As an author of extremely personal ordeals, and challenging relationships, I am often asked if I ever question the direction of my writing or, if I hold back creatively to save someone’s heart; in order to prevent the subject from having their feelings hurt.
The answer is yes. I question everything and I believe it is healthy to do so.
I’m not one to talk negatively about another, even if they’ve done me wrong or if our opinions differ. The reason I decide to write about trauma and challenges. is simply to figure out how I truly feel about them; to get to the core of the issue, so that I can categorize it and put it to bed.
It is healthy to question your writing, but only to a certain point. Once you’ve decided on a topic, it’s usually because there’s something in you that had been burning to be released. At this point, bravery will be your worst enemy. But just as a mountain is to a climber, or an opponent is to a boxer, what is achievement without opposition?
When I was in my twenty’s a friend advised me not to write about the feelings I held toward my mother. She begged me not to bring such grievances to light. Her reason? So as not to upset my mother. For many years I listened to that friend and did not write my story. Instead, I bottled up how I felt and carried the baggage around with me until one day, it became too heavy and I had to let it drop. The story is what came to be known as, The Night Birds. Consequently, my mother actually loves the book. After its release, I realized that I had waited too long to express myself. Listening to another person, even if she was a friend, was the wrong thing for me to do professionally, as well as personally.
We don’t always have to write about people in direct ways. We don’t always need to use our creative freedom to belittle someone else. There are ways to approach delicate subjects and characters with care and sensitivity. My mother heard my voice and understood the challenges I faced because the book was not directed at her. It was designed to be about my father and included her in subtle, yet striking ways.
If you have decided to write a novel, but the subject/character’s feelings are what’s holding you back, you may want to consider taking another angle.
Write about a world you would like to see and be in: Creating a city, universe, or a moment in time, can redirect the way your challenging event may have transpired. Having the difficult character act apologetically, or even embody a completely different personality is one way to approach your emotional address to the event.
Blind writing: This means writing without thinking or thinking as minimally as possible while writing. It is a way of fielding your emotions without filtering them. This process can bring to the surface, hidden emotions and thoughts that can direct your story in a completely alternate way. Writing without an audience in mind can also help strengthen your bravery and your emotional clarity.
Write the characters as completely different: The subject may never know the story is about them, especially if you use a pen name instead of your own name. I have often seen people portrayed as other people who are different ages. Creating a new identity can hide the character flaws without revealing who they are.
Write as if you are writing to your subject, to someone about your subject, or to your older self: This is not only useful in terms of fluent language practice, especially if you write while your emotions are heightened, it is also extremely therapeutic in general. You could write a letter to the event or to the person and then write one back from their perspective and watch how the character develops.
Such activities can be useful in steering your craft. But as Ernest Hemingway once said…
There is also the option of writing your rawest truth and letting the chips fall where they may. Every writer goes through questioning their craft, but being a good writer is finding a way around it without compromising your voice.
In saying that, we should always try to be respectful of other's circumstances and situations. Make sure you consider all your options, be sure this is the book you want/have to write, and most importantly, triple check your facts.
There is also a particular person who you should always be concerned with. YOU. While you're concerned about how others will feel, don't forget to consult your own heart about how the release of such a personal story might affect you. Take the time to listen to your heart and soul and be sure. The release of my novel, The Day it Rained Forever, is about a sexual attack. This happened to me many years ago so I had time to process the event and decide how I wanted to write about it. In the end, the book has helped me heal in many ways. Mostly because I am able to reach out to other survives and share stories of emotional journey's of strength. But it was not an easy write, nor an easy read for those close to me. Only you can decide if your story belongs in the world, or not... ONLY YOU!
We all have stories to tell. We all have places we’d like to create that we dream about. And while it is a great thing that you are questioning your words in order to protect someone else, it does not have to be the obstacle that prevents the creation of your next best seller.