Rewriting Stories: From the Page to Real Life

This month I started coaching a Girls on the Run Heart & Sole team, a group of 6th- through 8th-grade girls who will train all spring for a 5k and learn a curriculum based on self-growth.

I’ve been wanting to coach this program for years, so I was excited to do the training and start planning the lessons. But in the weeks leading up to the first practice, I’ll admit… I was terrified.

You see, there’s this story I’ve told myself throughout my 20s – I don’t know how to talk to kids. I don’t know how to talk to teenagers. They will think I’m lame. Any time I was around teens, whether it was the youth ministry group I helped supervise or even approaching my teenage sister-in-law and her friends, that story looped around in my head. I’d be filled with doubt over whether any of them liked me, and it was defeating.

At the same time I was preparing for this coaching season, I read The Defining Decade by Dr. Meg Jay (which I wrote about last week). A quote, (well, several) sunk in with me:

“The story you are telling yourself now is a first draft left over from adolescence. It doesn’t make sense….”

Dr. Meg Jay, The Defining Decade

The author hones in on why it’s imperative to rewrite the first drafts that may be forming our identities, that maybe made sense to us at one point based on a defining memory.

As a writer, I know the hard work is in the rewriting. There are several quotes floating about that say things like “90% of writing is rewriting,” and it’s true. The first draft gets out everything the writer is feeling, but it’s “rough” – it’s not entirely cohesive. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s a dumping of thoughts, ideas and experiences all laid out in one spot searching for a theme and, often, a lesson.

What Jay is saying is that we tend to leave our personal rough drafts unfinished. We leave the mess of a story out there to loop around in our subconscious, keeping us stuck in old, revised thoughts from decade to decade.

But I know there’s something powerful that happens when you rewrite a story.

First, it sucks. The whole mess of a draft is intimidating and painful to read through, let alone rework it. And the polished version doesn’t typically happen in one go. Several rounds of editing and rewriting lead to breakthroughs, and eventually you see a meaningful message emerge from the crap you started with. Finally, after you do enough rewriting so that the storyline and message are clear, you need to go through a couple rounds of line editing to make sure the story is clean, polished, and makes sense.

In my early 20s, I started several short stories, essays, even a novel – several of which (including the novel) I’ve never gone through and revised. The first drafts took so long – couldn’t I just be one of those writers who gets it right the first time?


But those drafts are so messy, I tell myself. Better left unfinished than to sort through the chaos.

At some point in the past couple of years, I hit reality with what it means to be a writer. I now realize that getting it right takes way more work than writing one draft. I’ve finally learned to power through and do the rewriting, even if one essay takes several months. That’s the only way the real message comes through – by dissecting the piece, moving things around, reordering, and answering the underlying question that rules the story.

I’ve also gone to therapy, where I’ve learned which personal rough drafts I continue to tell myself that are holding me back.

The big ones (can you relate?): I’m not good enough. I don’t know how to handle money. I’ll never make any real money. I don’t deserve anything I want. I’m not smart enough to figure that out. I should be pleasant and agreeable, always. I should do this. I should do that.

Whether they’re on the page or looping around in my mind, these drafts take work to slog through. But I can’t afford to leave them unfinished any longer. They are holding me back.

In the weeks leading up to Girls on the Run, another unfinished story came bubbling up in familiar lines and paragraphs.

Who are you to teach? You’re not a teacher. All these coaches are teachers. You can’t control a group of girls. You don’t have experience with kids. You don’t know how to talk to them. They won’t think you’re cool.

Coaching Girls on the Run, especially the 6th- through 8th-grade program, is fulfilling a calling for me. The curriculum teaches them self-esteem, positive self-image, self-awareness, confidence and friendship. It teaches them to be authentic and establish their own values. I struggled with all of these things in my 20s, which lead to an eating disorder and depression. Learning those values through recovery was not easy. Ever since, I’ve wanted to help younger girls learn these values early on and prevent as many girls as possible from going through something similar.

This Girls on the Run season is the best opportunity I have to do that. And there’s no way I’m letting an old story ruin the way I show up as a coach for these girls.

Because that story, as it is now, does not make sense.

Who am I to teach? Someone who has learned a great deal through personal experience and can pass on my lessons.

I am not a teacher. No, I’m not, the girls have plenty of teachers whom they see every day. I’m a brand new friend from the community who genuinely wants to spend my free time with them.

You can’t control a group of girls. How do I know, I’ve never tried? I’m also not alone. I have an assistant, and, thankfully, we only have six girls. We can handle it.

I don’t have experience with kids. I have volunteered with kids in the past. I was a kid. I can remember what my favorite coaches were like growing up. I’ve got to start somewhere.

They won’t think I’m cool. That doesn’t matter, it’s not the goal of the program. Plus, remember how much I looked up to older girls when I was younger? I don’t have to be cool. I have to be a trusted source for them. That I know I can do.

While it’s uncomfortable for me and far out of my natural element, I’m showing up every day and teaching a group of six girls a valuable lesson. In the days leading up, I overprepare for my lesson after working a full day. When practice comes, I let all my girliness and giddiness out, because I honestly love and believe in what I’m teaching them.

From the outside, the process looks messy I’m sure. I’ve never been a teacher or a head coach before, but I’m becoming one each time I show up prepared at practice. I’m rewriting my own draft, one messy chapter at a time.

Congruently, I’m helping the girls start writing their own stories. My hope is that they’ll continue to check in, edit and revise them as they grow.


*The opinions expressed here are solely my opinions and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Girls on the Run International.


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What stories do you tell yourself that maybe aren't true anymore? Here's what I've learned about rewriting stories, from essay drafts to leftover drafts from adolescence. #writing #stories #editing

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