There is power in storytelling, which is why many entrepreneurs, executives and brand representatives wonder how to share their personal stories effectively. They may not be sure of when, where, why and what to share. How much transparency, authenticity and vulnerability is too much?
We can learn the answers to some of those questions from Glennon Doyle Melton. She is the blogger and New York Times bestselling memoirist behind Momastery.com, a blog and online community that reaches millions each week. She is also the founder of the nonprofit Together Rising and an in-demand TED speaker. You may recognize her from a recent appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s SuperSoul Sunday, in which Oprah gave Melton’s new bestseller Love Warrior a coveted spot on her Book Club list.
Melton has bared all in her writing and speaking, giving her audience a deep and vivid look into her life as a writer, mother, soon-to-be ex-wife and recovering alcoholic and bulimic. Here are a few of her key lessons on how to best share your story with the world.
1. Recognize and remove the roles you play in others’ lives.
If you’re going to share your story, you need to write from a place of absolute truth. Melton explained that we all wear roles like costumes: wife, mother, business owner, sister, friend, CEO, artist, etc. Find a way to take off the costumes. For Melton, writing alone in the dark at 4:30 a.m. did the trick.
“In those early morning hours, I was no roles. I was just a soul,” she explains. “That’s when I came out.”
In addition to our roles, Melton notes that we tend to send a representative out into the world instead of our true selves. We discuss superficial subjects, such as the weather, but we rarely go deeper.
Melton encourages you to let go of what others will think and what you should feel — and try to find your truest voice, first and foremost.
2. Don’t share in real time.
Before we started filming, I asked Melton how she was doing on her book tour, reliving her very personal and painful stories from Love Warrior over and over again. I was shocked to learn that everything I’d just read happened not one or two but four years ago.
This is possibly the most important nugget for aspiring writers and anyone who wants to share their journey with the world: Truth-telling in real time is “dangerous.”
There’s this kind of truth-telling “that feels, like, bulimic,” Melton says candidly, explaining that people tend to vomit their experiences, so to speak, right after they happen. However, great stories share the pain and the beauty of an experience, which requires the storyteller to give themselves some time.
“It’s like this idea of being vulnerable and bulletproof at the same time,” Melton says. “I can be vulnerable about that version of me four years ago, but I’m a little bit bulletproof about it because I’m in another chapter of my story … nobody will know about it until I figure out what the heck it means, three years from now.”
3. Create boundaries.
Melton warns that sharing your truth with the world is not easy. She laughs as she admits that, yes, she wanted — and still wants — to quit every day. How does she carry on? As people started to respond to her writing, she realized that her work was making them braver and stronger. She says that she feels she has a responsibility to keep going.
Filter out therapeutic, self-indulgent writing with Melton’s “something bigger” boundary. Evaluate what you’ve written: Will it be universal to everyone?
Another important boundary for anyone who creates anything — oil paintings, infographics, campaigns or personal memoirs — is one of letting go. Melton explains that once she’s published a piece, she recognizes that she’s given her work away to the world.
“There’s a before [in the creative process], where you gather your ideas,” Melton says. “There’s a during, where you write it all out. There’s no after. You don’t follow it around. So my piece of advice would be, be an artist. Don’t be a babysitter.”
Melton says that she reads all of her reader comments, but she has never, in seven years, defended her work or engaged in negativity. Doing so saps you of the energy you need to do the work, she says.
4. Get out of your head.
Melton shares another helpful concept for creators, who tend to get stuck in their own heads, and for hustlers, who tend to be full of passion but often are not at peace. Humans are trinities — mind, body and spirit — and we need to tend to all three, she says.
“If I’m having this mind problem, and I sit at my computer and try to solve it, it doesn’t work,” Melton says. “But if I go for a walk, or I get on my elliptical or I do yoga, for some reason it settles something … All of a sudden I figure out that problem with the mind.”
To get in touch with the body, Melton uses yoga, and to tap back into the soul, she suggests getting quiet.
“I have ‘Be Still’ written on my wrist,” Melton says. “I figured out during my separation that the only way to do life well is to find a way to block out all the voices of what we should do, whether it’s from culture, or our friends, or our family or the institutions in our life. And then, get really still and listen for that still, small voice that will always tell us what the next right thing to do is.”
5. Respect the dream.
If you’re wondering how to grow your readership, craft a viral post like Melton did in 2011 or build a community of raving fans, Melton’s answer is to serve the audience you currently have.
“It blows my mind that I can type something into Facebook and help people through their day,” Melton says. “Even when I had five people, my mantra was, ‘serve.’ If you want to grow, serve the ones you have.”
She also recommends constantly asking people to share your work. Even in personal writing, she emphasizes that 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 never pitched agents or editors — they approached her. She did not reach out to Oprah, and she says she believes that Oprah had been watching her because she had “respected the dream” by putting in the work every morning.
Finally, Melton says she believes that success comes from “showing up and ‘making your voice, your voice’ … It’s your butt in the chair. It’s the un-sexy stuff. The people who work hard at that get found.”