The Power of Honesty
This week I stared my Storytelling Masterclass online with Neil Gaiman. Wow, what a huge experience in such a short time!
I absolutely believe in the power of stories, and those of you who have joined me at events, or listened to me speak will know it’s a recurring theme of mine. So, because of that, and because my job in a design agency also relies on powerful storytelling, I enrolled on the masterclass course.
When you are in ‘work’ mode it’s easy to think about learning and development as another thing to do on your list. I sat down to have an hour with the course, with my phone on, my email open in the background and one ear/eye/half my brain elsewhere.
What I didn’t expect was the emotional power the course had to stop me in my tracks
It was easy for me to tune in because Neil has such a voice, so much to say and so much focus. He pulled me in and the rest of my day started to drift away. This was already re-writing my day (excuse the pun) and I hadn’t even started any writing exercises.
In his lesson, Neil Gaiman talks about honesty, about writing lies to tell an inner truth. That’s the role of fiction. He encouraged us to crack open our chests and let our true selves out, to ‘walk naked down the street’. The exercise I started with was to honestly (and I mean really honestly) write about the saddest moment of my life.
He had told us a story about when he was attacked by wasps. He told his kids to run, standing still himself, being stung over and over again. But, he said, this wasn’t the brave part. At this stage I’m thinking WTF? THIS isn’t the brave bit??
The brave part was the next day when he had to face his fear and go back to the scene for his glasses. The brave part was feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Oh yes, there’s power in that alright, just read Susan Jeffers!
So, this got me to thinking, what was truly the saddest moment of my life? It was that word ‘moment’ that really counted. I knew the saddest situation was when I had to sit with my ex-husband and tell our kids their dad was leaving, but what was the exact saddest moment? Which moment would I need to be brave enough to face and to write about?
The whole massive situation and epic story came down to just this.
It was the link between me and my son, the desire to love him whilst at the same time knowing I was hurting him, but doing it anyway because I’m his mum and I didn’t want anyone else to deliver that blow.
The revelation I had just honing the drama down to that single moment was incredible. I wrote my few paragraphs and when I’d finished I was astounded to see there was no real references to the bigger situation or to the other people involved, it was this one small, focused and totally specific moment that held all the power.
As I wrote I felt emotions bubble up. At first, I felt the barriers coming up before I even wrote a thing ‘what if I shouldn’t write about this?’, ‘what if it offends someone?’, ‘what if it makes me look like a nutjob?’. Then afterwards, as part of the exercise I read it aloud…that was a whole new ballgame right there.
As I read my work out loud I had another realisation. This was my life experience to show to the world, uniquely mine. In creation we all have this unique ability. No-one has lived our lives, no-one expresses their stories the way we do. This set me free, I felt better about anyone judging it or disliking it.
My writing might not be prize winning or bestseller material yet, but it is mine. It has given me an insight I didn’t have before and it gave me a tool to understand my world. What else does it need to be?
Kelly Herrick is a creator & collaborator who helps people access more freedom & joy. She is also the strategic lead in an international design agency, a painter and mum of two boys.