What to leave out of your writing – 6 tips.
Do you ever read something and wonder how the author dared to write it? Do you see the hurt they are feeling or causing? Sometimes I do and I think to myself, Somethings should not be written. This blog is about the things you shouldn’t write.
I love writing memoir, fiction and blogs. It has become an obsession. To become a better writer, I’ve undertaken courses and workshops, read books on writing, worked with writers and read a mountain of books. My skills slowly improve, but I’ve still got lots to learn. I’ve also learnt what to leave out of a book or article.
Very early on I read On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King and two books by Patti Miller; The Memoir Book and Writing Your Life. I often reread them. They’re not only inspirational, but offer advice on how to write without estranging your family, losing your friends or endangering people’s safety.
Here are my six tips.
- If in doubt, leave it out. In the writing of Two Poofs and a Poodle, I wrote a chapter about Rina coming with me and a friend to a trivia quiz. The friend is a funny character, who regularly tells the same jokes. I thought he’d laugh at the way I’d portrayed him, but when I shared the chapter with him, there was no laughter. Instead, hurt crossed his face as he read my words. “Is that really how you see me?” he asked. We talked and I apologised. All reference to him was removed from the chapter when I did the rewrite. Friends are worth keeping.
- Don’t just change the name of a real person and think it’s fiction. When we write fiction, of course we draw on the people we know or who have passed through out lives, but don’t take everything about one person from your life, change their name and think they won’t see themselves in your book. In my book, The Maiden Aunts, one of the main character, Joe, is me. Six foot tall, bronzed, buffed, a full head of dark hair. What, you can’t see it? Well not physically. But in the book, he’s moody, prone to over think things, struggling to come out in a country town and enjoys a good laugh. Yes, that is or has been me, but I won’t be recognised and Joe is really a composite of so many people. Make sure your fictional characters are composites too.
- Share your stories with the people you write about and make changes and deletions based on their feedback. The first book I published is titled, Through My Eyes – Adventures in Bali. It is a collection of 29 humorous stories about my life in Bali. Many of my adventures were undertaken with Indonesian fiends and so they feature heavily in this book. I ran each story past the people involved. Some I told in my poor Indonesian. If this proved too difficult, I paid to have the story professionally translated and then shared it. Each time I got their feedback and made changes. I even scrapped a few stories. Today, it’s even easier. You can use google translate.
- Don’t use your writing to settle scores and past hurts. This sort of writing doesn’t read well and does nothing to enhance your credibility as a writer. I’m still writing a memoir titled, Three Mums – Six Years. I could have shafted one or two of my siblings, but this would have shown me as petty and mean and with unresolved issues. It would not improve the story. So why settle scores on the page. Don’t do it. Get therapy if the hurt lingers.
- Protect your sources. Don’t include anything in your writing that may endanger another person’s freedom, dignity or life. Saying that someone loved meeting people and enjoyed varied relationships, is better that saying he or she was a slut. If she coloured outside the lines and had same-sex flings, who really cares. Doesn’t everyone these days? Will it make your story better? What is your motivation for including it? Are you protecting your source? This type of story would get someone imprisoned and caned in Ache or Saudi Arabia. It might stop them getting a visa to live in the USA. Is this what you want? Of course you don’t. You’re a good person. Protect your sources.
- Don’t let the urgency of your BLOG allow you to break the above rules. Blogs seem urgent. You want to publish one a week, so you don’t have time for the above 6 rules. Bull shit!!! Of course you have time. Always have one or 2 blogs up your sleeve ready for that emergency. Print one of the back ups and allow yourself time to show some integrity.
I’m no expert on writing, but I live a life where I don’t want to hurt people. I don’t always succeed, but I try. I don’t want to lose friends and alienate family. I follow the above rules. I suggest you try following them too.
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