So I wrote for another 20 minutes today. (23 minutes, to be exact. And it is killing me to put it away.) The story I’m starting on starts from my experience, but I’m planning to follow it down a different path than I followed in real life. For now, I’m writing the truth of what happened. I expect to hit a point where it diverges from my experience into the fictional state I want to explore, and I expect that, in revising, this early part will become more and more fictional. (I hope.)
When I was in high school/early college, one of my sisters in law (at the time) wrote a book, and, though it was fictionalized, there were some pretty recognizable characters and dynamics at work. And because it was a horror novel, those recognizable characters didn’t all end well. It was a cautionary tale for me. I saw it make its way through the family, people reacting to it and what they thought it meant.
In grad school, I wrote my thesis on something personal (over my objection. My thesis adviser was wise, but forced my hand). I couldn’t make myself tell the truth of that experience, knowing what I could face when my family, in a desire to be supportive, read it. My thesis adviser told me I needed to ban them from reading it, not because it was so inflammatory, but because it was the only way I would tell the actual truth of what I was studying, without pulling my punches. I did— I enacted a lifetime ban on their reading it. It’s more than a decade later and I have no plans to lift the ban.
I want to tell this fictionalized story. I think there are things here worth exploring. And I think it will be better if I tell the truth now, early on in my process, to ground the story. But as I was writing, today, I started thinking “okay, if you’re going to tell the truth of this, here’s the list of people who aren’t going to be allowed to read it.” And then I started thinking “if I ever want to publish it, would I do it under a pen name?”
It might never come to that. It might not lead anywhere, I might not want to publish it. It might not be good enough. It might be, on revision, something so far removed from my actual lived experience that I might not have to worry about any of that. But as I thought about how deep a hole to bury it in, I felt myself wanting to pull my punches. Wanting to tell a story that couldn’t possibly raise an eyebrow.
I’m not a salacious or vulgar person by nature. I haven’t said anything shocking. But I’m shaking like a leaf, thinking about what I might have to say to defend this work. Not a raised eyebrow is not an interesting story.
How do you let yourself tell the truth? How do you let yourself explore, creatively, without worrying about what people think?