By SARAH DITTMORE
“It’s a great story,” my teacher acquiesced. I beamed with the smile of an over-achiever receiving the much longed-for validation of a superior.
“But you’re not ready to write it.”
My smile vanished, and indignation took its place. “What do you mean I’m not ready to write it? I wouldn’t have written it if I wasn’t ready to talk about it. It’s my story! I get to choose with whom and how I share it.”
“You’re right. You are ready to talk about it; I am not questioning you there. But that’s the problem. You’re ready to talk about it. You’re ready to process what happened to you, and that’s important. But being ready to heal and being ready to write a story are two very different things.”
Still confused on the distinction, I pestered her for more information.
“Look,” she explained, “when I started writing about my mother’s death, it was raw. It was full of emotion. And it was necessary. It’s what I needed to do for myself to move through and process my experience. To heal my pain. But it wasn’t for my readers. It was almost embarrassing for my readers. Like they were reading from a diary they found in a hidden drawer.”
I looked down at my printed manuscript and thought of the powerful sobs writing it had elicited. She wasn’t completely wrong—it had felt a bit like spilling my guts to my diary.
“It took years for me to get to a place where I could look back on everything that happened and tell the stories within the pain rather than just writing an ode to my hurt,” she continued, “The bones of your story are great, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t write about what happened. But you need to take time to heal from the experience first. Then, and only then, will you be ready to write this story. We write from our scars, but first, we must tend to the open wounds.”
I didn’t want to hear it at the time, but even then, I knew she was right. My emotions were too raw. My words were too volatile. I wasn’t writing a story to inspire thought and feeling in my readers. I was monologuing a plea, begging people to find meaning in an experience that still felt entirely void of a greater purpose.
As writers, we pour our soul into our words. It’s a powerful act of vulnerability that builds a web of connection between our readers and us. Our stories are a revolutionary act against a culture constantly pushing us apart; they are a picket sign loudly declaring that we do, in fact, share something in our humanity. And the more vulnerable and open we are in our writing, the stronger that connection can be.
But if we try to tell the stories we still haven’t healed from, that bridge becomes a lifeboat. As we float, stranded in the ocean, we beg our readers to climb aboard and captain our sinking ship. But our readers cannot be the captains in our healing process. Fictionalizing our pain is not a magic wand that will cure our wounds. We must be the heroes of our stories first; only once we know how they end will we be ready to tell them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born and raised in California, Sarah Dittmore has spent the past decade travelling the world and writing stories of the people and places she encounters along the way. As a queer, neurodivergent author, Sarah is passionate about giving voice to perspectives often underrepresented in literature. Sarah’s published work can be found at www.sarahdittmore.com and you can follow along her travels on Instagram @adventurewitchsarah.