Friday, December 17, 2010

Going Meta (or, Writing About My Writing)

Lately I've had occasion to think a lot about my writing, and this blog in particular. Over the last year, I've grappled with a lot of big questions. I have had to reconsider my values and beliefs, reconceive who I am, and redefine who I want to be. Writing has been crucial to that process. It's how I take a jumbled mess of thoughts and emotions and make sense of them - the equivalent of taking a classroom full of screaming six-year-olds running amok and transforming it into a peaceful space where all the children are seated quietly at their desks in neat, orderly rows. Writing through a conflict, an internal debate, or a painful memory is my way of making sense of myself, my thoughts, and the world.

Not all of my writing winds up in this blog. In fact, the vast majority never sees the light of day. I'll sometimes email something to a friend if I want her feedback on it, but nearly everything else stays in my journal. Often, it's just the process of writing that is most valuable to me. However, there are times when I write something that I want to share with the wider world, and that is when this blog comes into play. The blog allows me to  enter into a dialogue with the larger world. I connect with readers via comments and Twitter and gain new perspectives. I feel like I am contributing to a conversation that is bigger than myself. And most importantly, I grow from all of this in ways I never anticipated but that I now find invaluable.

The ability to write honestly and openly in this blog is crucial to everything I've described above. Without a sense of authenticity - something I've come to value very much over the last year - it rings false and loses much of its meaning for me.

This is not to say that I write without regard for others. I purposely omitted some of the details of my separation and divorce because I knew they would be particularly embarrassing or hurtful to my ex-husband. I have chosen my words very carefully when writing other posts to be sure not to express judgment of others or to portray my perspective as anything more than just that - my personal point of view. And at times I have emailed drafts of posts to people whom I am describing in some detail to make sure they are comfortable with what I'm saying and not revealing any personal information they would prefer kept private. Most of the people in my life trust my judgment in these regards.

Beyond just trusting my instincts, I also hold myself to certain standards in my writing. I always try to refrain from being malicious, spiteful, defamatory, or hateful. I try to be up front that what I am writing is from my perspective, and I avoid trying to articulate anyone else's point of view for them. If I do have reason to recount someone else's thoughts or beliefs (and off the top of my head, I can't think of a time when I have), I would make clear that it is my understanding of those thoughts and beliefs. I don't go into great detail about other people's personal lives and identities because it's both unfair to them and, generally speaking, irrelevant to my purposes. And perhaps most importantly, I won't air anyone else's dirty laundry beyond that which relates to my life, and more specifically, to the part of my life that I'm writing about in that post.

This last one is tricky. It's difficult to know what one person considers dirty laundry and another considers the sad truth. Extreme examples are easy enough to address. For instance, I wouldn't post the details of a friend's divorce, and particularly not the fact that he got a divorce because he walked in on his ex-wife having sex with two other men. (FYI: This is a hypothetical situation I am presenting. If this has happened to any of my friends, I don't know about it, and I apologize for possibly being inadvertently psychic.) But beyond such extremes, where is the line between one person's perceived right to tell a story that is hers on her own terms, and another's perceived right to be left out of it, to only be cast in a positive light, or to selectively edit the story?

Oftentimes it's easy enough to address such a conflict by simply omitting the person. Normally, I err on the side of caution and do just that. But it's not always possible to do so and still tell the story in a way that is honest, accurate, and authentic. And for me, as someone who values this blog and all the wonderful things that have come with it - the connections to others, the self-discovery, the challenge of writing for other writers, and all the new ideas I've grappled with along the way - as someone who values all of that, I also value the freedom to write honest, accurate, and authentic entries. Without that ability, this blog loses much of its value for me.

And yet, none of that answers my question about where the line is. I'm curious to know what other writers have done, and if anyone has any insight, I'd love to hear it. I'm beginning to think there isn't a single, clear, one-size-fits-all answer. I sense that this is something I will continue to have to deal with on a case-by-case basis.
I guess that some will dismiss the notion that my need for authentic experience on this blog requires me to have the freedom that I've described above. In fact, I think those same people will probably dismiss the idea that I even have a need for an authentic experience via this blog, mostly because they don't understand it. I can't expect them to see everything from my point of view, and I don't think I can say anything to change their minds. They simply see things differently. However, I know that I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this, and that what I have said is true for me. I know that I need to protect this space as a place where I can be truthful. I know that doing so is more important to me than many, many other things.

Most importantly, I know that I will always hold myself up to the high standards I've described above, but also that I will defend my ability to be the one doing the holding up.


RachelintheOC said...

You've read my blog. I tackle relationships with humor.

But not always. My posts about the suicide of an ex have been an important part of my growth as a human, and as a writer. That's why I shared them.

Revealing those insights shows your readers your many facets can that be bad?

Ami said...

Hi Erin! Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. I'm so happy you did because I believe I've discovered a kindred spirit in you. I've recently ended a serious (although not married) relationship and am in the process of reconstructing my own life. And this post speaks to all the things I've been struggling with lately in my own blogging (and writing in general). You read my post, so you know how hard it's been for me lately to blog about anything. I feel paralized sometimes, but I think the only way to get through that is to just keep writing. Looking forward to reading more here!

Erin said...

@Ami - I'm so glad to have (virtually) met you! I love all the connections we can make across the internet, especially through our writing. I'm glad you got something out of this post, and I hope we continue to connect with what each other has to say.

Liz said...

I write & delete & write again. I don't ever mention names, I struggle over posting pictures of my children, I've posted some. I try to be ambiguous, simple & short with my posts, enough to say something, expose something that I need to expose at the time, but also leaving things cloaked...

I don't usually share my writing with those that know me in person, but sometimes I do. When I write about my mother, I let her know & share it with her, same with partner. Writing & sharing with friends on twitter has been miraculous & healing. Thank you for writing this, it s helping me think about this more deeply.

Erin said...

@Liz - This is a really tough topic, and not one I take lightly. I think the fundamental difference that some people fail to recognize is that there's a difference between writing "about" someone, and referencing someone. Too many people see their names and immediately assume that something is about them.

Post a Comment