Your writing team is asking you to delve deeper, to talk about turning points in your life, not just what they were, but how you got to them. What challenges did you have to overcome first? Which challenges were you unable to overcome? What did it look like when you failed—can you talk about this more concretely?
You hesitate. Then you hear yourself talking, rambling down a path you didn’t expect to walk again, not now, not in this context. The sound of concrete beneath your feet scrapes new, smooth soles like sandpaper working at splintered, wooden memories.
You feel yourself return to a moment. Your legs and arms seem to be tingling, still pumping with blood and adrenaline after a whitewater rafting adventure with your family the day before. It is a gorgeous morning. Above you, the Aspen sky is blue, clear. The fall air is crisp against your face. Circumstances are ideal for a flight.
“I’m not sure if this is what you want,” you interrupt yourself, clumsily.
“This is helpful,” your writing team reassures you. “Keep going.”
You’re looking through a diamond-shaped opening in a tall, chain link fence. In front of you, there is a small plane. Your daughters—they are lovely, grown creatures—hug you and pass through the opening to the other side of the fence. You’re mustering a smile. You feel the strain of this forced pleasantry against your cheeks. Your husband hugs you weakly before he follows your daughters, and something visceral stuns you. The perfume of bourbon on his breath, a first drink to help settle his nerves. Nothing is ideal.
You’re overcome with the disorienting feeling of love collapsing inside of your body into flimsy fragments, like torn paper disintegrating in your bloodstream—a heartbreak. “This is the scene I see, always,” you hear yourself say. “Thomas, walking away. I see that little plane, and I see Thomas’s back as he’s walking toward that plane.”
“What did you feel in that moment, watching your family leave you?” one of your writers asks.
You exhale. You can see yourself wrapping your fingers around the fence and gripping the metal while you peer through that cold, diamond-shaped opening with a microscopic gaze: Bags being unloaded from a luggage trailer. Your girls climbing the steps of the plane, their feet stepping in unison. Thomas’s gray hairs blowing in the breeze, the tweed jacket slung over his arm. You’d flown all of your kids in from different parts of the country for a getaway and to be together for the first time in two years. It’s the end of a vacation gone unexpectedly, terribly, drastically wrong. He’s leaving you in a city that is not home, with a son who is ill, and a problem you don’t know how to deal with.
Your voice halts. You’re snapped out of that gorgeous, imperfect fall day. “I really don’t want to write an autobiography,” you tell your writing team. Haven’t you already made this clear enough, you wonder?
You’ve just let yourself get lost inside a space you didn’t know existed in your psyche any longer, and you are rattled, unfocused. You adjust your earbuds and the volume on your phone. You shuffle papers on the desk in front of you. You examine the bottom of one of your new shoes for scuff marks. Try and try—you can’t shake the feeling of Thomas’s empty hug.
You’ve moved far beyond these events, you remind yourself. “I’m not sure how this is relevant to my ministry, to my service to women,” you try. You’ve discovered your passion and your purpose, and you want to help other women find their passion and purpose, to be as free and self-possessed as you have become. This is why you’ve come to the Table. This is what you want RTC to help you write about: the lessons you learned and the tools that others can borrow from your experience of climbing out of the muck to a more loving place and to the top of your game as an unlikely female spiritual leader and healer.
Here’s the thing: it’s uncomfortable, brutal, even, to walk through your past, but for your book to resonate with readers, to affect them and cause them to reevaluate their own lives, you have to step up and do it—momentarily walk right back into the muck that delivered you to the present moment.
Are you familiar with this Hemingway quotation? “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
When your writing team asks you to elaborate—and we will, over and over—whether it’s during one of a million phone interviews, or on the page, in a written assignment we’ve sent to you, when we ask you to go back to the terrible space you occupied when your husband abandoned you with your sick child, or when you asked your husband, “Why should we stay married, if this is what it’s going to be like?” We get it—these crushing moments don’t illustrate who you are today; they are not the lessons that you hope to share with readers.
