How Do You Do It? Telling the Truth

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?

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5 thoughts on “How Do You Do It? Telling the Truth

  1. I have always planned on writing under a pen name. Originally it was because I was so self conscious about anyone reading my writing. Then it was to respect my son’s privacy. And since my siblings falsely accused me of slandering them all over Facebook, I realized that the only way I can write without looking over my shoulder in fear of them accusing me of slander for every word I write, it’s best that I always write under a pen name.

    • My family is wonderfully supportive of me and of my creativity, and I’m very blessed in that way, but I know I will over-analyze almost anything they say, and worry about anything they don’t say, in ways that are not at all helpful to me, artistically. It’s probably something I need to work through, as I write this thing I’m working on. A couple of family members and a couple of friends follow this blog, and I’m so honored by that, but I fret about it, too.
      I’ve always planned on a pen name, too, because I know I’m overly neurotic about this (not commenting at all on your situation, here, which sounds much more actually fraught than mine) and like the idea of a degree of distance from what other people think my creative work says about me. But I wonder if (speaking solely for myself still), that’s a healthy detachment or a neurosis to try to address with a qualified professional.

      • I’ve wondered the same thing- regarding the whether it is a healthy detachment or a neurosis. I’m leaning towards healthy detachment. 🙂

      • (Kat– WP is not letting me reply to your comment, so I’m replying here, but it’s to your comment below)

        It’s helping me get some perspective that I’ve had this blog for more than 18 months, repeatedly promoted it to people I know, and only a handful of them pay any attention at all to it. Those who do don’t put it in the middle of our relationship. And some of the people I’d expect to engage with it just don’t. No interest in reading my work, though I devotedly read theirs. If I wrote it and I knew they’d give it the tl;dr treatment, my concern about this would go way down. I just know when my then-SIL published her book, we all devotedly bought it and read it, and then compared notes, and then there was drama. Not even drama in proportion to the crappy things that could have been inferred about it, but drama that has made me nervous for decades. I tend to have a really, really low tolerance for interpersonal drama, though.

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