For a long time, I’ve wanted to write about parts of my life from my past. But each time I’ve tried to get started on the project, I would freeze up. “What if so and so reads this? Will his feelings be hurt? Will it end our relationship? If I fudge the details, will he still know it’s him?” And so on. You can imagine the merry-go-round in my brain – there was no destination, nor was there an end.
This went on for quite some time – the desire versus the indecision, the creative force versus the consequence. (Is it too dramatic to say that it was tearing me up inside? Um, yes!) But then something unexpected happened that broke the fever of fear – a little someone named Elizabeth Gilbert.
Yep, I know what you’re thinking and I was thinking it too. What could this privileged woman who tortured the world with that Eat, Pray, Love schlock tell me about writing? (Hello, hubris! Who’s written several New York Times best-selling novels, and who’s penning a blog post that very few will read? Yes, I’ve totally checked myself! Beyond that, Elizabeth is a completely lovely person and uber talented. Her creative how-to book, Big Magic, is a life-changer. But that’s a post for another day.)
Yet something was pulling me to the event, so I purchased a ticket and had a girl’s night out of one. And I’m forever grateful that I did. What I found in that room was nothing short of transformative, and it was all because of one sentence. It turns out the majority of the audience also desired to become mega-successful authors and the Q&A was pretty much her fielding questions that amounted to, “How can I be you?” This went on for a while, until one gal, who had a more unique vantage point, approached the mic. She was in the process of crafting a memoir and wanted to know how to balance what she was writing with the relationships she hoped to maintain with her family. My ears perked up. Something that had been on my mind for years was about to be addressed by Ms. Gilbert? Let me get my pen out!
What Elizabeth said next changed my life. She advised the young woman to keep writing, no matter what (that’s pretty much always the case – keep going!), but it’s the way she phrased it that finally gave me my “ah ha” moment when she said, “Write your ‘scorch the earth’ version first. You can decide about the rest later.” She went on to emphasize the importance of writing the most blistering account as the first draft. Say everything you want to say, exactly the way you want to say it! Will it end your relationships? Will you be written out of the will? Are you fated to die alone, thinned from the herd?
Hell, that’s a lot of weight, and honestly who in the hell knows?! What is important is that you WRITE. Just get it out. All of it. You know why? Because the only person who knows about this scorched the earth version is you! All of the rest is a huge pile of “maybes.”
If, after you write the “fire” version and you think it might be a tad too much, guess what? You can revise it! Hello, draft two. (Or ten. Or one hundred. You get it.) Bonus: you’ve gotten to write exactly what you want, and you’ve remained blissfully consequence-free. And if you decide “scorch the earth” is the route you want to take? Well, that’s awesome too. Sure, Thanksgiving might be a little lonely, but, by the time you’ve reached the stage of publishing your truth, you’ll have had the space to wrestle with whatever fallout you might be facing. Better yet, you might be dining while staring at a framed New York Times Best Sellers list of your own.
The gift of “scorch the earth” for me was the gift of getting started. It finally gave me permission to move forward without fear – something that had been holding me back for years.