Little Paper Pieces: On the Tearing Up and Rewriting of Your Life

NOTE: The following is a featured post from 2016 which first appeared on my former creative blog, Scrappy Storyteller. I’m sharing this as a way of embracing my past creative self and sharing ideas she had that, well, still matter today. Enjoy!


Anyone who knows me well knows how much I hate the process of revision. Ideas tend to flow through me like freight trains, complete thoughts barreling down the track that is my early phases of writing. They’re coherent and prolific. This blog post itself is mostly a first draft, composed on-the-fly with a few stolen moments of time.

Generally after composing such a first draft, I walk away satisfied that I got my meaning across. This is probably the only real reason I write: not for the beauty of language itself, but to get something off my chest. 

And that is where things start to get messy.

Because the process of polishing my thoughts is never as straightforward or simple as the getting them down in the first place. I hate chaos, so there’s something inherently horrific to me about taking my neatly ordered ideas and tearing them up. Why un-make and re-make again what was decently adequate to start with—especially when it involves such violence?

To me, revision feels like a death: my beautiful first drafts get torn up into “little paper pieces” and scattered on the wind. Why can’t I just write it well the first time?

This is of course the purest form of creative impatience. Nothing on the planet (not even my words!) show up in the world fully formed. It must be shaped and fashioned, nurtured and evolved. Many sentences and paragraphs must die and rise again in new forms before the final product emerges.

That’s just not how the creative process works in real life. I think the same can be said for our inner stories as well.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about The Other Side of Storytelling. In this post, I explored what it now means to me to refashion my personal narrative of my own life experiences—so I can actually live with myself and move forward. Author Jean Houston has called this the process of “re-mythologizing your life.”

Just as cultures tell themselves stories to make meaning of their collective experience, so we individuals do the same. Just perhaps, more unconsciously. But as I’ve learned since I wrote the post, re-mythologizing an inner reality is much closer to the traditional process of creative revision than I imagined at the outset.

Revision is nothing more than a process of Getting Your Story Straight. To get your story straight, you must be willing to revise it, a thousand times if necessary. You must not fear the violence of ripping paper or the whine of the shredding machine. You must, in short, be willing to tear every unsatisfactory draft up into tiny paper pieces and scatter them to the wind.

Oh, the mess it makes!

Despite this mess, over the past few months, I have been blessed with so many angelic individuals coming into my life to help me “see” myself properly and retell my story at a crucial moment. Some of them are friends. Some are clients. Some occupy other capacities altogether in my heart and mind. But they all share one thing in common: 

They have, each one of them, forced me to tear up and rewrite my story—again. 

Every time I am tempted to settle for a less elegant rendition of what has happened in my life, or put up with a self-destructive turn of phrase, they pull out their red pens and call me on my bullshit. It’s editorial license of a breathtakingly destructive kind.

The funniest—and perhaps most grace-filled—part of it, is that most of these editors don’t even know they’re on the job.

They don’t know how many times I go home from being with them, feeling like my soul has been ripped up, ripped out or ripped open. They never see the tears I shed, or the long journal entries in which I force myself to reframe experiences that I have always naturally avoided, or seen in a particular, self-destructive light. Inspired by their nudges, I’ll start writing my story again, thinking this time I’ll get the final healthy version down pat. 

But it just doesn’t work that way.

There’s always another draft I need to write. And pronto.

Despite my frustration with the slowness of this process, there is hope. In my most private moments I find myself gradually being filled up with a story that (while different from the one I originally wrote) is probably far stronger. Yet in the presence of my editors, I still find myself frequently at a loss for words, or saying the wrong things, or losing my power of self-expression altogether. 

I do not have just the right turn of phrase to replace the part of my story they just redlined, or marked up with that dreaded bit of commentary: “Unclear. Rewrite!” 

Paper pieces start showering down everywhere, and no matter how fast I chase them with broom and vacuum, I can hardly keep up with the mess.

Of course, I hate the mess. And I worry that my friends and clients and others in my life will soon grow impatient with all the flotsam in my wake. Don’t they hate breathing in wood pulp? Don’t they get tired of red ink-stains on their fingers? And aren’t they going to revoke our contract when they get another horrible mid-revision draft that’s just north of complete drivel?

Then I remember, that they don’t see what’s happening in my soul. They aren’t inside my process of re-mythologizing my life. 

The paper pieces are likely invisible to everyone except me.

My mess, self-made, is also only self-seen.

So this is a thank you to all those brave souls out there who engage with me at a level I’ve never experienced before. You know who you are. You know how much you matter. 

What maybe you don’t know is just how painful (in the best of ways) your kindness is. 

I’m reminded of a quote from A Course in Miracles, which states, “Discomfort is not the final result of your perception.”

I trust wholeheartedly that this time of new perceiving of myself, and of rewriting my understanding of my life, will bear fruit in the years to come. I trust that the discomfort of my new perception, inspired by your collective kindness, will be rewarded with a great joy that I can give back to you a thousand fold. I trust that the sea of red ink you help me splash all over my internal narrative will deliver us at last a clean, fresh story that is satisfying all the way to “The End.”

