Thursday, February 11, 2010

Between a rock and a scary place

A writer friend and I agreed to enter the Cup of Comfort for Couples contest, writing a brief story about our marriages and critiquing each other before submission. We figured it would be a good exercise if nothing else.

What I found when I tried it was surprising. I started with a gentle humor, celebrating my husband, and ended up reliving emotional baggage that he has tried desperately to help me jettison for the past thirty-five years. Where did all that come from?

I also ran head-on into another issue that I’ve been avoiding. How do I write about myself, my life, without harming those I love, or at least those with whom I’ve come into contact? My story is not just my own; it is often theirs as well. There are parts of my life I will never write about, never share, because the other people involved in those incidents deserve their privacy. It is not mine to invade or to air publicly.

Ralph Keyes addressed this issue at length in his wonderful The Courage to Write. I disagree with many of the writers he references, including William Faulkner, who said, “A writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one.” Faulkner’s pointed comments, and others like them, weigh heavily. Is my writing dull and lifeless because I allow what he calls my “censor-in-chief” to edit my words for fear of offending? Am I being less than true to myself, and to reality, by shielding those stories from the light of day? Keyes admits he sticks mostly to non-fiction because of the fear that “fiction might lead me into dark caves I’m hesitant to explore.” So I’m stuck? Which is worse…avoiding sensitive topics out of respect for others or bad writing that ignores truth?

Fellow writers, what say ye?


  1. I think we should call a monster a monster whether or not he yet lives. If everyone pretends the Emperor is wearing clothes, he continues to parade around naked. Are the monsters bullying us in the same way at our ink wells?

  2. Not so much bullying, as giving pause. I don't want to hurt anyone in my life; there has been more than enough pain to go around in the past. What good, if any, does it do to relive all the terrible details now? I guess that's what I'm asking. Does my art suffer because of that hesitation? I can't see it. And I hope it doesn't!


Your thoughts?