“I always wanted to write a novel,” she said.
I was having lunch with Michelle, a good friend who owns an advertising agency. I always admired her for her copywriting. Her writing, even in a simple email, was clear and to the point. When she wrote copy for a product, she had a way of tapping into the reader’s emotions. She could hook you in a minute.
Our conversation moved to writing more broadly. I knew she wanted to write more than great emails and fantastic copy. Then she told me she wanted to write a novel. I wanted to know more and encouraged her to get started. I told her, “You are not only a wonderful writer but an amazing storyteller. You know people so well, and you’ve lived a life with many ups and downs. I’m sure your characters will come to life for the reader.”
That’s when she confessed, “I don’t think I can be transparent.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“To be a great writer, I will need to expose myself. I will have to share my hidden fears, experiences I would sooner forget, relationships which ended badly. That is how you gain intimacy with the reader,” she explained.
This was the first time I ever talked to someone who understood good writers. Prior to this conversation, I didn’t understand why I was attracted to some authors while others, even though they might be popular, did nothing for me. I used to say, “I like (name the author) because he creates characters which are three dimensional. They are people whom you know or feel you’ve met or maybe even want to meet. People you love. People you despise.”
But after talking to Michelle, I realized these characters were people in the author’s life. The author was sharing insights into who their mom and dad really were. Their siblings, friends, husband, wife, next door neighbor, boss, favorite teacher, children, all the people they ever knew in their life.
I always wanted to write but wouldn’t tell people I wanted to write. After talking to Michelle, I knew why.
Then in January 2016, fifteen years after my conversation with Michelle, I began to write.
Little by little, I began to expose myself.
I started by writing advice. You know, the 3 ways, the 5 principles, the 7 practices. But then the stories started to make their way into the writing. I wrote stories about others. Then I’d slip in a story about myself.
When I told my stories, I felt authentic and connected. I also received much more encouragement from my readers. They told me things like, “I had the same experience,” “I thought I was alone,” “This gave me confidence in my walk in life,” and “My faith became real.” I was creating relationships by sharing my life.
But it got to be too much.
Recently, I’ve been sharing my life in a series called “Reimagining Your Life.” I am using my life as the example. I am sharing what I went through to reimagine my life in my late thirties and early forties.
- Admitted I was miserable in my job.
- Admitted I was an alcoholic.
- Realized my identity was in my career.
- Used my work to hide from myself and others.
- Discovered there was a God and it wasn’t me.
- Discovered this God made me and loved me as his unique creation.
As part of this series, I wrote two blog posts which took it all out of me. One was how I came to admit I was an alcoholic. The other was how I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ.
After writing these two articles, these confessions, I felt completely drained.
I didn’t want to write anymore.
I didn’t want to share myself with anyone anymore. I wanted to go back. I wanted to have my life and my thoughts and my relationships. Enough was enough. But the due date for the next blog post came up quickly.
What was I going to write about? Should I go back to the 5 characteristics of the successful entrepreneur type of writing. How could I? I knew it wouldn’t be real. It wouldn’t be me. It wouldn’t make a difference. It wouldn’t matter.
So I committed to continuing.
And so I did. I wrote from the heart again. Michelle was right when she said, “I don’t think I can be transparent.” But what I learned is this, once I am transparent, I can’t stop being transparent. God continues to egg me on. He surrounds me with people who encourage me. It’s as if God is saying, “You have these stories for a reason. You need to share them. They help others. And in the telling, they help you, too.”