To Write Or Not To Write: That Is The Question

girl  in  grunge interior

I went to the dentist yesterday.

That’s no easy feat for a recovering agoraphobic.  It was only for a cleaning, so it was relatively low on my panic scale. Thankfully, I’ve learned a few tricks over the years to get me there and keep me in the chair.

One of the things I try to focus on now when I leave the house (to get my mind off of myself and my nerves) is conversation with other people.  I don’t wait for someone to talk to me first, I start the ball rolling right away.  If I can concentrate on talking with somebody I can usually trick my mind into forgetting I’m sitting in an office and not in the safety of my own home.  So yesterday, as the technician was escorting me to the dental chair, I gave her my best smile, said hello, and asked, “How’s your new year so far?”

The young woman hesitated, and was silent for a moment.  Her pause gave me pause.  Was I asking too much?  Should I have just queried her with that obligatory, “How are you doing?” – the question that everyone always answers with, “I’m fine.  How are you?”  Maybe I was being too specific, too inquisitive by narrowing the question to the beginning of the new year.

“It’s been…interesting,” the dental hygienist finally answered.

By her tone of voice I knew not to pursue it, not to ask, “Really? What’s been going on?”  I also knew what was coming next.

“How’s your new year going?”

I gave her the same pause that she had given me.

There was a lot going on in my life, but it involved other people, not just me.  2013 had rushed in impatiently filled with big decisions and even bigger emotions.  But I realized that everything happening in my life wasn’t mine to share.  Not just in this dental office, but also on the page.

One of the freeing aspects of writing is being able to write anything you want.  Carefully disguised in fiction, names can be changed, and events somewhat altered.  It feels good to be able to purge yourself of some deep hurt, some great moment of drama, or to just reveal the hilarity at times of being human.  But when you write a blog, it’s a whole different kettle of fish.

I feel an obligation to be careful about what I write here about the people I love – the ones who are unlucky enough to have a writer living among them. I won’t write something if I feel it violates their sense of propriety or their need to remain private.  After all, they’re not celebrities who have given up a portion of their privacy in exchange for notoriety.  That’s a bargain that’s struck by anyone who chases fame.  I write about everyday people, and there are some days when I simply won’t write about them at all.  I’m sure my friends and family feel much better knowing that.

But it sure makes for a quiet blog.

(Where do you draw the line as a writer?  Do you feel a need to protect as well as create?  Or  are all bets off when it comes to your writing?  Have you ever written something only to find out later that it’s hurt someone that you love?  Or have you put down the pen, pushed away from the keyboard, and waited to write about something else on another day. What’s off limits for you as a writer?)

Old typewriter

25 thoughts on “To Write Or Not To Write: That Is The Question

  1. Oh my gosh the dentist! I three teeth in pain and I’m on a waiting list, so i never know when it’s coming! it terrifies me. i have however been given a Valium prescription so I can take that before I go in! it doesn’t usually work for me though as the fear overrides it!..
    as far as privacy, it took me years to decide to blog about what i do. it is mostly all about family abuse. i don’t use names and i came to the conclusion if they find it and don’t like it, well, they are admitting to their crap and what’s the worst that can happen, they cut me out? that’s already happened…lol it’s been so freeing. now i have my friends ex stalking my blogs, so i have to fight the urge to be careful what i say, but i’m not going to allow them to rob my voice. if they don’t like what i say…don’t read!
    how have you been doing, dentist aside?

  2. That’s fun, Darlene–and I like starting conversations on blogs, asking for input, etc., instead of just writing. So I’ll throw in my one cent in response. I don’t write about anyone I know without their permission and usually with pseudonyms even then. Unless I’ve interviewed them for that purpose, such as for the book “Balancing Act.” However, I’m having a difficult time at this moment feeling that I can do these particular people just by careful and soulful wordsmithing. A little annoying, yes, timewise.

    • That’s a good rule to follow. I wrote a four-part blog post about my friend Cookie, but I told her ahead of time about it. I said that I was going to give her a pseudonym, but she said she wanted me to use her real name. I was super nervous when those posts were published because the last thing I’d ever want to do is hurt a friendship. Luckily, Cookie loved the posts. Whew!

  3. Hi Darlene. So good to see the word ‘recovering’ in front of the big A. Sorry I couldn’t comment on your blog. I’ve forgotten my sign in details as usual. Your comments are spot on as always. That is why I’ve now written two books about my intentions to adopt – and finally met my first child at the last chapter of the second book. But I will never write about them. June

    Date: Wed, 23 Jan 2013 20:52:47 +0000 To: juniemooncollins@hotmail.com

    • I respect your decision not to write about your kids, June. I wrote about mine in my book, but that’s because they were little, and juggling motherhood and screenwriting was a big part of that book. But now that they’re older, I’m very careful NOT to write about them. I think they would disown me if I did.

