Lately, I have not posted much on my blog-not because of a lack of ideas or motivation. I am not blocked. I have written plenty of pieces. It’s just that much of what I write is about the people I know-my daughter’s teacher, people I meet at the park where I take my children, family members, friends… My draft folder is full of pieces, some of which are not fully flattering representations of the people in my life. I am afraid to share this work because I don’t want to hurt anyone. Well, that’s partly true. The other part of it is that I also don’t want to face the consequences of calling people out. So what happens is that I write and never publish.
As a writer I am feeling the burden of self-censorship. When I hold back, the work is not true, not authentic. When I let go and write without restraint, I feel uneasy, guilty and fearful that I have been hurtful and cruel.
This brings to mind a novel I read over the summer-Elizabth Strout’s “My Name is Lucy Barton.” There is a moment in the story when Sarah Payne, a writer and teacher tells the title character, “If you find yourself protecting anyone as you write a piece, remember this: You’re not doing it right.” If this is true, which I suspect it is, how do you write and remain a decent person?
Do you sacrifice feelings and relationships at the altar of good writing? Is telling your story worth it?
Blogging is a particularly tricky business because it is so personal. Usually, family and friends follow you. They read your posts and know who you are writing about. Yes, I suppose that you can change the names of the people and places to protect their identities. Really though, if I write about a teacher who gives too much homework but am careful to change her name, people who know me, who know my children, will be able to figure out who I am talking about or, given that I have two children, will be able to at least narrow it down to one of two people.
And while we’re on the subject…How do I write about my children and not steal their stories? Of course our lives are inextricably linked, but aren’t their stories theirs to tell? How much right do I have to discuss their lives, their struggles, their mistakes? I do not feel that just because I am their mother, that I am in any way entitled to use their lives to further my writing. At what point am I stealing what is theirs? The internet is full of mommy bloggers. Sometimes I read what is out there and I wonder what their children will think when they grow up and read the stories their mothers posted about them.
Can we as writers find a balance between speaking truthfully and protecting others? Should we? Or should we just tell our stories, the truth as we see it? Should we release ourselves from the shackles of censorship? If we do, can we still write and be decent people?