There’s good writing advice and there’s bad writing advice. So let’s talk about that.
I know a lot of bloggers and some writers who quote writer Anne LaMott, who famously wrote:
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ~Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird
Well, not so fast.
Here’s what’s true: you own everything that happened to you.
Here’s what’s not true: you can write negatively about others without paying a price. If you’re willing to pay the price, ok. But just don’t expect a free pass.
I write a lot. A whole lot. And I’ve been writing a whole lot since I first put pen to paper.
We’ve all been wronged
Like everyone else, I’ve been wronged. Bad things have happened to me. People have been not very nice at times. And yes, I’ve wanted to write about it. Because writing is the thing I do best and most easily. And because I’m good with words writing would be a very effective way to lash out at those who have hurt me.
Last year I did write a blog post about the bad behavior of some family: I’d been wronged and I wanted to go on record. I happened to mention it to a close friend who’s also a writer.
“Is it scheduled?” she asked. I told her it was.
“I think you should pull it back and sit on it a while,” she said.
I did. It’s been more than a year and I haven’t felt the need to hit publish.
Because I also remembered something similar I’d sent to my writing coach a few years ago. Her feedback was that it sounded like I was whining.
That can happen if you’re writing about people who have hurt you.
Which brings me to my memoir:
While those folks are no longer in my life, others are. If I finished my memoir, I’d have to write about some pretty embarrassing behavior: mine and theirs. That is, if I wanted a story that had any meaning and wasn’t just a fairy tale. Now, I know that I own what happened to me, just like Lamott says. But is it wise to take scorched earth policy? I’ve been stopped dead in my tracks on the memoir for a couple of years because I just can’t be that cavalier about it.
You see, I really don’t want to write about my own bad behavior or even my own pathetic behavior. Nor do I want to write about anyone else’s, not if they’re still in my life. (Although, Lord, I’m tempted!) When I think it through I realize that the cost would be too high.*
There’s damage we intend and then there’s collateral damage. I’m just not a fan of letting it all hang out and letting the chips fall where they may.
In fact, I think it’s very bad writing advice.
What’s the cost of letting it all hang out in your writing?
*And of course, a few days after I wrote this, I got permission to write about that bad behavior. So who knows, maybe it’ll see the light of day sooner than I thought.