One question I’m asked by most every person I coach through the writing of his or her life-based story is: What memories do I include and which ones do I leave out?
Is this something you struggle with as well? If so, you’re not alone.
The question of what to leave in/what to take out is a legitimate question, an important one that every writer must answer. I wish I could give you a response that works in all situations, but unfortunately, there is no sure-fire formula, no magic answer. Sorry.
What I have come up with is a set of questions that might help you resolve this issue for yourself. Make your answers as objective and truthful as possible.
- Who will it help? – Many times we tell our stories, especially the painful ones, to let others know they are not alone, there is a way through, and here’s how I did it. Being a positive in someone else’s life is powerful motivation to write the hard parts of our stories.
- Who will it hurt? – We live our lives surrounded by people, and it’s difficult to write a story that doesn’t involve others. Many times those stories don’t portray some people in flattering ways. Before releasing a story into the world, the writer needs to know who his or her words might affect, what impact the story might have on these people, and then be prepared to deal with the reaction.
- What purpose does it serve? – Every story we write—positive or negative— should serve a purpose, and what that purpose is can only be determined by you. All stories must be vital to the telling of the larger story. But also know that a book is never the place to settle a score.
- What does it explain? – Determine if including this story will make something understandable that didn’t make sense before. Will it answer a question, solve a mystery, bring resolution to someone or something? If so, then it may need to be included.
- How comfortable am I revealing this information? – This is a big question. Whatever we write and release into the world causes a ripple of some sort. There are always consequences to writing, sometimes positive, sometimes negative. When people love what we’ve written, it feels great, but when they don’t like what we’ve said, think it’s not accurate, and become angry with us, it’s not so pleasant. We need to be ready to deal with whatever results from our stories.
Here’s my advice. Write it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly—first. Get it out of you and onto the page. It will probably do you a lot of good, and if it’s just on your computer or in your notebook, it won’t hurt anyone else. Once you have written, take some time to sit with the story before deciding what to do with it.
Post a comment below and tell us how you determine what to leave in and what to take out? What is your process in making these decisions? What tips can you share with us? Do you have any hard-and-fast rules for yourself? Tell us your thoughts on this subject.