What's happening in this week's news about MacKenzie Phillips' tell-all book about her supposed incestuous relationship with her father made me think of a question that came across my in-box last week. On LinkedIn, an editor who belongs to one of the same Groups I joined posed a question. He's writing a piece of fiction on the side and wanted to discuss if others of us on this list were ever challenged when using personal information to tell our stories. He wanted to know how we handle this and whether or not it ever dissuades us from writing or publishing the story at all.
With regards to non-fiction, my take on this is simple: everyone has a story to tell. If you think yours needs to be told, and you can do it with a certain kind of objectivity, then do it.
What I mean by that is this: no one can benefit if you tell your story with the intent to get back at someone. If you're out to hurt another human being by telling your story and publishing it to the world--no matter what that person may have done to you--there is no win. The intent of your story will be as transparent as the windshield on your car.
A prime example, I think, is Dina Matos McGreevey, the ex-wife of former new Jersey Gov. James McGreevey. She wrote her memoir, Silent Partner, to tell the story of what happened to her and her marriage to the governor in 2004, after it turned out that he was gay, and he resigned. Afterward, their divorce made dramatic headlines for many months. Obviously, she was devastated. But I don't think she gave herself enough time to process what had happened to her, because it wasn't long after that when she took all her rage and put it inside that sensational book. From my perspective--and from the sound of her very candid television interviews--her motives were clear. And we haven't heard much from her since.
If, on the other hand, you want to tell your story with the intent to help others who may be experiencing the same thing you did, then go with your gut. Remember, you have those Killer instincts that nag at you from the inside, telling you what you need to do. They are killer, because they hone in on the challenge you're facing at any given minute, and they act as your warning siren. If you muffle that sound (and usually we do this unconsciously) you won't be able to listen.
Besides, it's not like writing a book is a quick and easy process. It's not, and it's shouldn't be--especially if it's a memoir. The life lessons we derive from our experiences take time themselves to be understood. Imagine writing them out when you're still trying to figure out what just happened to you. Well, you're still trying to figure out what just happened to you! You don't yet have the lessons to share when you don't yet know what they are.
My suggestion then is to keep writing in your journals till you hit upon the underlying message. It will appear on those pages, as if someone came knocking on your door to deliver a package. Ding-dong! Oh, there you are! You will get that light-bulb moment--if it's really what you must do. I really believe that, which is why I think Jenny Sanford's book will be a success.
I'm certain, from my own experience, when you get there, you'll know. And I suggest you trust your judgment, write the story from your heart, and then, you'll have your answer as to whether it should be published to the world or not.
So tell me. Have you ever experienced a moment in life where you just knew there was a story behind it? What happened afterward? I can tell you, when this happened to me, I spent the next several years exploring the hidden message, and that became my BIKE.