The Writer’s Dilemma

 

 

questionsYou are writing a memoir, or an autobiography, perhaps a story that is based on historical facts. Your research reveals some brutal truths. The little devil on your left shoulder whispers, “Go ahead. Spill you guts. Set the truth free.” But the angel with the glowing halo whispers in your right ear, “How could you reveal that dark incident kept hidden for years? You will destroy someone.” You wonder, Should I keep this a secret?

The latest research* on keeping secrets reveals some interesting outcomes:

  • Upon learning the secret, the confidant often feels closer to the revealer.
  • Having learned the secret, the confidant becomes “a co-owner” of the information.
  • But that can be a burden for the confidant, who worries about keeping the information to themselves. Their attention becomes so focused on the need to hide the information, their positive outlook on their own life diminishes.
  • Each of us has our own view of personal privacy and we set our own boundaries on what to reveal or keep private. When the confidant disagrees with the revealer, the confidant experiences what researchers call “privacy turbulence.”

Here’s the dilemma: what to do – tell or not tell? When you learn something you think a third party has a right to know, how do you decide whether to tell or not tell? Here’s what researchers recommend:

  • MedicalRecordsThe old saw about preferring to ask for forgiveness rather than seek approval doesn’t apply here. If you opened Pandora’s box by snooping, you need to seek permission from the secret-keeper. Get approval to tell other people who could benefit from knowing the secret, especially if they are family members or this involves a healthcare issue.
  • Ask the revealer to consider fessing up, telling everyone themselves, because of another old saw: “Honesty is the Best Policy.”
  • Ask a third person, whose opinion you trust and who is far removed from the emotional topic, for advice. This person can help you determine the outcome of revealing the secret.
  • Give yourself a pat on the back for keeping a confidence to yourself. This will relieve some of the burden of knowing and not telling.

Oh No, a Writer

 

 

*Research from Columbia University and University of Melbourne in Australia

6 thoughts on “The Writer’s Dilemma

  1. I wrote a family memoir. A distant relative took me aside and cautioned me about rumors that would do no one any good. I knew exactly what he was asking me. It would have been titallating for about a half-second, and it would have destroyed his reputation. Always take the high road. Sometimes even innocent things can come back to bite you.

  2. It IS a dilemma. I would say if it’s a sideline–nothing actually affecting the story–don’t use it. To me, it would not be worth the hard feelings that could last for years.

  3. I have been on jury duty all week. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on the “normal side” of life. But it’s the quirkiness in some characters that makes them interesting people.

  4. Dear Judith, I’m finishing two novels before beginning the next memoir, but it will demand that I choose what to reveal and so your posting is helpful for me. Thank you. Peace.

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