Note from Michelle: I've been looking forward to this post for a while now. Donna Lee Irwin is such a treat in person and on the page. She is navigating the complicated world of young widowhood and shares about it with such authenticity and grace that I know what she shares will speak to your heart and inform your pen. So without further ado.... (and go visit her blog and add it to your favorites list -- you won't regret it)
Writing with vulnerability is no easy task. How do you do it without appearing out of: your mind, control, this world? Well, the first thing would be to consider your audience. Is what your sharing relevant? Does it make sense to write a vulnerable piece on this platform? Or are you divulging the emotional details of your recent divorce on your fashion blog? Make sure that what and where you are publishing makes sense.
Once you have settled on a topic suitable for your targeted audience consider these 7 guidelines. They are ‘rules’ I try to write by which have, so far, served me well.
1. Get honest with yourself.
Why are you writing this? Is it because you are passively aggressively using your writing platform to blow off some steam? Are you making a bid for approval or reassurance? Decide what your end goal is and ask yourself what your expectations are as a result of sharing this information. For me, it is to let others know they are not alone. Too many of us keep our stories hidden while we try to impress our peers, contributing to the vicious cycle of trying to keep up appearances with one another. It is my goal to penetrate this mirage with my small contribution of vulnerability and authenticity.
2. Decide how much you want to share.
And remember, you’re here to tell your story and no one else’s. Sometimes this means getting creative with how we explore our story, sometimes it means leaving some things out. It’s worth it to respect and protect the privacy of others-even if you feel they don’t deserve it.
3. Be Relevant and Relatable.
Again, make sure the topic makes sense for your writing platform and, when choosing to write with vulnerability, be relatable! Share you experience but don’t share only the before and after “ta-da! I figured it all out!” moments. Before-and-afters can be helpful in a story but usually people just want to rest assured that they are not the only imperfect/struggling/quirky/etc. humans on the planet. This is not a time to practice or showcase perfection. Your readers will see right through the façade and write you off as inauthentic and suspicious. Share your honest experience,
especially if you’re still in it.
4. Be Clear and Concise.
Express your feelings on the subject through your experience without drifting. This is usually taken care of in the editing process for me. I like to write freely, pouring all my emotions out into as many words as I feel are needed knowing that when it’s time for editing I can carve my point out of the puzzle of words I’ve laid out to get my message across in a meaningful way. Sometimes it’s useful to share all the gory details and other times it’s TMI. A practice that works great for me is pouring my heart out onto the page and walking away from it for a few days. Sometimes when I do that I end omitting almost everything I wrote, others I’m like, “ya, that’s good. They’ll feel it.” Only you can be the judge.
5. Be prepared for Criticism and Judgement.
Expressing or sharing vulnerability is often seen as a weakness when in reality it is actually an incredibly brave and courageous act. Recognize that being vulnerable can trigger uncomfortableness and shame in others. Also, be prepared for people to share their stories or opinions that may be very different from what you have just written. Be respectful and kind if you choose to respond. Otherwise don’t respond at all. On the other hand, for those who are kindly sharing their own vulnerabilities with you, be sure to give them a nod of thanks for opening their hearts.
6. A Word of Caution.
Make sure if you include names or photos of anyone that isn’t you in your writing to GET PERMISSION first! Preferably in writing. Remember, you’re telling your story, not theirs. If you’re talking about your kids, again, get their permission, show/read them what you have written/picture you are using and make doubly sure that they are comfortable with it. Don’t assume you know and don’t bully them into compliance. Especially don’t share anything that may prevent you from getting a job, get you sued or cause conflict in a relationship. Again, it can be helpful to step away for a few days and come back with fresh eyes.
7. Lastly, Let Your Art Go.
Once you hit that publish button…it is finished. And that’s great! Be proud! You took something raw and honest of yourself and shared it with the world. That is a beautiful thing. Whenever we give any gift to someone we accept that it is no longer ours to decide what to do with. Look at it as a gift and feel good about your giving. As Glennon Doyle Melton says in one of her blog posts, “Create! Call it good! Rest!”
Well, there you go! 7 steps to writing with vulnerability in a nutshell. I applaud all you writers out there who are willing to step into the arena of writing with vulnerability and look forward to reading some of your work. Even when we share different views the courage it takes to ‘write naked’ is immense and nothing short of humble bravery! Wishing you luck on you ‘naked writing’ ventures!
Founder & Writer of www.mercyandmight.com
*Sidenote: If you really feel passionate or curious about writing a vulnerable piece of work but don’t have the right platform to feature it, follow these guidelines and consider submitting to another platform where it will be more relevant.