So, Elizabeth Gilbert has a podcast. And that’s fun because she has a lovely voice and valuable insights to share. Take, for instance, this gem from her first episode.
“There is the book that you must write, and then there is the book that you can publish. And those may be two different books.”
This exact thought has been on my mind lately. It is an issue that often arises among writers, especially those penning memoirs and life stories.
Being brave enough to tell your own tale and communicate your truth is one thing. But what about the other people who may be embroiled in your story? What right do you have to write about them? And, perhaps more pointedly, what are people going to think if you open up and express what you really feel?
The understandable fears of being judged or causing harm to others are enough to convince some writers to stay silent. Yet I believe it is possible to tell difficult stories with integrity and still protect ourselves and others. More than that, I think it is important for us to do so. Not easy, but important.
It’s where writing a conflicted thing. On the one hand, it can be intensely intimate; an act so personal it allows us to glimpse the deepest, most secret and sacred parts of ourselves. But it can also be about as public as you can get. Words can communicate anything to anyone who has the ability to interpret them.
This is why we need to be careful, even respectful, of our writing. We need to appreciate its dual nature and utilise it wisely.
The way I see it, and the way I talk about this with my clients, is that there is the story of what happened and the story you tell about it. There are the words you choose to use, with consideration and precision, and the images and metaphors you decide to place around them. There are structures, perspectives and approaches you can adopt that enable you to narrate your experiences honestly but without exposing anything too perilous or tender.
In short, there are ways to say what you need to convey both truthfully and thoughtfully, and this is what makes the difference between the book you must write and the one you can publish. Of course, the trick lies in navigating your way between the two.
My advice about this is to listen to what Liz Gilbert says and begin by writing the book you need to write. All of it, however rough or raw and sore it may be. Write it for yourself first, with no other reader in mind. Be courageous. Be tenacious. Be unflinching.
After that, give yourself some time. Put your work away and only look it later. Find a mindful reader and perhaps a sympathetic editor. See your story through new eyes.
Then take a deep breath, remind yourself you are a writer and get to work on the book you can publish.
What differences do you think exist between the book you must write and the one you can publish? What strategies do you use to move from one to the other?