Why You Should Tell the Ugly Parts of Your Story

When you tell your story, how do you talk about yourself? Are you completely honest? Really? Why not do something different? Make yourself a hero in the worst kind of way.

Great heroes sacrifice themselves, right? So do just that. Avoid the parts that make you sound amazing. Instead, focus on the broken, ugly parts of your story. In other words, write like Brennan Manning.

Brennan Manning
Brennan Manning

Take your cues from a ragamuffin

I just finished All Is Grace, a memoir by author, speaker, priest, and alcoholic Brennan Manning.

I was so engrossed in it I read nearly all of it in one sitting.

The next day, I finished it.

What struck me most about this book was not the darkness of one man’s journey. What I found compelling was his focus on the nasty bumps on the road. In many ways, it was truly a “ragamuffin memoir” — tattered and frayed in a million, dirty, clumpy pieces.

Full of self-effacing remarks and honest confessions, Brennan’s story will either give you hope, or depress you. Maybe both. But it challenged me in a weird way. The painful stories of blackouts and divorce coupled with profound spiritual epiphanies and love stories made me marvel at the complexity of life. Not just Brennan’s, but mine too.

And it made me want to tell my story in more honest ways — not as a rock star, but as a real, broken human being.

Be counter-cultural

Our culture is so image-centric and self-focused that it’s easy to think if we don’t pat ourselves on the back no one will.

But Brennan decided to be completely counter-cultural with All Is Grace. In other words, he made himself a hero in the worst kind of way. And for me, it was a breath of fresh air.

If you write a blog or a memoir or simply find yourself telling a story to a friend over coffee today, try doing this for a change.

Tell a nasty part of yourself you’d otherwise conceal. Tell something that humiliates and humbles you, and see how your audience reacts.

The truth will set you free

Writing like this may be more liberating than you realize.

At times, you will hold the keys to another’s prison. Just like when you write from the heart, your pain will become someone else’s healing balm.

And at others, you may find yourself confessing to yourself, with no one to listen to you. Regardless, you will be set free from the fear of having to impress people by telling nice lies.

You may find what Brennan discovered in his career. That there is a world full of desperate, broken people, longing to hear the honest words of another ragamuffin.

  • A beggar unashamed of his  hunger.
  • A thief unaware of his poverty.
  • A friend and addict.
  • A lover, liar, fighter and healer.

A paradox, like us all.

Go ahead: try it

Fortunately, writing ugly does a few beautiful things:

  1. It connects with the audience. When you openly share your faults, people will listen. Everyone can identify with failure and disappointment.
  2. It humanizes you. Despite what we see in movies, we don’t want a hero that is completely unlike us. We want someone who is real. That is someone we will pay attention to — not a superhuman.
  3. It humbles you. Face it: we writers could stand to be brought low once in awhile. We all live with weird neuroses, but we also battle internal arrogance. Disciplining yourself to air your dirty laundry kills haughtiness.

In the end, you can be a hero in one of two ways. You can be larger than life. Or you can be real. The difference is whether you’re willing to be honest, where you will write the ugly parts.

If this idea resonates with you, I suggest you pick up Brennan’s new book: All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir.

Was there a time when you told an ugly part of your story? How did people react? Share in the comments.

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