The Pursuit: Glennon Doyle Melton on How to Change the World With Your Story
If you’re a writer, artist, creator or influencer of any kind, or maybe even just a participant in the world of social media, you feel the pressure. The pressure to be authentic and transparent to tell our story and tell it well.
It’s almost as if all creators now need to be memoirists. We have to know how much to share, when and how detailed. But how do we separate what’s helpful for others versus what’s helpful for us?
What better way to find out than to ask seasoned New York Times best-selling memoirist Glennon Dolye Melton?
Melton has been endorsed by big personal development names, such as Oprah, research professor Brené Brown and author Elizabeth Gilbert, for her honesty and authenticity. Melton is also a TED speaker, founder of the popular blog Momastery.com and the nonprofit Together Rising, which helps people going through a variety of financial, personal and emotional challenges. She writes about her “brutiful” life as a writer, mother, ex-wife, recovering alcoholic and bulimic.
Related: ‘The Power of Vulnerability’
Sharing the deepest, truest, sometimes ugliest parts of your story can be terrifying. Here are Melton’s rules for how to truthfully tell your story in a way that inspires and empowers others to do the same:
1. Note the difference between your true self and your “representative.”
Melton began writing because she realized staying sober and healthy required her to remove the various roles she played—wife, mom, sister, friend—and be her truest self.
“We have these representatives that we have to send out into the world, and they’re allowed to say five things, the weather and your scarf and whatever the hell. And that’s fine but [then] you die inside because there is this real you behind you, suffocating, dying to come out.”
So she began searching for her true self by writing every day for two years at 4:30 a.m., alone in a closet, because it was the only space of her own at the time.
Make the time and space necessary to dig deep and pull out your truest self.
2. Prepare for what Brené Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover.”
Melton’s truth-telling journey began when she inadvertently overshared in a personal “X things about me” Facebook post. She shared openly about her recovery while her friends shared about their favorite snack foods.
“Later I checked some emails from people who I had known my whole life but had never really introduced themselves to me. They were bringing to me the heavy stuff inside that we’re meant to help each other carry.”
You probably will feel an immediate sense of regret and fear. Stand fast, Melton says, because it will pass, and then you can get to the other side.
3. Create boundaries, because it will not be easy.
It’s easy to imagine established writers sitting at a desk with a steaming latte, surrounded by warm sunlight, effortlessly typing at their laptops as the words just flow to them.
Melton reminds us that reality is sweating it out each morning in a dark, cramped closet. She still wants to quit every day but carries on because her work is attached to something bigger. Readers tell her that her work makes them braver and stronger, so she feels a responsibility to keep going.
“In Love Warrior, every word I was writing [knowing] this is about me, but I know this is also about us. That’s why when people read it; they’re like, ‘Oh my god, that’s my story.’”
Cut out self-indulgent writing with Melton’s “something bigger” boundary. Ask yourself, Is my writing helping me or is this a universal problem?
4. Write from scars, not wounds.
Everything in her book, Love Warrior, happened not one or two but four years ago. People often ask Melton how she can share so honestly in real time. Her answer is that it’s not in real time because that would be dangerous.
“There’s this kind of truth telling that feels like [bulimia]; things happen to people and then they just [vomit it all] out.” she candidly explained. Doing this only shares the pain and not the beauty. Great stories—the kind that help people—have both.
Heal first so you can be both “vulnerable and bullet proof” at the same time—empathizing and connecting with your audience, without falling apart again.
5. Respect the dream.
Don’t waste your time asking people to share your work. Even in personal writing, content is king. “If it’s good enough, if it’s helping people, people want to help their people. They will share it.” she says.
Melton doesn’t handle the marketing or operations for her blog. She wasn’t pitching agents or editors. She didn’t reach out to Oprah. The key to her success is that she showed up every day to sit and write in a closet. She did the “un-sexy stuff.”
She went on, “[It’s] the Mark Twain quote, ‘You just write like you’re being paid until somebody pays you.’”