Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 17, 2019

Dare to Be Vulnerable in Your Writing

Laura Drake

I had no idea what I was going to write about this month. I felt like I'd done it all. Then I read Jenny's post from Brené Brown (If you haven't read it, it's HERE). #7 hit me in the heart. See, I'd forgotten. Vulnerability is my super-power.

I went through a pretty traumatic childhood and then bad decisions on my part left me with thick armor. At one point in my life, I was afraid of good things happening, because I thought the Universe wanted balance, and that meant something bad was coming. Yeah, sad, I know.

My natural buoyancy pulled me out of the sludge. I'm not special; no one gets through life without being battered, besieged and challenged. I mention it only to give context.

This is about being open, laying out what you have to say on the page. I've heard writers who were afraid to write what was in their heart, for fear of what family and friends would think. Hell, what perfect strangers would think! (Because that's what reviews are, right?) I get their fear. I really do.

But think back, to when you first decided to write. What did you choose to write? I don't care if you wrote Paranormal, Rom Com, Sci-fi, or end-of-the-world dystopian--I know one thing. Deep down in the conflict of that work, you were writing what was in your heart. Genre doesn't matter—that's just how our brain chooses to cover our heart's exposure.

I'm here to challenge you to open yourself. Lay yourself bare in your writing. Strip off the mask we all wear. Why?

  • Because you want to. Dig deep—you know it's true.
  • Because that's the best writing you'll ever do.
  • Because that's why readers read—they want to connect, on an emotional level with other humans. Here's proof. What books are on your keeper shelf? I'll bet if you were to look, you could tell me what each book meant to you—what chord it touched in your heart.
  • Because readers will love and respect you for it. Our heroes are, after all, those who risked it all, in spite of the dangers and the odds. Right?
  • Because it's good for your soul, putting out your truth out there in black and white that will exist after you're gone. But also because, when people tell you your work touched them, it's the hand clasp you needed when you wrote it. We all need those. The world needs those. Desperately.

This is a risk. It's scary. Believe me, I know.

I wrote a book to my sister, my soul-mate, whom I lost at 32 to cancer. There is nothing autobiographical about Days Made of Glass, but the bond between the two sisters is one I shared with Nancy. I had to wait 15 years until I thought I was good enough to write it. I opened my heart and spilled the contents on the page. I couldn't do anything less and do the book, and my sister, justice.

And guess what? That book is the highest rated of any I ever wrote. I had readers contact me, and tell me what it meant to them.

Isn't that why we write?

Go. Be brave. Be vulnerable. I promise you it'll be worth it.

Have you risked being vulnerable in your writing?

Have I convinced you to try?

Shared blood defines a family, but spilled blood can too.

Harlie Cooper raised her sister, Angel, even before their mother died. When their guardian is killed in a fire, rather than be separated by Social Services, they run. Life in off the grid in L.A. isn’t easy, but worse, there’s something wrong with Angel.

Harlie walks in to find their apartment scattered with shattered and glass and Angel, a bloody rag doll in a corner. The doctor orders institutionalization in a state facility. Harlie’s not leaving her sister in that human warehouse. But something better takes money. Lots of it.

When a rep from the Pro Bull Riding Circuit suggests she train as a bullfighter, rescuing downed cowboys from their rampaging charges, she can’t let the fact that she’d be the first woman to attempt this stop her. Angel is depending on her.

It’s not just the danger and taking on a man’s career that challenges Harlie. She must learn to trust—her partner and herself, and learn to let go of what’s not hers to save.

A story of family and friendship, trust and truth.

30 comments on “Dare to Be Vulnerable in Your Writing”

  1. Oh no, not vulnerability! Lol. It is difficult to do, but I know my favorite scenes are those that elicit strong emotion. And those happened because I tapped into my own emotion—dug deep, as you say. Thanks for the reminder to keep it real and raw!

  2. 'I had to wait 15 years until I thought I was good enough to write it.'

    That's exactly it. When you get the right idea, and know it's important and it's going to hurt, you have to become a writer good enough to do it justice - and that takes time, and even more importantly, craft.

    You hate to ruin a pivotal idea.

    Took me 15 years, too. And that was only the first book in the trilogy - it's been 6 since I started working on the second.

