There aren’t too many fields where the bad stuff is usable. If food spoils, a chef can no longer use it. If a business overspends based on its budget, a lot of work goes into making the situation right. If concrete hardens and the surface isn’t level, it must be broken up, removed, and replaced.
Not so when it comes to writing and life.
“One of the wonderful things about being a writer is that everything – even the bad stuff – is usable.” J.A. Jance
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Whenever I work with people in helping them to tell their stories, there is inevitably one conversation I have with them. Sometimes it takes place at the beginning of the process. Sometimes towards the middle. And always during the editing process. Always.
What happens is that during the first draft, everything comes out. All the old hurts, the wounds, the hard feelings. Getting the first draft down is like vomiting, and for the first few moments after this spontaneous regurgitation occurs, everyone feels better.
But soon, maybe days or weeks or months into the writing process, the vomit starts to cause worry.
Actually, we think, I’m not sure if I want anyone to see my vomit. At least not like that. So we try to clean it up a little bit, tidy up around the edges.
This is when that conversation happens, because I begin to see the foundations of a powerful story eroding under the acidic power of self-preservation. I challenge them regarding the things they want to take out. I ask them if they’re really concerned with sheltering their relative, or if they’re actually worried about saving themselves.
Because if you want to tell a powerful story, you cannot protect yourself. You have to be willing to rip yourself open and let anyone look inside.
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I’m not saying you shouldn’t edit. For everyone’s sake, edit out the drivel. Edit out the mistakes. Edit out the parts where you’re actually telling other people’s stories.
But don’t edit yourself. Don’t edit out the power.
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