When to Write…

As a matter of principle,  I seem to be late a lot. And I am very late in joining Lyla over at TweetSpeak Poetry for their book club reading of L.L. Barkat’s wonderful small volume on the craft of writing and the life of the writer. It’s called “Rumors of Water,”and I cannot encourage you strongly enough to read this one through. Mark it up, read it again, live with it a while – if you ever have occasion to write anything at all, ever, her words are wise and truly helpful. This is the last week and it’s on the last two sections of the book: “Glitches” and “Time.”

I am wrestling today with this whole idea of time.
When is it time to tell certain stories?
When is it too early?
Or too late?
How do we know when the time is now?
I’ve had this blog for a number of years.
It was initially an assignment,
a strong request from my boss,
who had a blog himself and 
he wanted others on the church staff to have one, too.
I’ve loved to write ever since I can remember.
I’ve had teachers encourage me to do more of it.
I’ve even had a ‘call’ to do it,
an almost audible voice asking me to
‘write my life down,’ primarily for my then newly-born elder granddaughter.
She is six years old now.
And I still haven’t done it.
I’ve made a stab at it here and there.
I’ve written some of the stories.
But about five years ago, I came up against this extremely painful reality: 
parts of my story may be mine, 
 but they impinge on the lives 
and feelings 
and experiences of others. 
So maybe they’re not my stories to write after all?
Let me explain a bit more about what I mean.
In the right hand column is a list of the archives of this blog. You’ll note that I wrote about 20 times the first year – 2006. And about 10 times the next year.
And not at all in 2008.
Not one post.
From summer 2007 until sometime in 2009,
I stayed away from here, 
badly burned by a most difficult experience:
I wrote a story before its time.
It was a difficult post to write because I had just spent a pretty rough week watching someone I loved suffer terribly. 
I wrote, without names, about that experience.
About how watching others suffer,
wondering, “How long, O Lord, how long?” – about how
that is a particular kind of pain straight from the bowels of hell itself.
My boss was thrilled with the post.
He thought it was powerful,
true and necessary.
However, someone else who was close to the situation 
was deeply wounded by what I wrote.
And you know what?
That wounding far outweighed my boss’s appreciation.
FAR outweighed it, if there are some kind of 
cosmic books being kept of such things.
That post was ‘live’ for a total of about 12 hours, 
and then it was sent into cyber limbo, 
never to be seen again.
But the repercussions from it reverberate 
right into the present day.
So I am left wondering.
When can this part of my story be told?
Maybe so.
And that’s a hard reality to look at.
I am hoping Ms. Barkat is right.
“There is no hurry. 
The things we cannot write about today, 
we will surely find we can write about tomorrow.”
Perhaps time will tell. 
A patient reader of this blog will also notice 
that from 2008-2010, 
almost all posts were strictly work-related – 
prayers and sermons I had written for corporate worship. 
It was not until I retired at the end of 2010 
that I began doing 
regular, reflective writing once again. 
And I do it very, very gingerly still. 
The last thing I want my writing to do 
is to further complicate or make painful the lives of others – so I’m learning 
(very slowly) to dive beneath the surface, 
to put some of my observations about life 
and death 
and family 
and faith 
out here in print. 
I’m not sure I know the answer to the questions 
I’ve raised, 
but I’m trying to do what L.L. suggests: 
“Trust the process and move on.” 

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  1. Llbarkat says

    Memoir is the hardest. I don’t know that any memoir writer escapes this difficult reality. And I’m not sure how we memoir writers make these decisions. But I am one. That’s all I know.

  2. Linda Chontos says

    This one goes straight to my heart Diana. I have been reading about writing – wanting to improve my own. Over and over again the advice is to write about your suffering; write from the hurting places; write what you are passionate about. Perhaps it is my length of years, but I find that I do a great deal of self-editing – making very sure I don’t write anything that will in any way hurt someone else.
    It is just as you’ve so beautifully said. So much of our story is also someone else’s. I know that a good bit of mine must remain untold for now. I trust that when the time is right, the Lord will let me know. In the meantime, I feel as though I must wait.

  3. pastordt says

    Me, too. That’s what I do, that’s who I am. Just trying to navigate it well, without damaging people I care about. Sigh.

  4. pastordt says

    You and I are the same generation, Linda. Maybe it’s harder for us somehow? Although I think it’s painful to write about hard things no matter your age!

