28 Nov 73. Writing about Hard Things
If you’re writing a memoir, you’ll likely have to write about some difficult moments.
And sometimes one of the hardest parts of writing your book is reliving those painful stories.
Even if you’re writing a personal development, professional development, or subject-matter expert book, you may have to address some painful subjects.
In this episode, you’ll find out a few of the best ways to write about those hard things.
Mentioned in This Episode
Hey there and welcome to Nothing but the Words. I’m your author coach, Candice L Davis.
I hope your week and your writing are going well.
While many of my clients write business books, personal development, or how-to books, many also write memoirs—and in many cases, they have to talk about some hard stuff.
Most of my clients come to me for coaching. They want to write their own books, but they want a process to follow, some support, and someone to give them feedback or talk through ideas.
But I also take on a few select individuals as ghostwriting clients.
Recently, I was writing a chapter about an incredibly difficult time in a client’s life. As I ghostwrite, I’m using the client’s voice and information and experiences.
So especially if it’s a memoir, I put myself in my client’s shoes.
That means I’ve written about how my clients have started successful business or built incredible marriages or invented new products.
But I’ve also written about the hard stuff. I’ve written about the sexual assaults, the time in prison, the parental abandonment, and the alcohol and drug addiction. I’ve written about the life-threatening strokes and cardiac events, the children they’ve lost, and the parents taken too soon. I’ve written about the adultery they’ve committed and the adultery they’ve discovered happening in their marriage.
These are difficult events to go through in real life, and they’re difficult events to relive on the page even when they’re not my own experience.
When I’m working with a coaching client or interviewing a ghostwriting client, I set aside all judgment. I also allow my client to feel whatever comes up and experience.
Sometimes they feel angry. Sometimes, they get quieter and quieter as they relive the sadness of the moment. Sometimes they shed a few tears, and sometimes they let loose and cry.
So I have to coach myself to manage my emotions when I’m writing about the hard stuff.
I encourage my coaching clients to do the same.
Don’t think this doesn’t apply to you because you’re not writing a memoir.
My clients who write fairly straight-forward how-to books don’t have many emotional moments.
But even in business books and books on leadership, my clients have written about tough moments like losing the seven-figure businesses they’ve built and having to start over, being betrayed by a business partner, or getting fired from a job they loved.
Many, many authors have to write about difficult moments in their books.
So how do you write the hard stuff without falling apart or cheating your readers by skimming over it.
First, make sure the story is relevant to your book. It may be your story. It may be true. And it may be captivating to people who hear it, but if it’s not relevant it doesn’t need to be in your book.
If you decide to include the story, here are 3 few ways to write about the hard stuff.
#1 – Make sure you’ve processed the story enough to tell it clearly. All that means is that you’ve reached a point where you can talk about the story publicly and talk about it without ranting incoherently.
Trust me. There are some moments in my life that are still hot-button issues, so for the most part, I don’t talk about them publicly.
Writing about the painful moments can help you process them for sure, but that’s not the writing that will make it into your book. That’s suitable for your journal, but it’s not book material.
And if you need more help processing, talk with a therapist.
#2 – Be able to articulate what you learned, how you grew or evolved, or what came from the story. That doesn’t mean every cloud has a silver lining or anything as cliché as that.
There may be events in your life, particularly from your childhood but potentially from any stage of life, that were absolutely beyond your control.
You don’t have to try to make them all sunshine and rainbows to make your readers feel better.
But you can show us that you survived and are on the other side. That’s a win in and of itself.
From some of these events, you can also extrapolate the lessons, the insights about life and human nature. You can give your readers a reason for why you’re sharing this story.
#3 – Allow yourself to feel whatever comes up when you’re writing about the hard stuff.
So listen. The difficult event you want to write about may have happened a long time ago. You may have dealt with it and moved on. You may have processed it with the help of a therapist and even feel like you’re over it. It’s now just a neutral circumstance in your life.
None of that means you won’t feel anything when you write about it.
If you feel moved to tears, then allow yourself to cry.
If you feel anger, sit with it, write through it, and allow it to pass through your body.
Check in with yourself, name the emotions, and identify the physical sensations you’re experiencing.
Don’t run for the fridge or the wine or Netflix.
Just feel what you feel.
Grab your journal or open a fresh document and write what you’re feeling. Dump those feelings on a page your readers will never see and be as messy with it as you need to be.
And again, if you’re having trouble processing a traumatic event, please check in with a therapist who can help you through it. Yep, I’m a big fan of therapy.
#4 – Write the story and then put it aside for a few days. Come back to it and look at it, as much as you can as a neutral reader. Then ask yourself the following questions.
Does it belong in your book?
Does it add value? If so, what value does it add?
How does it come across to you? Does it have an appropriate tone for your book?
Is it victim blaming or victim shaming (even if the so-called victim is you)?
Is it a story you’re ready and willing to share with the world?
When I coach my clients, I help them through this process. Sometimes, they decide to leave a painful story in and sometimes they decide to take it out of the book.
It’s always their decision. I’m just there to help them process the emotions of the moment, write the story in the most effective way possible, and be sure they’re making the decision from the best possible place.
You can write about the hard stuff, my friend, but only you get to decide what the hard stuff is and whether or not it should make it in your book.
That’s all for this episode, my friends.
For more writing tips and inspiration, follow me on IG @candiceldavis.
Thanks for listening to Nothing but the Words. I’m Your Author Coach, Candice L Davis. And I’ll see you next time.