirs, that the rest of us were ridiculous to believe anyone could possibly care. When she was done, Carlos said (with the nicest smile) “I disagree. As a historian, I wish everyone would write their stories. That’s how we know what life was really like…”

I think he’s right.

When we write down our stories, especially in those horrible first drafts that are barely coherent, we’re taking a step toward other people, letting them know they’re not alone. None of us are the first person to wrestle with any question. Life is just not that unique. But if you’re the only one in your world trying to figure out the dilemma of your current season, it can feel so isolating and lonely. This is where Amazon, your local bookstore & your local library come in HANDY.

When we were first considering adoption, I was helped more by books and blog posts from regular people than I was by actress Nia Vardalo’s Instant Mom (although her book was poignant and funny and helpful too – particularly her description of how she slept in her new daughter’s bedroom for months, moving her cot an inch at a time out towards the hallway as her daughter learned what it means to be safe).  Celebrity lives are interesting because they’re different than ours. But when I’m making a big decision or in the trenches trying to figure out what to do, I find stories of regular lives more helpful.

Two writer friends are encouraging me these days (one is responsible for my resuming these posts about adoption).  Let me introduce them, because they’re just like you.

I met Josh Heidkamp when Steve & I spoke at a leadership retreat at his church. His brother Jeff, the lead pastor there, is a friend of ours, and after the retreat Josh (and their whole Minneapolis crew) were too.

Last year, Josh learned that he has brain cancer. Amidst all the terror, he sensed God prompting him to write about this experience. He started a blog. Now he posts 2-3 times a week, depending on what is going on.

Straightforward is the best word I have to describe his writing style, and that’s a huge compliment. He doesn’t try to make things artful or faux-profound. He writes what is happening, how he thinks and feels about it, and how it’s challenging him to live. That just IS profound, no adornment necessary. Sometimes at the end of his posts he tosses in a challenge for the rest of us, which always catches me off guard. I’m like, “Arggggh Josh! You got me again!” And then I go try what he suggests and watch as it improves my day.

Early in his process, when he started to get some momentum in writing regularly, he put out a call for book recommendations about how to write. I offered up a suggestion or two, but then I caught myself and blurted, “Don’t read books about writing right now…just write!” It was one of those moments where what I was telling him broke through as something I needed to hear, and I decided that if Josh could write a blog most days, so could I.

And here we are. Thank you, Josh.

If you want a lesson in straightforward writing (and you should) check out his blog. And pray for him, because God is doing something really cool in the midst of all the crap that prompted it.

The other writer you should check out is Lindsey Gendke. I “met” Lindsey when I had the chance to consult on an early draft of her memoir. She has great writing instincts and an incredible story; when her book was published and I read the final version, I was blown away.  Then a couple of weeks ago I read this blog post she wrote that reframed how I think about telling my own story, and I think it will help you too.

She was speaking at a women’s retreat for her denomination, encouraging them to tell their stories…but also giving them a framework for when and how to share based on where you are in working through hard things.

I’ve posted before how I processed this differently with each of my two books. But Lindsey put words to why I got stuck last year in the narration of our Road to Adoption journey – it was getting too close to the present day, and stuff the four of us needed to share in smaller settings before we were ready to go public. Her observations helped me start a conversation with my kids where we went through your questions and got their input, which showed me that now we’re okay to share more.

Her whole post is worth a read, but I’ll quote a checklist I’ve gone back to when I’m not sure if the time is right to share something. Lindsey says…

“Before you bust out a blog or a Facebook rant, first check your audience and purpose for sharing your story today. Ask yourself, and God, these questions to help you figure out when and where to share:

  • Is this primarily about me, or is it about God working in me?
  • Do I need more healing before I make this public?
  • Could I benefit from sharing this with a small group?
  • Am I at a point where my story would benefit others? Whom?
  • Will my story be good news to someone? Lots of people?
  • Finally, can I share my story publicly without needing approval from everyone?”

Good, right?

Let me add: it’s 100% okay to WRITE before you have all of these boxes checked. Raw writing gives you the best stuff to edit later. And as Rebecca said, it’s cathartic. But if you’re writing about something from the middle of it, this is a good checklist to run through before you hit “publish” on a major platform.

All this to say, please write your story. Start today. If there’s anything I can do to encourage you, let me know. I have a page for writers you can check out, and I’ll do whatever I can to cheer you on and provide more resources. There are so many ways to build and share our stories right now. Let’s do it.

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2 thoughts on “Using Our Right to Write

  1. lindseygendke says:

    Trish, Thanks so much for this post. I am honored you shared some of my thoughts, because I admire you so much; your originally inspired ME! You make great points, especially that reading true accounts can help us through tough stuff when no one we know is going through our struggles. (But there’s nothing new under the sun.) I’m so glad you are writing, sharing your journey, and inspiring others to share theirs. Keep it up, Trish!

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