Privacy issues can paralyse a writer. What to hide, what to reveal? That’s a question every writer must confront or suffer writer’s block.
The question is, why did I spend four years dithering instead of writing a particular book, namely Live Long And Like It: my boot camp for the bonus years. The first factor that blocked me from writing was this one:
1. Privacy. My boot camp was personal: at the time I hadn’t imagined it would be useful for others.
It’s true, when I launched into a solitary 12-month programme to prepare myself for the reality of old age in 2015, that was just for me. Solitary. No coach. No companions. Based on evidence but customised for me alone. Surely I couldn’t generalise from my personal trip to the needs of others. I did share in blog posts on the run, but only for a tiny audience.
For this to change, a few years had to pass. Time mellows, and it has brought me a wider view. Some lessons you have to learn again and again. Long ago I realised that whenever I experience something that seems uniquely personal to me, it always has a certain universality. If I’ve discovered some little truth, so has half the human race. I find that both shocking and liberating.
For a writer, there’s always a struggle to explore or document the personal without exposing what is best kept private. I think this struggle carries on, often unwittingly, regardless of the form of writing. Writers of memoirs and poems and blogs grapple with this dilemma frequently, upfront and consciously. But even in science reports, journalism and academic writing (for example) writers are influenced by personal experience and some will include personal anecdotes in an article or book. But how much? and when? and why? As writers we need to ask these questions and own the answers.
Naturally I’m wondering where you, as a fellow blogger, notice yourself drawing a line. On social media in general people go way, way, way past what I feel is worth sharing and safe to share every minute of every day. I see the WordPress blogging phenomenon as a little more restrained and deliberate, less blurty. What do you freely share on your blog, and what do you deliberately keep private? How long do you sit on a post before hitting publish? Do you share news of your friends and family without permission?
The issues are different for a book. A book takes a pretty long time to write and gets rewritten and revised over and over again. You cannot blurt in a book. When you expose a secret in a book, it’s not by accident, but a deliberate choice. Facebook is deceptively named: your timeline may include thousands of faces, but it’s not a book, no way. By contrast, the names Twitter and Instagram reflect the instantaneous, chattery nature of the content. Not saying it’s bad. Just echoing that the medium is the message.
Impulse is the enemy of privacy. I don’t regret the time waiting until I was ready to write my book-in-progress. But now on every page I’m also weighing up how much to share. The art of writing consists largely of selection and rejection, and so I’ll stop now.
Rachel McAlpine cc by 2.0