The Virtues of Vulnerability

When is a writer vulnerable? How about every day.Memoir Writing - Suzanne Sherman blog

In her still-popular Ted Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” a research professor who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, and the best-selling author of several books on related topics, Brene Brown says that part of what leads to a good connection is vulnerability. She says good speakers make a human connection, and it takes courage: they have to have the courage to be imperfect. They have to have the compassion to be kind to themselves and to others, and they have to be willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they are. They need to fully embrace vulnerability.

Similar to the public speaker, the writer has to be courageous and willing to be vulnerable to get to the place where good, honest writing can happen.

You can write for years, send your writing out for publication and never get an acceptance letter. You can write a story from your life and share it with family or publish a memoir and hear back from someone who “was there” and insists it didn’t happen that way. You can write with the critic watching over your shoulder, full of opinions about what you what you can and cannot say.

What’s the alternative? Going for it anyway. Write, write, write. Choose to write without that critic, pledge yourself to discover what is there when you allow yourself to be vulnerable, to see and be seen even when there’s no guarantee of how it will turn out. Tell family or others who may argue that things didn’t happen that way that this is the truth as you remember it and invite them to write their story, if they like. And if you get a rejection letter from a prospective publisher, remind yourself it isn’t you on an editor’s desk, it’s your story. It isn’t a reflection of you, it’s a message that your story wasn’t a fit with that publication. Keep going.

When we come from a deep sense of knowing our worthiness, or what Brown calls “the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, love,” the truth becomes easier to tell, our writing is more authentic, the stamps are easier to stick on submission envelopes.

When do you feel vulnerable? When you tell the truth in a piece of writing? When you ask someone to read your work? When you’re waiting to hear back from an editor? What do you do with these hard feelings? Do you blame yourself or others? (“That stupid magazine. I didn’t want to be published there anyway.” “What makes me think I have a story to tell?”) Do you stop writing for awhile? Talk yourself out of finishing a story you were excited about? Do you leave out part of your story because you’re afraid of what people may think of you? Are you afraid you’ll lose someone’s faith or admiration?

Brown believes that what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful. I translate that for the writer: What makes you vulnerable makes you real, and what makes you real makes you relatable. It means you write from the heart, you say what needs to be said. You’re headed in the direction of connection, and connection is essential in life, and in memoir writing.