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Redemptive Writing: 5 Guidelines

Redemptive writing must be carefully done to be truly redemptive. Recklessly writing about the pain of the past will tend to add salt to unhealed wounds.

A few months ago I watched an interview between Michael Hyatt and Glennon Doyle Melton. At some point in the interview, Glennon said something to the effect of “writing redeems.” Her point being that writing about bad experiences can redeem the pain and put it to healing use.

Redemptive writing must be done with care to be truly redemptive. @DanielTStephens

Redemptive writing must be carefully done to be truly redemptive. Recklessly writing about the pain of the past will tend to add salt to unhealed wounds.

Redemptive Writing is not Gossip

Last week I wrote that vulnerability is not brutal honesty. Vulnerability that brings you healing and strength is not harshly calling other people out. As Glennon said in that same interview, vulnerability “is being brave enough to tell your own story, and kind enough not to tell others.”

Bringing that idea forward into redemptive writing, it may be wise not to use names of the people who caused your pain, but to describe their role instead. The instigator… The agitator… The lemmings… are all roles that I might include in my own redemptive writing. The people who played those roles in the story might recognize themselves, but I am not naming them.

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I’m not saying to beat around the bush. If you’re overly evasive, you won’t get anything out of the process. This process starts for your own benefit, just getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper. But the objective is to edit and reshape the writing for the benefit of others.

Dr. Dan Siegel has coined the phrase “what’s shareable is bearable.” The end goal of redemptive writing is to make your past shareable and bearable for yourself, while making the present pain of others nameable, shareable, and bearable.

Redemptive Writing is not Tabloid Journalism

I think this tainted version of healing writing has a tendency to happen after church conflict. Zealots on both sides (or all sides) of the conflict feel a “righteous indignation” with their opponents, and take it upon themselves to warn the world about their opponents’ folly.

Tabloid journalism is a level of abuse beyond gossip. It is neither redemptive nor journalism.

Protect your writing from becoming tabloid journalism by:

  • Removing people’s names, and inserting their roles in the situation (the same way that you avoid gossip)
  • Remove any assumptions made about other people’s motives that were not explicitly stated
  • Remove any assumptions made about other people’s pain that drove them to act as they did
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Redemptive Writing Tells One Perspective

Protecting your writing from becoming gossip has a lot to do with what you take out. Telling one specific perspective has more to do with what you put in.

Removing other people’s names and any assumptions that you’ve made about them is like trimming the fat from a piece of meat you’re about to cook. Drawing out and elaborating how you felt, what you thought, and what you did is like marinating and searing the meat before you serve it.

Redemptive Writing is Time and Healing Released

The saying that goes, “time heals all wounds,” is only partly true. Better to say, “in time, wounds hurt less.” Even that reframe is not a full truth. Real healing of deep cuts requires changing of bandages. Real healing of broken bones requires physical therapy. In the same way, real healing of emotional wounds requires both time and some kind of attention.

The saying that goes “hurting people hurt people,” is especially true of people who attempt redemptive writing too soon. If you start writing too soon after a wound was inflicted, you will be rubbing salt in the wound, not redeeming the pain of the past.

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Redemptive Writing is Respectfully Edited

The time will come to name names, but it's probably not yet. #RedemptiveWriting @DanielTStephens

There are wounds so deep and destructive that names must be included in order to protect others. In the earlier part of the process, this is more like whistle blowing than redemptive writing. But it will become redemptive in the later stages of the process.

The key in these cases is that less is more. In the early parts of the process, tell the minimum number of people the minimum facts so that safety can be achieved. In the later parts of the process, those same people that you told in the early phases should be given opportunity to help you edit your work. When they edit your work, ask them to help you follow the 4 guidelines above.

For everyone else, the time will come to name names, but it’s probably not yet.

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By Dan

Founder, Executive Director, Mental Health Counselor at Restored Life Counseling