What not to write

Part of being a writer to me is being able to write about anything.

Now I’m not saying that all subjects or stories are worth telling, but as a writer I want to be honestly able to approach any idea and at least take a crack at it. I think it’s very possible to talk about subjects with which I am not comfortable and not glorify them, but rather approach them from my unique world view.

But there are some stories that live only in my head.

Some of them are personal stories. Some that I may have shared with others but never in a formalized way. One of the reasons for this is I don’t really believe in writing as catharsis. I write to create, to comment, to share something with the world, not to make myself feel better. (Okay, that’s not entirely true, I did write a story once after being rejected for a dance but that’s a tale for another time).

Even when I share some of my ambiguous feelings about my thyroid cancer, I’m doing so not because I’m wanting to feel better, but rather trying to share the rather odd and unique perspective on life I’ve gained. Writing brings ideas and thoughts to life, not events.

Some subjects are simply dark. Amazon recently ran a special on Requiem for a Dream. My reaction was “no thanks, saw the movie, don’t want to relive it in slow motion.” But what must it have been like to write such a book, or other great tragedies? I have to believe that story took a toll on the writer as much as the reader. Yet dark stories have something to tell us too, and I’ve often wondered about exploring more tragic themes, more human vulnerable moments.

I’m not sure if it’s life experience or just knowing the right way to approach. Not every writer can writer every book, and there are some stories that were meant to come from a certain person, but this doesn’t mean I don’t want to stretch my legs a bit.

I’ve never suffered from a shortage of ideas, and I’m starting to believe it is the responsibility of a writer to know what stories not to tell, as well as which to tell. Some stories live with you once you’ve read them. Certain thoughts never leave your mind. It might be the humane thing for a writer to keep those sorts of disturbing images to themselves rather than inflict them on others.

I don’t want to give you guys the wrong impression. As evidenced by yesterday’s story, my writing tends to be of the more light and funny variety. I’m not hiding a deep dark secret, but there are some stories I just haven’t figured out how to write yet. Maybe you’ll see them, maybe you won’t. I have a feeling no matter how long I do this there will be ten times as many stories I didn’t write.

What about you? Any subject you won’t touch? Any personal story you’ve thought about fictionalizing?


Filed under Writing

9 responses to “What not to write

  1. madiebeartri

    A side note. I had my entire thyroid removed in Sept 2012. My was not cancer.
    As for fictionalizing stories from my past, I have consideredit but the young band geek tormented by cheerleaders has already been done. Or something very similar. 🙂

    • That’s about a year after mine was removed. How’s your scar healing? Gotten your synthroid levels right yet? Hope all is well. Yeah, there are definitely some personal stories that mirror other works already published, and that certainly is a consideration, but on the other hand, to a certain degree we always tell the same stories over and over again. It’s our unique take on them that makes them special 🙂

      • madiebeartri

        My scar looks really good, looks like a scratch. Im on 100mcg of levothyroxine. I am still feeling sluggish and my joints hurt but I am much better than I was before the surgery. I do have a unique personal perspective on stories from my past. I suppose small elements of my past do eek their way into my stories on occassion.

  2. I think what we write depends on how we perceive things in general. Take Stephen King’s novel Pet Sematary – there is no way in hell I could write a scene that involved a small child getting run over by a big rig. Some would argue that it’s because I myself have a small child, but I’m sure I wouldn’t write something like that even if I didn’t. But because King wrote that, it doesn’t mean he fantasizes about such things. He’s more than likely just like every other parent out there trying to fight off all these horrible mental images we get about the worst possible things that could happen, making us paranoid. And maybe writing that scene helped him get over such paranoia, as much as one can anyway. Some would rather avoid it all together, while others are willing to face it. It doesn’t make any one of us better than the other. We all work differently.

    P.S. I’ll never write about clowns. I hate clowns. I can blame King for that too.

  3. Hey Ben,
    In answer to your question, I have wanted to write about my short time with the love of my life in Singapore in the 1990s but find this too painful a subject to write about directly. I have therefore outlined a story that takes place in 1960s Singapore that plays out the main themes of the love story while allowing me the distance to protect my feelings. I think that falls into catharsis nonetheless.


    PS: I really enjoy your posts on writing. Thanks and keep them up.

  4. When I was younger, I read a lot of horror stories. I loved them — the psychological horror more than the splatter horror. Clive Barker was a favourite. (If you don’t know his work, he’s responsible for Hellraiser.) But as I got older, the appeal started to fade. And about the time I had my first child, I found I couldn’t face horror at all. Not horror novels (although I’ve got shelves full of them), not horror movies, nothing. Not because I’ve suddenly developed a weak stomach or heart. But because I look around the world, and I see enough horror. I see enough tragedies, enough disasters, enough senseless murders and shootings and wars and abuses perpetrated on children and women and men. I don’t want to have to face those horrors in my reading.

    I have a file full of horror story ideas. They still come to me. Sentences or questions or ideas. (I was going to share a couple of them here, but changed my mind.) But I can’t write them. Or I won’t. I have no issue with others writing horror, but I choose not to tell those stories. Because writing is an act of creation, and I have no desire to bring more horror into the world.

  5. The darkest story I ever wrote was only a couple pages long. Psychological horror, implied torture, no ray of hope at all. I wrote it to see what it would be like, but I’m not especially happy with it. It was just horror for horror’s sake: no adventure, no lesson, no satire. So, meh.

  6. I want to write about my experiences dealing with my first husband’s bipolar disorder but I don’t feel like i have the right to tell the world at large what he was going through, that’s his story which he’d rather, I assume, stay private. And I can’t write about how I dealt with it, without telling everyone a lot of what he was going through. It bothers me as really would like to get it down on paper. Maybe I should just do that, get it down on paper, and then lock it away somewhere.

  7. I love your perspective on writing. I have never thought about how important it is for writers to be able to write about anything. No matter your genre, it should be possible for a writer to make an effort to respond to a prompt or some other such topic.

    As to the comment about what to write, I completely agree that there are just some things that should remain in your head or just on a personal flash drive for your own personal review. I like what you said “it is the responsibility of a writer to know what stories not to tell, as well as which to tell.” I’ve read a few stories that should have stayed on their hard drives.

    Thank you for the insight.

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