Saturday was my 35th wedding anniversary. My husband wasn’t home. He was with friends of ours several states away while I was alone with the dogs. If this had happened several years ago–actually quite a few years ago now–I would have felt much differently about it than I do. In the past, I would have been hurt, angry and frightened that he was down at Lake of the Ozarks with our friends, Buzz and Barb, instead of home with me.
It’s not that our love for one another has changed in those years. It is that now I am not the insecure, fearful, neurotic woman I was in those days. At least not so much. I can’t tell you exactly why I changed or how, but I can assure you that I did and the journey to a happier, more secure me is in Above Tree Line.
But this isn’t really the point of this post. The point is to bring up the question, “How much do we share with our readers? The readers of our books, our blogs, our articles?” After all, these are not our best friends, our family members, our confidants. Do they really want to know our secrets, foibles, our insecurities, our failings? And do we really want to bare it all, so to speak? To what purpose?
In the memoir, Above Tree Line, I did share the painful and the embarrassing. I was able to write it all down because I promised myself I would reserve the right to never publish it, to shove it deep under the bed and leave it there, if I decided I didn’t want others to know so much about me. Of course in the end I did publish, and many of the responses I’ve received validated my belief that when we share the good, the bad and the ugly, we help others. After all, we’re human. We don’t get to do this thing called life right all the time.
We all make mistakes. Screw up. Most likely we’ll occasionally feel insecure, frightened, stupid, alone and unloved. Isn’t it easier when we can read about someone else feeling this way, too–making mistakes like we do–and know we’re not the only ones?
I’ve found this true for me, but it depends on a couple of things. What are the writer’s motives? Will any good come from her sharing her story? Did any good come of it for the writer? Were lessons learned and described that can perhaps help me?
Part of my own healing came from telling my story, writing it all down, and then somehow finding the courage to share it. When readers of the memoir wrote that I was not alone in my feelings (and even in some of my actions), it confirmed for me that honest and vulnerable story-telling helps not only the reader but the writer.
I would caution, however, that there are a couple of caveats you might want to follow when writing your tender truths.
1) Let yourself write it all down first. Don’t edit or limit, not in the first draft. By doing this, you will find the heat, the emotion, that will help not only you in the writing, but also your audience in the reading. You can decide in the subsequent drafts what you want to delete.
2) After you’ve completed the first draft, read it over. Check your motives. Is it about you? Or someone else? Tell your story. Even when you include others, make sure it is not a “he or she did this to me and that’s why my life is miserable” rant. Those are painful to read and serve no one.
3) Check your reasons for including a situation in the final draft. Is there a lesson to be learned in it for you and your reader? Do you know what it is? Will they? Are you ready to share it? Can you take the response, even the negative ones?
4) Do you have enough distance from the situation that you’ve discovered a solution? If you have, share it. Even if you haven’t, you might decide to write about it anyway. The writing of it could be the solution, or your reader may find one buried in your story that will help her.
5) Finally, put the piece away for a little while, and come back to it. Read it out loud. Try to look at it as if you were the reader instead of the writer. How does it sound? Is it helpful or merely depressing?
I believe we heal and others do, too, when we honestly share our stories. What do you think? I’d love to know!