How will you effect change and inspire others to be their most authentic, best selves, you wonder, if they see you as inauthentic and weak? And you aren’t sure readers will care; they don’t want a sob story or a confessional, right? These are terrifying thoughts.
But we’re asking you to bleed for this process.
The editing comes later.
We can’t help you write your best book, the one that will lift readers in the ways you’ve been lifted, if the story you’re sharing with us is pared down to bare, dry bones, a clipped version of the truth. We can’t show the reader that your present-day bliss and peace, your evolution from a fundamentalist Christian wife of a prominent attorney and country-club mother into a world-traveling journeyer of every spiritual tradition, a yogi, and a healer, is an unexpected turn and triumph in your trajectory if they don’t first see the ways you’ve been beaten down, lonely, and desperate in the past. That moment when, hours after Thomas left, you sat at the side of a hospital bed and watched your adult son vomit and heave while hooked up to IVs; you tried to turn away from the sight, to focus on his long, dark lashes, one of his best features—are you willing to share it? Are you willing to share how you held his hand and begged, “Please let the doctor tell me what is happening,” for hours before he nodded in agreement?
And there, in a hospital set in the playground that is Aspen, while your husband and daughters flew away on a jet plane, an unsympathetic stranger in a white coat told you that your thirty-year-old son, your first born, the child who had access to every possibility, including your addict-husband, was detoxing from heroin.
The shock of it. The disbelief. The self-blaming.
Or, will you share the way your son looked at you and said, “I came here intending to go cold turkey, because I knew you would help me.”
The way you gasped unconsciously and felt your soul drain out of your skin and bones and float above you in that moment while you peered through the hospital window trying to glimpse the blue sky, searching for grace and God.
We can’t expect readers to believe that your path to a peaceful existence, even as your son still battles his addiction twenty years later, has been earned, or that your wisdom about how they may find their own peace is reliable, if they don’t get to peer into a few remarkable fragments of the turmoil you have known and from which your transformative experiences emerged. We ask you this: how else will readers understand the magic of your present day self—the success and joy you want them to tap into in their own lives?
We hope for every possible piece of your puzzle, full disclosure. We push for it constantly. But here’s the other thing: we hear you; you don’t want a personal memoir. Fair enough. We, at the Table, aren’t striving to help you write a conventional memoir. But we believe strongly that from stories, people connect to one another and make meaning; so, yes, personal threads, your stories, will stitch through your book, sometimes visibly, even when the book is focused on your higher purpose and vision to initiate broad cultural shifts in the workplace or in healthcare or in the way people design their own lives. Creating meaningful change is complex, textured: your journey toward initiating that change is born of your stories; your ability to show others how they can be a part of such change is founded in your sacred stories.
Let us help you identify which pieces of your life may strike a chord with readers, or how a few key incidents, shared with grit and honesty, can be reconfigured to convey a clear image of your experience. We’ll work to draw surprising connections between seemingly disparate elements of your life to help readers make meaning of those experiences and apply that meaning to their own actions and purpose.
“It’s funny,” you say into the phone after you and your writing team have been sitting in minutes of silence. “I’m realizing as I tell you about this day that even now, even in the revolution I’ve made in my life, I want so desperately to remember beauty, the way the sky looked, the way the air felt on my face. I used to force myself to smile in the worst circumstances. It’s the instinct to give the impression that things are okay, to want to comfort others and yourself through a smile.
“It’s one of the things women need to push themselves to grow out of if they want to live more authentically. It’s necessary to see what isn’t beautiful. Jacob was sweating profusely that day in the hospital. He was a washed-out, pale shadow of the child I had loved. He looked grayish-blue, not alive, really.
“It’s taken years to know that I can still love him without consuming myself with trying to repair him. I’ve forgiven myself for the family I let him grow up in, the addiction from the very beginning, the way I always tried to imagine bourbon as cologne. The smell makes me retch now.”
To edit well, to help deliver your message with raw beauty and real impact, we need you to bleed.