Updated: Apr 24
I attended a retreat facilitated by Elizabeth Gilbert and Rachel Cargle, and this was just one, of the many, important wisdom bombs Liz dropped on us at this wonderful 3 day retreat.
She said it in response to a question one of the participants asked: whether or not it was better to write from the wound or the scar. And I felt her answer was one that was really important for writers to hear.
I'm paraphrasing based on how I remember it, but in essence what she said was that if you have something you're trying to work through, or that is trying to work through you, it's important to write it. To let it flow. Essentially write from the wound. Express all that needs to be expressed. Every last word of it. And when you're done, and only when you're done, that's when you can start looking at it from the vantage point of what needs to be expressed to others. What needs to be "published".
As an example she said "for those of you who read Eat. Pray. Love. how much do you feel you know about my ex-husband?" We all agreed "not much". And she said that was by design. When it came time to publish, it became clear that part wasn't important to the story (or anything she really needed or wanted to share for many reasons). But that's not how it started. She said you better believe every last bit of her feelings about that time in her life were in there in that first draft. But those parts were what she needed to write in order to get there. Not what the audience needed to read.
I share this because one of the biggest ways I see so many writer's holding themselves back is by not allowing themselves the process. The second they have an idea they're already thinking about what the end product will be. Whether or not it will be "marketable". Whether or not its okay to express what they're expressing. And next thing you know they're completely shut down over the thought of who might see it. Who might know their inner thoughts on this particular subject.
These are all valid concerns, but there's a time and place for them and it's not right there at the beginning, when you're trying to work out what you're even trying to express. The creative process is messy and any book or screenplay worth its salt, should start from a writer writing from a wound (or a passion, or a joy or an inspiration) that is deep, true and authentic.
Those kinds of big feelings and deep explorations need room to breathe. They need permission to be wrong. To be out of bounds. To even be blasphemous. We can't be worried about how its going to land with others every step of the way. That's a recipe for self limitation and self censorship and, frankly, some really boring stories.
I always tell my students that the beauty of writing is that you get to be your own Monday morning quarterback, and that you should use that advantage to it's fullest. Let your work be free. Let it flow. Write everything that needs to be written, simply because your heart wants it to be written. Be childish and selfish about it, knowing that this isn't the end of the road, it's just the beginning of the process.
Once you've gotten it all out, and are all the wiser for it, then and only then, will you be ready to throw on your publisher's hat and decide what is important to share and what is not. Or even more importantly what you're comfortable with sharing, and what you are not. You simply can't know before you know. That's just not how it works.
So all this to say I highly recommend you take Liz's advice and "write from the wound. Publish from the scar."
******Holly Payberg-Torroija is a writer/writing coach and founder of Loving The Process, a coaching program designed to support writers in getting out of their own way, so they can write the stories they were born to write. To learn more about upcoming workshops, events or courses click here