When I was in kindergarten there were two lactose intolerant children named Brett and Tammy. Unfortunately, I started kindergarten in 1979, when lactose intolerance was less believable than demonic possession, at least at my school. So poor Brett and Tammy were forced every morning to drink their milk. Then, every morning, Brett or Tammy or both puked on the orange carpet on the way to the kindergarten toilet. They did not receive food sensitivity sensitivity; instead, they were yelled at for not making it to the toilet and forcing the teacher to pull out that can of pink, peppermint-scented saw dust that allowed vomit to be vacuumed. Their milk-puke also earned Brett and Tammy and the scorn of we children who could tolerate milk break and were offended by the sour smell and sight of watching these children miss the mark day after day.
You are most welcome for that descriptive imagery (and this also explains today’s photo), but vomit is in fact the perfect metaphor for today’s blog post. Some experiences in life cause us physical pain and emotional sickness. While, over time, we may find those difficult journeys rich and meaningful, getting there requires reflection. Without reflection and appropriate filtering, personal experience is rank with the stench of anger. Unsorted feelings are the sour stomach of the psyche, and they produce emotional vomit.
That said, emotional vomit has its place: a diary, a medical blog, a personal conversation with supportive friends, a therapist’s office. Many people will hold your hair back for you when you retch up the difficulties of your life. That’s good, but no one wants to pay good money for another person’s emotional vomit. This is why we pay a therapists and they don’t pay us.
The difference between writing to heal (reframing experiences through narrative to establish what they truly means to us and how we’re going to live with that meaning) and writing to sell (creating a unique story arch rich with narrative threads and well-crafted language) is context. When we write to heal ourselves, we regurgitate the experience and analyze it for meaning. Writing to sell means we’ve already done the first part and not only do we you recognize what our experiences meant to ourselves, we find milestones and memories that are universally transcendent and will help other people relate to the human condition. My editor Lynn likes to call those, “teachable moments,” and they don’t have to be heavy handed. Sometimes they are quite subtle.
Writing to sell is to bleed the pure truth lush with the iron richness of strength and the clarity of contrast. Writing to sell is entirely different than a half-digested hodge podge of mixed feelings. That’s not to say there is no ambivalence; we can all relate to ambivalence. Nor is it to say there is no anger or heat, but there is a clarity in blood that doesn’t exist in vomit. There is universality of it that allows a transfusion of knowledge and growth. That truth-blood is a refined and extensible substance.
When one writes to be read, one should be a universal donor, not that dude who puked in your car. When I use the term, “Writing to Sell,” that can also mean writing that is not sold for money but that is intended for strangers to read. If we want people to read what we have to say, even when not profiting from it (ahem, like this blog), it needs to be blood not vomit. The reader needs to be able to find something in the narrative that both appeals and applies to them as human beings separate from the writer. When writing to sell, the end product should be a life-gift to the reader not the burden of the writer’s soul.
And this, my friends, is why it’s taken more than three years to write my next book. I don’t want to puke on my readers, but bleeding takes time.
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Tomorrow is the big day! I’ll be giving away a few copies of my e-book to those who post comments on 10.10.13! Make sure to comment on tomorrow’s post for your chance to win.