Love of the Writing Craft

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Love of the Craft Q & A

On Revealing Intimate Details about Your Life

No other profession leaves you as vulnerable as writing.

By Writing Coach David Duggins | Posted March 10, 2007 | Updated July 25, 2019

Q: I wrote a novel about my life. In it, I detailed my most intimate feelings and secrets. I was struggling with publishing it — struggling with the world seeing my life, horrible and passionate as it was. My daughter read the novel and was using parts of it to play against me. I was so hurt I threw it away. And now I have a horrible time with picking up the pen writing anything. How do I overcome that?

A: Writing your book — and your daughter's subsequent reading of it — was the best thing that could have happened to either of you. Obviously there were issues between you and your daughter that you weren't discussing in your life. You wrote down your true feelings. Your daughter read them. Her reaction is a guide the two of you can use to further grow and strengthen your relationship.

Novelist and Poet Laureate James Magnuson tells of a student in one of his writing workshops who had written a very powerful, poignant story about the emotional aftermath of being a child of divorced parents — being forced to choose a side, questions of loyalty and trust, and rejecting the love of a parent.

Everyone in the workshop loved the story — with the exception of its author, who was terrified by the idea of letting his parents see it and judge it.

What if they don't like it? What if I make them angry? What if they feel betrayed?

Magnuson's reply was profound, and I've carried it with me ever since. He said, "there is nothing safe about what any of you are doing." Another student forwarded the opinion that the best work came from writing about what you're ashamed of.

No other profession leaves you as vulnerable as writing. You are expected to tell the truth — whole, unvarnished, without censorship or reservation. It comes with the job description. That means writing about your anger, your betrayal, your fear ... and your shame. Songwriter Peter Gabriel called it "Digging in the Dirt." You pull all that stuff out of your head and your heart, which is painful enough in itself. Not a task for the squeamish.

Then you put it on display, which is a lot like that dream of showing up for class naked.

Shouting the truth loudly enough so that everyone can hear it is an act of bravery. It will lead you to positive and effective solutions quickly. So shout now; then refresh, realign, and get back to living. Repression perpetuates itself, creating tough, durable structures of resistance which may take months or even years to break down and release.

Identifying problems is always a good thing. It's tough to go through, but you will come out the other side stronger. Your relationship will survive. You will both be better.

In Dealing with Critical Blockheads, I dealt with an issue the writer perceived to be a "writer's block" brought on by criticism from outside sources. To emphasize the point again: No outside force can prevent you from being creative. You are preventing yourself from writing by accepting your daughter's perspective on what you have written as if it were your own.

Forgive me if this sounds harsh. I know you're hurting right now, but part of the healing process means finding the truth and then acting on it. It stings a little more up front, but gives you the opportunity for resolution and continued peace down the road.

So start by accepting that you are blocking yourself. You feel hurt because your daughter threw your words back at you. Maybe you're a little afraid. Maybe you see your writing as dangerous, which keeps you from picking up the pen.

The truth is sometimes dangerous. But if there's one thing writers understand, it's this: the truth must be told. That is our guiding principle. It may be ugly and it may hurt, but burying it serves no one. Once it's out in the open, it can be dealt with openly.

Truth hurts, but lies are far worse.

Now you can take steps to create a sense of security around the act of writing again, to rid yourself of the feeling that it is somehow dangerous or wrong. Using a process called disassociation may help. I often use this to break through my own resistance in tackling difficult subjects. It helps get rid of any knee-jerk emotional reaction you may have developed because of your bad experience.

Grab your pen and notebook and I'll walk you through it.

Affirmations are simple statements that confirm and strengthen a truth through writing and repetition. They also help center you. You can use them in combination with disassociation to quickly clear yourself, so that you can move forward and begin taking more active steps to heal yourself and your relationship with your daughter.

Start by writing your name at the top of the page, just like you would for a school assignment. Then drop down a line and write I am (your name).

Drop down another line. Write I am (your name), and this is my writing. We are separate and individual. I am not my writing, and my writing is not me.

Then, on the next line: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.

Did you laugh (or at least smile) when you wrote that? If so, that's great. It means you're releasing the idea of writing as a bad thing. Writing is used as often for complete silliness as for serious business. Your favorite sitcoms and comedy films start as written scripts.

On the next line, try this: He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.

How's that for silly? It's a mnemonic used to help chronic stutterers by first forcing them to focus on each syllable of each word. It makes sense, but doesn't have any real cognitive meaning. It's just words on paper.

If you were able to complete the exercise, congratulations — you just started writing again. If not, take a break. Then try again. Try three times and see how much you can break down. If there's work left to do after that, try again tomorrow. And again the next day.

Write with focus and intention, and remember: this not a pass-fail game. Writing is a process. Breaking through blocks is a process. Be gentle with yourself as you go. It's not a race to the finish.

Moving forward is enough.

Last thing: my training requires that I strongly recommend family counseling for you and your daughter. If there are issues in your book that caused conflict, the two of you can draw great benefit from having a professional mediator involved in your discussion of those issues. I'm not a certified counselor, but I've had counseling both as an individual and together with my wife. I recommend it highly. Counselors are trained to be fair and impartial, focusing on the issues, not on one personality or the other.

©2007 David Duggins. All rights reserved.

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