  4. Boy I could say a lot here. Frist of all, I can understand how it is to have to go to the dentist of all places when suffering from Agoraphobia. I have been having to go a lot recently. I have been getting a lot of work done. I wish I were like you about being talkitive and friendly. that is very hard for me when I am out. I am not smug or unfriendly. I do the “how are you doing”, “I’m fine” thing .lol But it makes me panic when someone comes up unannounced at the grocery store or something and starts talking to me lol.
    I have just finished my Autobiography. someone suggested to me that some things, though they may be a really dramatic piece of the book, may not be prudent to share. I am such an open person and such a confesser as well lol, (I should have been Catholic ! lol) but I must decide what to share about my life and what to just allude to or not mention all together.
    So, I had to go through the whole manuscript and reword and even delete some parts. It was kind of hard to do. But now I see that it was the right thing to do.
    I hope that your day goes well sweety xx

  5. I would rather be in labor again than go to the dentist!!! You’re much braver than I am! As for writing, I do write about my kids and randomness that is my life. I do censor myself when it comes to more extended family, but with the fam I live with everyday, they make up who I am and why I am the WAY I am. I’m pretty private when it comes to exact details–I never blog about work, I never blog about family issues–but writing about my general chaos is just a part of me. My book is part of me too, so in a way, it’s all one weird, big happy family. Which sounds odd when I reread it…but at least it’s Wednesday, lol.

    • Labor was much longer – at least for me. But at least when labor is over you get this wonderful little bundle of love to take home. At the dentist, they only give you a toothbrush and dental floss.

  6. Hi Darlene…good question. I tend to protect as well, but if I do write about family members, as I did in my book, I make sure they are okay with it first. I would be horrified if I hurt someone with my words in an effort to expose in my writing….I wonder…when we ask people how they are doing or as you did, “How’s your new year going?” what do we hope to hear? do we hope they will open up and then will we?……I’m thinking sometimes a smile will do….lol Love your posts!!

  7. Keep writing but maybe try my trick. Over years of blogging and a kerfuffle or two, I’ve learned to always write offline or in draft mode if the platform allows. That way I get it out while the steam is still coming out of my ears. Then I can decide to publish, edit or do nothing.

    My email drafts folder is overflowing with unsent wit and my blogs folder contains words I never should have written. I’ve worked for people whom I wish would learn to never send an email,without first saving then reading again.

    Darlene, I would sign up if you offered a writing course.

    DS

    • That’s the best technique for blogging: Never publish your first draft. And you’re right – that also applies to emails. There are a couple of emails from my past that I thought were brilliantly written at the time and boy do I wish I never hit that “send” button. Now, I compose all of my important correspondence and ALL blog posts on Word. That forces me to reread what I’ve written, and then, cut and paste. Those extra steps make a big difference.

      And if I ever offer a writing course, you will be the first to know! 😉

  8. I change names and write about real life all the time. Sometimes after I post it, people text and ask if I am talking about them but no one shall ever find out 😉

    • My husband loved me writing about him in my book, although I used a pseudonym to protect his privacy. He’s an actor and actors love attention so I bet he would have been happy if I used his real name. Your hubby sounds shyer than mine, and you’re wise to do whatever he likes best. Even if he IS wonderful 🙂

  9. Hats off for braving/enduring the dentist. It seems like every time I visit, it’s time for another root canal. I’m happy for good health overall, but dental health, not so much 😦 I think one reason why I got so bogged down when I first started drafting my novel is due to how all of the characters are really close in character to people in my family. It’s something I’m still processing…

    • Root canals are the worst! It’s not only the pain involved, but you have to keep sitting in that damn chair with your mouth wide open (and someone’s hands in your mouth!) for such a long time. Somebody needs to invent a way to improve the entire “dental experience” and they will make millions. I’d rather be chained to my desk and writing 24/7 than go to the dentist. But as an agoraphobic-friend said to me yesterday, “I have my Santa-size bag of tricks” that I use to get me through the ordeal. Writing remains the easiest (and calmest) center of my life – even when I’m being careful about what I write, and who I write it about. But I agree with you – modeling characters after real life people (especially people in your family) is something that demands careful processing.

  10. I think Mr. Schwartz’s advice is excellent. As grownups used to tell me when I was a boy, “Discretion is the better part of valour.” But, thank heavens, you do not write about politics.
    One of my sons persuaded me to write a blog. I demurred at first and then had a shot at it. I have now packed it in—at least for the present– because so much upsets me about what is happening in the public domain in my country that I could easily rant the rafters down on myself and on others I love.
    Much of my working life has been spent as a TV newsreader and one day a cameraman told me I would get “the four a.m. knock” on my door. He thought I had smiled rather too broadly over a certain item in the day’s newscast. The knock did not come. I guess I was fortunate because my dad used to warn me of the pervasive influence of what he called “The Invisible Hand” in the affairs of even the humblest.
    Almost needless to say, as a journalist, I have had a good many narrow squeaks with “The Hand” both before and since that TV newscast. I do not now want to push my luck.
    But you have nothing to fear in this realm. Moreover, you somehow infuse the topics you write about, even a visit to the dentist, with a warmth of feeling that I and clearly many others find enchanting. Keep it up.

    • Wonderful to see you, Yasseen! You always have the most fascinating tales to tell. I can’t imagine the pressure you must have felt being a newscaster and having to keep your emotions (and opinions) to yourself. Especially when you factor in the fear of that “four a.m. knock on (your) door.” Newscasters here in the U.S. used to be objective like that – but now they have become more open about where they stand on a subject. Actually, I miss the old days when we had Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Chet Hunkley, and David Brinkley. As a viewer, I don’t want someone “filtering” the news for me – putting a spin on it, and suggesting that I should feel one way or another about it. Maybe that’s why I’d rather read a news item than see someone on television tell me about it. Of course, printed journalism has its own set of problems, and it all depends on who is writing it, or more specifically, what corporation is pushing it.

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