  5. I’m just 41, and it’s my issue, too. Some of those I could hurt are older than me, and some are younger (minors). Poetry helps because I can be specific, yet obscure. But I’ll write a novel before I write a memoir.

  6. I had mostly stopped writing about my kids. They’re at an age where they don’t need their mother telling stories about them. Yet with the last two posts in particular over at TSP, they happened to be the stories that seemed to ask to be told, and graciously, in both cases, the guys agreed. But it’s hard. You can write on the surface, you can write all about yourself, or you can go ahead write from the deep parts and where we interconnect. But it’s risky. I think sometimes there’s a place to go ahead and write it, but be selective about where it’s shared. This internet thing kind of throws us sometimes, where we think it doesn’t count unless it gets out there somewhere. 

    Just my thoughts. I so appreciate the questions you ask here (nope, no answers from me!) and the hard part you share from your own experience. Thanks, Diana. Always.

  7. pastordt says

    It is always hard to decide what works and what won’t. I don’t have kids in my home anymore, but I’ve got kids, that’s for sure. Except for the Mother Letters I wrote last week, I have asked them about anything that gets remotely personally connected to them. That was the mistake I made five years ago – I didn’t run it by key people first. So I am definitely gun-shy. Anne Lamott says to write it anyway, but I’m not sure I’m convinced…thanks for stopping by and commenting, Lyla.

  8. Diana, I should make sure that I said what I meant to. I think you understood me, but I want to be sure. On the spectrum, I’d be closer to the end that Anne Lamott would not be standing on. 🙂 I think there’s a time and a place. But even so I’d lean more toward writing it if it needs to be written, but keeping it close. The act of writing itself, even if it doesn’t leave the room, can be a powerful, redemptive, clarifying act.

  9. Dtrautwein says

    This is exactly what I need to be doing a whole lot more of – writing just for me. I’m not sure why I avoid that, but I do. So…this is the project before me. Will I do it?

  10. Donnjohnson says

    Being “the boss” that encouraged and appreciated (appreciates) your writing, I read with wincing pain what you’ve gone through, but am deeply moved by your vulnerability describing life and faithfulness and ache. I’m in one of those “still seasons” of listening and reading. Thank you for your courage to word out life.

  11. pastordt says

    Thanks, Don. I am forever grateful for your push to begin this blog – believe me. And I’ll keep plugging away at this writing stuff, trying to grow, take a few risks – but with care about others when I do. I say good for ‘still’ seasons – so needed. I hear via the grapevine that you’re headed outta here soon – hope it’s refreshing in every way.

  12. I struggle with this, too. All those posts I wrote while my mom was dying–she didn’t know. She couldn’t read my blog any more. Honestly, I don’t know if she would have been happy, being the private person she was. But It was so incredibly healing for me, for my sister, and apparently for a lot of people, and I have to hope she is smiling now. My sister asked that I copy them all, and we had them scattered around at the memorial visitation to be later bound for my dad. One of those stories has since been picked up by the hospice organization, edited short, and included in a donor newsletter mailing with my dad’s blessing.

    There are other stories that demand to be told. They are so painful to me, but I am afraid to even approach the parties involved, afraid of dredging up pain for them even in the asking. Maybe these are the ones I need to write for myself for now–or maybe they need to be fictionalized a piece here and a piece there.

  13. pastordt says

    Oh, Sandy – those posts were wonderful, so loving and real. I’m so glad you’ve collected them and that Hospice is using one. That is a wonderful tribute to your mom and to your love for her. But you are right – some of these painful stories that we all live through are tough to share. Yet always – someone is helped by the telling.

    I don’t know how to fictionalize things other than to change a few details here or there – I tend to shy away from fiction. Maybe I should think about that… Thanks for stopping by and commenting, friend.

  14. In real life I’m a very private person, so, like Linda, anything I write “for public consumption” is thoroughly edited. While I’m frequently blessed by the personal bits that people like you and Sandra share in your blogs, when it comes to my own writing, that kind of sharing isn’t for me. The online world is too public a place for baring my soul. All my personal reflections go into a diary that I don’t intend anyone else to read. Kind of pointless, I know, but it’s therapeutic just getting the words on a page.

    You write so beautifully, Diana, whatever the subject, so I hope you’ll continue. I sympathize with your struggle to remain honest and transparent and yet still be respectful of other’s privacy and considerate of their feelings. 

