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Selling Your Scars: A Three-Step Method for Profiting from Your Pain
by Nancy Robinson Masters

“Write when you bleed. Revise when you scab. Submit when you have scarred.”

These succinct instructions spoken by a writing workshop teacher many years ago have helped me sell hundreds of stories dealing difficult, even tragic, personal experiences. I have used this proven process many times to turn painful wounds into powerful words editors will pay to publish.

Write when you bleed – Find a way to capture in print those intense feelings and raw emotions that come gushing forth while a wound is fresh. For example, my mother died tragically only seven months after my father’s death. I didn’t wait until the estate was settled to record my feelings. I discreetly bled scribbled words of anger and grief onto tissues during her memorial service. While dollar signs were the last thing on my mind that morning, putting my feelings into written words was as natural as shedding tears. I knew both were needed to flush out my grief.

Revise when you scab – It takes time for a wound to scab properly. Likewise, it takes time for you to scab enough to see your personal experience from the viewpoint of a reader. I could hardly decipher the jumble of my hastily smeared words on the crumpled tissue I found in my pocket several weeks later. It would have been impossible for anyone else to make sense of them. When I transferred those word drops of grief to a document file on the computer screen, however, I discovered descriptions of sights, sounds, and smells that surrounded me during the service like the stopped clock on the wall, the creaking pews, and the fragrance of carnations whirled about by the ceiling fans in the small church.

These details could have been lost in the overwhelming emotional anguish of the situation. Getting them on paper (even if it was tissue) not only helped me get through the service, but later added the depth and dimension I needed as a writer to become a spectator as well as a participator in the story. This “role reversal” is necessary for your writing to show, not just tell about, a painful personal experience story.

Submit when you have scarred – Few editors will pay good money for bad writing. I have been selling personal experience stories to magazines and newspapers for more than 20 years and have seldom made a sale without being asked to tweak or make  minor, even major, revisions.

Scabbed writers are usually too sensitive to accept the prodding pencil of an editor. Scarred writers know getting rid of the rough spots is a necessity. Only when the scabs are removed can the smooth skin of a well-written personal experience story be revealed.

Scarred writing sells. You don’t have to focus solely on religious or inspirational markets. All editors need writing that provides hope, comfort, information, and encouragement to readers. Explore every possibility for making your story fit markets that aren’t flooded with emotionally-charged personal experience submissions. Remember the tissue in my pocket? It became the focus for an article about the history of pockets for a magazine published for dry cleaning professionals. And those swirling ceiling fans? You guessed it: a nostalgic feature on fans and funerals for a publication targeting contractors who build churches.

Scarred writing will not only reward you financially. It will also bring you the bonus of knowing your scars are going to help others heal.

© Copyright 2009, Nancy Robinson Masters

Nancy Robinson Masters serves on the Abilene Writers Guild Board and is a professional freelance writer. A professional freelance writer, she explains, “is simply an amateur writer with a lot of experience.” Among her more than 40 published books are ebooks published by AWOC.COM Publishing: Extraordinary Patriots, All My Downs Have Been Ups, and Devoted to Writing.

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