Kathi Lipp interviews author, speaker, and all-around amazing person, Michele Cushatt on what it takes to write the hard parts of our stories. Three-time cancer survivor, Michele knows the intimate ins and outs of the difficult spaces of our lives. Reality is not always pretty, but God’s grace and love through it all are extraordinarily beautiful.
In today’s episode, you will know:
- What resistance we face when we press into our story
- Tricks and tips to keep going when we fear
- How to get the help you need to craft and honest book
Writing at the Red House Retreat
Do you have a difficult story to write? If so, “How to Tell the Hard Parts of Your Story” Writing at the Red House Retreat is for you. Painful stories need to be shared in such a way that they don’t bring the reader down, but leave them with a way of looking up. Learn from industry experts and featured writers in residence, Michele Cushatt, and Kathi Lipp, as they take you through the ins and outs of crafting your unique true story and how to best share you and your story with the world. Rooms are filling up. Book NOW.
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Join us for next week’s episode (Part 2) when we talk about the nitty-gritty on how to tell stories that involve others.
Transcript of this Episode
Read along with the Podcast!
Communicator Academy Podcast #166
Writing Your Hard Story – Part 1
Kathi – Hey friend. Welcome to Communicator Academy, where our heart is to equip and encourage men and women to become the communicators God created them to be. Joining us today is my – it’s a cheap way of introducing you – my relentless friend, Michele Cushatt.
Michele – I knew that was coming.
Kathi – Yes! Hey, Michele.
Michele – I like that, though. I am kind of relentless. In both good ways and bad ways, depending on who you ask.
Kathi – We are celebrating today! We are celebrating, because your book, Relentless has been birthed into the world.
Michele – It’s my baby!
Kathi – I am so incredibly proud of you, and I’m going to be honest with you. I’ve only read a little bit of it, but Holy flippin’ Cow.
Michele – It’s a little intense, but it’s all of me on the page, I can tell you that.
Kathi – So, like I said, I’ve only read a little of it, because it’s not out. We’re celebrating here on the podcast, but we’re doing this in the past, because we’re ‘whooooo’!
Michele – We are time machine gurus.
Kathi – Exactly. I got it last night, and I’m not going to give anything away, but I was reading a portion where your dad was telling about his mom, and how she made money. Guys, it makes me want to break into tears, right now. I’m just going to be honest with you.
Michele – And I kept the hardest things out of the book. I didn’t put them in, if you can believe that. Yeah, it’s my story, it’s my family’s story, all there on the page. The purpose of that is that God’s story is the one that’s really seen.
Kathi – So, I had the honor and the privilege – and it truly was – our very first Writing at the Red House was Michele teaching six very brave souls about writing your hard story. Can we just say, there was some incredibly hard stories represented.
Michele – I kind of felt, after listening to those stories, that my life is kind of a walk in the park.
Kathi – Which it’s not.
Michele – Which it’s not, but I just want to honor the courage of showing up, and sharing the truth about their hard story. It was big.
Kathi – It’s big. To be able to listen to, and absorb that? One of my favorite things, and I’m not going to cry when I say this, this was our last year with Jake, the puggle. As people were sharing their hard stories – ‘cause each of them got time in the … I don’t want to call it the Hot Seat. We called it Fearless Feedback… Each time someone was sharing the hardest part of their story, Jake, who was my Velcro, who was next to me all the time, would go to that person, and crawl under their hands so they had somebody to pet. He was the most useless dog in the entire world.
Michele – He’s also a very fragrant dog, but we’ll just leave that to the side.
Kathi – Yes.
Michele – He was so sweet. He could sense the person that needed love and needed to know they were not alone. He would go and plop himself down, and stay close to whomever was sharing.
Kathi – I love that, because you need somebody close to you when you tell your hard story. So, Relentless, you’ve shared things that you’ve never shared before. You’ve shared parts of your family that you’ve never shared before. I want to know, let’s just be honest, all of your books are raw and hard, but I want to know what resistance comes up with telling a hard story? What does that look like for you? I know that you probably take six times as long to write a book as I do.
Michele – What exactly do you mean by that, Kathi Lipp?
Kathi – Not because you’re not a fast writer. I mean it takes six times as long because I’m writing very prescriptive things. Some of it’s hard. I deal a lot with some of the emotional sides of stuff, but I don’t feel like the resistance comes up, for me, as it comes up for authors like you or Anne Lamott. You’re fighting your way through a story.
Michele – Every word. It’s a fight, and this one was the hardest one for me to write, by far.
Kathi – Really? Why do you think that is?
Michele – Because I had to dig deeper into myself to write this book. I could not stay at a superficial level. I had to really dig deeper to understand why I viewed God the way I did; where the chinks were in my faith armor. That required so much deep self-awareness. Also, digging into my family’s history. I went back generations to really understand how we ended up. As we all know, families are complicated, right? They’re not just all good or all bad. Flavors of all the above. I had a lot of angst and confusion about who God was, and it really stemmed from my childhood and my family of origin, and I had to go back further to understand where some of that came from. That was part of why it was so hard, but in terms of the resistance, I really had two major categories of resistance. The first one, and this is me being very honest about my own vanity and insecurity, the first resistance was, I was afraid of rejection.
Kathi – Of course.
Michele – I was staring at some really hard things. There will be, I know this without a doubt, there will be people who will criticize it.
Kathi – All we have to do is go to Amazon or Goodreads.
Michele – Oh yeah. It’s right there in front of us.
Kathi – I used to think Amazon was the worst, but then I read the Goodreads reviews. I was like, “Oh! Everybody hates me!”
Michele – It’s brutal, isn’t it?