    Whenever I experience uncertainty or doubt, I find it’s usually God’s way of telling me to be cautious… to take time to think through possible ramifications before hitting the ‘publish’ button!

  15. pastordt says

    Thanks for stopping by Carol. I appreciate your words of both encouragement and caution. I’m trying to experiment a little with ‘fictionalizing’ some of my own story – because, to tell you the truth, I have no idea how to write real fiction like you do. I’m working on something from 40+ years ago that has NO ramifications for anyone I know or don’t know! It’s for Joe Bunting’s monthly competition over at The Write Practice. It’s a strange hybrid of truth and fiction and I don’t know if it works or not. Just gotta keep trying, I guess.

  16. DeanneMoore says

    Diana, your truth and wisdom here is needed so much by this blogger. I wrote a story a few weeks ago—a painful yet cryptic story, even linked it. Then I pulled it down. It was about my struggle— but it wasn’t just about me. There is a time for vulnerability. Sharing my testimony this week with two different groups of ladies, I was able to be very real about my difficult journey through depression, even hospitalization. It has been twelve years since I first got sick. I have lived depression-free for years. I feel my story is more powerful now than it was even six years ago. God and time (sanctification) have  helped me edit what needs to be told and what doesn’t. Of course, that has given the story more impact. The refining of the story has continued over the years.  The story has been chiseled so that it is not just about me but it speaks into the lives of others and their own pain. 

    You have given me a gift today with your post. Thank you for writing such wisdom and coming late to the game. (I was too intimidated to even get in!)

  17. pastordt says

    Deanne – welcome! And thank you for your so-good words. You touch on a beautiful, difficult story of your own and I understand fully your instinct to pull a story down – that’s exactly what I did those years ago. I put it up at about 5:00 p.m. and woke before 7, anxious about it and pulled it off. I found out two days later that it had been read by at least the two people I mentioned, one with a positive response and one with a strongly negative one.

    Please don’t be intimidated by any of these projects at Tweetspeak (or anywhere else for that matter!) I am fortunate enough to have met a few of the people who do the writing there – and they are just regular folk, gifted – yes. But kind?? SO much. I know they (and I) would love to read your insights and experiences with these topics.

    I, too, have spoken about my life in a few settings. And that is a little bit more free than writing in a space like this – in some ways. In others, it feels more restrictive. And both require writing anyhow – so I’m more comfortable doing it here…most of the time. There are some things that will likely never find their way to this space!

    Thanks again for stopping by

  18. There are many times I have planned to tell a certain story and when I get to the moment of typing, it doesn’t come.  The words don’t flow and everything seems not to work.  So I shelve it and think maybe some other time.  Now I have a name for that, telling a story before it’s time.  Thank you.

  19. pastordt says

    Thanks so much for stopping by, Andrea, and for leaving these good words of affirmation.

  20. It’s an issue I struggle with, too. Some of the people I could hurt are older, and some are minors with Facebook pages. I hope to one day explore it all in fiction, but for now, poetry is a good substitute–a way to “tell the truth but tell it slant.”

  21. pastordt says

    I so get this! But I am no poet – I am prose pretty much all the time. Which is why I may just take the poetry option (if there is one) at the Lodge this September.

  22. It’s a difficult line to draw. I admire you for stepping back in, cautiously…taking what you learned and making something beautiful with it. I am so grateful for this season of your reflective writing, Diana. So grateful.

  23. pastordt says

    Thank you, Laura, for these kind words of encouragement.

  24. I’m trying to figure this out, too. Our lives rub up against so many others….how do we tell our stories in a way that is honest, yet respectful? Ann Voskamp, at the Festival, said she wasn’t sure, either, but she said one driving, basic principle for her is “First, do no harm.”

  25. The quote made me think about what I am doing.  I find there are stories I want to tell that involve hurt of some kind, but others are involved.  So I don’t tell them.  The stories I am left with are happy stories about the people I love.  I enjoy telling those.  So for now, I’m telling those.   The quote validates what I am doing.  Thanks for sharing.

  26. pastordt says

    Thank you, Ann and Andrea, for stopping by and commenting. I think this is the hardest part about trying to do anything that is memoir-ish – telling the truth of our own experience without unduly causing heartache to others. I appreciate your commenting about this issue.