      1. 'Twasn't ready before that.

        I won't write many books in my lifetime, and they will have my name on them - they have to be right.

        Many writers learn as they go. I don't want to be learned on, as a reader. Too little time, too much good stuff to read.

  3. Long before I wrote books, I wrote poetry. No one saw it but my family, and I liked it that way. Some of it was good, and much of it was terrible. But it got the emotion out, which is what we all need.

    I thought of that poetry when I read this post, especially the part that stood out to Alicia about being good enough to write the stories you need to write. One of those early poems was called "Wandering Through My Growing Up" and it was basically about the painful knowledge I had as a teen that there were large stories inside me, waiting for me to grow up enough to tell them.

    Adult me knows that what I really wasn't ready for was to be vulnerable to others. I was vulnerable to the page, but not connected to others through the page.

    I'm all grown up now (sort of) and I'm telling those stories. But it's still hard, and I still don't like to show them to anyone but friends and family. I do it, but I never like it that much. So, here's what I think, after writing the post you referenced at the top and reading your lovely post here:

    Vulnerability is important, but connection is more important. You can't really have true connection - to family or to readers - without being vulnerable. But vulnerable needs connection to grow and develop as it should.

    So, my advice to every writer is to be vulnerable to the page every chance you get. Do it early and do it often. Decide when you might be ready to connect over those vulnerable words with a broader audience. Do some test salvos. Ease yourself into that published author hot tub. Embrace the discomfort that comes with this, because the connection to that broad audience will grow and change the power of your vulnerability.

    Vulnerability and connection are intertwined, but very very different.

    1. So well said, Jenny, and you may have just explained why it's not as hard for me to be vulnerable. I need people to connect with. I need it like I need water. And one doesn't come without the other, so I guess the non-connection is scarier for me than being vulnerable.

      Thanks for the insight into me!

  4. This afternoon as I was folding laundry, I heard "Silver Spring" for gazillionth time, and I immediately thought of this post. That song is enduring (and a personal favorite) because when Stevie Nicks wrote it she was raw from the implosion of her relationship to Lindsey Buckingham. Everyone can relate to that sense of loss and betrayal.

    Allowing myself to be vulnerable is something I fight daily, especially when you grow up prizing independence. I can mange well in my fiction writing, because I can hide behind a veil of characters. But to put it out there--sometimes I'd rather have dental work done.

    Thank you for a good post.

  5. Harlan Ellison once said, "Writing is easy. All you have to do is cut out part of your heart and leave it on the page."
    Okay, I'm a day late. If I look in my wallet I'll probably find I'm a dollar short, too.
    Thanks, Laura, this is really good advice.

  6. I do that. In the very first book I wrote--never pitched it, I was so vulnerable, I was afraid it was too much.

    I still put it in my writing, just not to that degree.


      1. I've been published. That book is so raw and long. 170k. I don't think it's meant to be published, but it's what proved to me I can write. I appreciate the kind words.


  7. Apologies if this is a duplicate, but my first try did not seem to post.
    One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." This on my wall next to my writing desk helps me get the stories out and on the page. Some will never be seen by anyone else, but they will be written and not roiling around in my vulnerable self. We are all vulnerable in some way, and writing is healing.

    1. Love that, Lori, and you got to the heart of it. I've ascribe to the belief that the worst thing that could happen to me would be, sitting on my porch when I'm old, regretting the things I didn't try. Having an untold story in me because I didn't have the courage to put it on the page, is another.

      I'm more afraid of that, than being vulnerable. Thanks for the wisdom.

  8. Hi Laura and WITS lovers, I had my first publishing success in a comp with a piece on Grief, it was personal and cutting and raw. Yes I have elements of raw characters, but it’s different knowing where that heads into the zone of light relief.
    This morning, before I got back into editing my work, I read a few chapters of a most vulnerable character, Kya, in Where the Crawdads Sing. After closing that (reluctantly) and opening my own pages I was so in Kya’s headspace, my creative brain just went to work. There is nothing like creative preparation. I can’t recommend it enough.

  9. "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader," Robert Frost. Good stuff, thanks for sharing.

  10. I've always found it to be easiest to be vulnerable or the least bit expressive through writing versus anything else. I feel like when you truly bleed on the page the reader feels it.

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