The theme for the next three posts in the October Memoir and Backstory Challenge hosted by Jane Ann McLachlan is Secrets. I fretted a bit about this theme, but I finally landed on a solution. For the first two posts, I’m going to tell you about secrets that I won’t divulge. For the third post, I’ll reveal a secret.
A broad category of secrets that I don’t tell are ones that don’t belong to me. This isn’t an iron-clad rule with me. Many situations are improved when people aren’t keeping secrets. If revealing something makes the environment cleaner and clearer, I’m inclined to say what I know.
I have made the choice, recently, while writing these memoir posts, to keep a secret that isn’t fully mine. Someday, I’ll probably tell it, but not today and not simply for improved writing.
It may shock some readers to know that I’m keeping secrets. People sometimes say “I can’t believe you wrote something so revealing” — usually, people who aren’t writers. I think writers know that once you’ve turned a secret into a crafted piece for others to read, it loses its ability to harm. Secrets make you vulnerable. Choosing the time, place, and manner for the revelation of a secret is an act of power. If the secret belongs to someone else, then it’s a power that must be wielded with compassion, or not wielded at all.
Last year, during the October Memoir Challenge, I had a lovely conversation with another writer about authenticity and honesty in writing. The question arose: does authentic writing require complete, honest revelation? It took us awhile and examples from both of our writing, but we eventually came to this conclusion: authentic writing requires that something be revealed, but not that everything be revealed.
For writers, what role do secrets and revelations play in your writing? For readers, what do you like and not like about how secrets are kept and revealed in the works you read?