I trust this, yes. 

And still , I grieve a bit every time a new draft splits into a thousand useless scraps.

Then again, maybe re-mythologizing not about getting the story “just right.” Maybe it is not about the death of the old drafts at all, but the celebration what might come in the next. And maybe—just maybe—that’s where I’ve always gone wrong with revision.

One can view the act of writing as a tearing up of the old, or as the welcoming in of something brand-new and wonderful.

Little paper pieces, I suppose, make their own kind of confetti.

Why is Lasting Life Change is So Elusive?

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You’ve been working on yourself for some time now.

You go to counseling. You’re in church regularly. You’re seeking God, following all the self-discovery and self-care practices you’ve been taught, and making some radical shifts to how you “do you.”

But it doesn’t really seem to stick. You know what I mean? You feel good, eat right and go to yoga for a week, then the next week you binge out. You pray and seek God often, but you still struggle with tremendous bitterness about what you’ve been through. T

he new friends you’ve made are strengthening you … but for every one of them, there’s ten from your old life whose energy drags you down every time you open your social media feed.

Life change is elusive, Sister.

I know you know this. You wouldn’t be here reading this blog if you didn’t sense it in your bones. Know it in your soul. Feel it in the wet fabric of your pillow each night.

I get it. Totally. I was there for more years than I care to admit. Things shifted, yes, but nothing radically CHANGED until I got clear on one small truth that I kept wanting to overlook.

To get and become everything you want, you must say yes to ‘nothing.’

For most of us, I think we come to this healing journey because we desperately want more. More than the oppressive emotional pain. More than the broken relationships. More than the dead-end career or struggling business that is our daily reality. And I do believe God wants more for us. He is calling us to MORE, which is why He has led us to pursue the changes we are trying to make.

And yet.

And yet …

Sometimes we re not fully ready for the impact of what we are asking for.

You see, God knows that it’s impossible for us to have what we really want while we are clutching so tightly to what we actually don’t want. Half a life shift is no shift at all. You cannot have a legitimate resurrection without a legitimate death.

But who really, honestly, actually wants to DIE?

If you find yourself stuck in the middle of your healing journey, trapped halfway between who you were and who you want to be, mark it down. THere is something that must die before you can be reborn. There is something you must drop from your grip so you can receive your destiny with truly open hands. There is a nothing you must submit to so that you can step into everything.

Okay, you get that in theory. But what does it look like?

In my healing journey, there is one simple “trick” God gave me to help jettison myself out of every stuck place. And that was just a simple question:

“What is the ‘empty space’ I am resisting today?”

Invariably, there was a “loss,” a “death,” some kind of emptying I was resisting to. Instinctively, I knew that in order get where I wanted to go, I was going to have surrender that place: to step beyond it and leave whatever was there behind, so I could get to the next level of my destiny.

There’s nothing harder than letting go. Which is why we resist. Do everything else we can. And ultimately, remain stuck.

What could that empty place be for you? I have no idea; I suspect you already do. But in case you’re truly stumped, here are some “nothings” I had to face, in order to receive everything:

  • The “nothing” of space: Cleaning out a lifetime of emotional clutter in the form of stuff in my house that was emotionally dragging me down.
  • The “nothing” of relationships: Releasing boyfriends, exes I still had a “thing” for, and toxic friendships—as gently and kindly as possible—that I kept stumbling over.
  • The “nothing” of dreams: Closing my dream business and giving up on achieving my deepest desires, so that God could put brand new better desires in my heart.
  • The “nothing” of social expectations: Following God’s call into things and places that I knew my friends and family would look down on and reject me for.
  • The “nothing” of self-image: Letting go of my obsession with losing weight, perfecting my skin, getting the right wardrobe and anything else designed to boost my image to others, in favor of practices that made me feel good inside.
  • The “nothing” of finances: Submitting every dollar I had to God, watching Him take it ALL away, and trusting that He would provide for me.
  • The “nothing” of meditation: Returning daily to practices like meditation and yoga even when I struggled to quiet my mind inside, believing that the practice would yield rewards in time.

Did any of these resonate with you? I’m sure there are many more kinds of “nothing!” But I bet you can see something on that list that speaks to at least a part of your situation today.

Any time we are stuck on the healing journey, it’s only and ever becuase we are holding back, unwilling to release something we have been clinging to.

Let’s face it: the empty space can be terrifying. Who wants to sit alone with their thoughts (during meditation), sit alone with four bare walls (after decluttering), sit alone with themselves (after jettisoning the toxic job), or sit alone at the coffee shop (when others reject your choices)?

And yet.

And yet …

Though your healing journey is perhaps the biggest gift God will every give you, the “dirty little secret” of emotional freedom is that you will be required to lay it all on the altar.

Freedom never happens when you’re dragging your past around with you, or a toxic present, or excessive expectations about the future.

True freedom happens when you drop everything you’re clutching so tightly, and submit to the terror of the empty space.

Make friends with Nothing, dear heart, and you will find the change you seek.