Kathi – But when you’re sharing something that so intimate to you, and you’re bearing yourself on the page, the times when I’ve shared most vulnerably, and been criticized, are the ones that stick with me.
Michele – Yes. Exactly. I had a reviewer tell me recently that I was superficial and very disappointing and she could hardly force herself to read my book. I’m like, “Thank you! Appreciate that!” When you’re sitting, writing, at the same time you receive that feedback, that natural resistance is, “I don’t want to be rejected.” The temptation, then, is to modify what I write in order to work around potential criticism, and you can’t do that.
Kathi – I was going to say! So, how do you get to that point? I told you, I haven’t yet read the whole book, but the chapter I read was The Incarnation. I read a couple of chapters, but that’s one of them. The God That’s With You in Your Humanity. You’re in your therapist’s office throwing up into a wicker basket.
Michele – Blowing chunks into a wicker basket.
Kathi – And we’re not talking poetically, like, “Oh, I’m just vomiting all of my trauma!” No, you were vomiting.
Michele – Everywhere. All over my therapist’s office. I say in the book, you go to your therapist’s expecting to spill your guts, but this was taking it too far.
Kathi – Yes! That is an uncomfortable thing to write. So how do you say, “Okay, I need to tell this story, but I don’t want to tell this story, because my humanity says to keep it close to my chest?” I think about all the things where it’s: ‘don’t’. Don’t talk about your marital issues. Don’t talk about your therapy sessions. Don’t talk about your kids who are running off the rails. Don’t talk about the questions you have about your faith. How do you get to the point where you say, “I have to talk about these things in order for this book to mean anything.”?
Michele – Well, as far as from a writing process, what I had to do – ‘cause this was a daily occurrence – I had to sit an tell myself, I had to tell my brain, “You can always cut this out later.”
Kathi – You had to give yourself a safety net.
Michele – Yes, a safety net, to remind myself, “Right now, your job is to tell the truth, as best as you can.” So, I’d sit in my writing chair and I would sit down, and I would write the truth as best as I can. The only way that my brain would allow me not to pull back, is if I told myself, “You can cut this later. It’s not going in to print this week. You can cut this later. You can cut that out later. Tell the truth. Tell the truth.” That was a full year of writing and every day I had to remind myself, “This is right now, just on your computer. You can edit later.”
Kathi – I think that’s especially important when you’re telling hard stories that involve other people. If you try to tell that story without hurting somebody else’s feelings; without illuminating who anybody else is; without, without, without, it’s going to be half the story with zero impact. You may have to change people. You may have to things. You might have to cut it out completely, but you have to write the story as you know it.
Michele – Exactly. That was a huge learning curve for me. I am, typically, an Enneagram 2 with a 1 wing, right? So, I’m always thinking about everybody else’s needs. Well, that can be a real obstacle to writing. So, I have to turn that off. In addition to tell myself, “You can cut that out later.” I also remind myself, “You will invite a couple of other professionals to help you make a decision about what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate.” My editor is one of those people. I would share it with my family and offer their input. Those two reminders to myself helped me to write my hard story. It was pretty significant resistance.
Kathi – It’s interesting. I wrote a book several years ago with Roger’s permission, (very honestly) about a very sensitive subject. My editor said, “It’s too sensitive. You have to take it out.” I regret not fighting that decision. I feel like it would have been too much for her to talk about in her marriage, but I felt like it could have provided a lot of freedom. I don’t want to go into it here, because I haven’t had time to think it through and present it in the proper way, but I’ll always regret not putting that in there, because it makes it look like our marriage is easier than everybody else’s and it’s just not the case. We struggle with different things.
Michele – Yes, and that’s the other piece that helps you push past the resistance. I had the internal resistance of the fear of rejections, but I also had the resistance of telling other people’s stories, and trying to be very wise about how to do that. One of the things that helped me to push past that, in addition to the reminders that I’ll have time to edit it later, is the awareness of the other people who are in suffering place. This was an opportunity to connect with them. Holding back and hiding the truth was not going to help anyone. I had to show up with my full self if I was going to connect with people that were in places of pain.
Kathi – I love it. So, I want to bring you back to talk more, Michele. First of all, guys, Michele will never sell you her book, so I’m going to do it. Relentless: The Unshakeable Presence of a God Who Never Leaves. I love the title. I love the author. I know there are going to be book clubs, and there are going to be people who are going to be reading this together, so I’ve pre-ordered the book. I can’t wait for it to show up. I want you guys, if you’re going to get the book, I want you to be looking in the pages for what we’ve been talking about. If you’re writing your own hard story, look at how Michele has done it. This is what I love about good autobiographical things; you can see the mastery in it. You can see how people have crafted things. As writers we have to be readers. If I spent enough time in Michele’s book, I would be able to see the influence of the authors she loves. I think this is a tribute. It’s not a copying, it’s an influence. That’s what I want for each and every one of you, who’s telling your story, to write it in a way that you do it with care, and you do it with craftsmanship, so as we tell the hardest part of our stories, God can be reflected in that. Michele, thanks so much for sharing with us.
Michele – Thanks for letting me talk about my book baby!
Kathi – Book baby! So, guys, we’re going to bring Michele back because I want to ask you: How much do you tell? There is some raw stuff in there. My other question is: How do you get buy-in from the other people in your story. We’re going to ask those questions when we come back.
Michele – Okay! That’s going to be a good one.
Kathi – We’re going to get raw, here, people.
Michele – Alright! Thank you friends for joining us. You’ve been listening to Communicator Academy. I’m Michele Cushatt.
Kathi – And I’m Kathi Lipp.
Michele – You’ve been given the best message in the world. Now, go live it.
*see show notes in podcast post above for any mentioned items
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