In her book Inheritance , Dani Shapiro writes about the time in her life when she innocently submitted her DNA to a genealogy website and found out that her deceased father was not her biological father.
The book is about secrets - those kept within families, secrets too shameful to reveal, or kept hidden out of love to protect others. Dani writes, '... secrets, particularly the most deeply held ones, have a way of leaching into everything surrounding them.'
We all have them: family secrets like Dani's that are kept hidden, those we keep to ourselves about our own lives and actions, those that are entrusted to us by others where we carry the burden of secrecy.
And as Dani says, sometimes those secrets 'leach' into our lives and the lives of others, rather like toxic landfills seeping into surrounding terrain... and the results can be life-changing, as Dani discovered.
Have you thought about the secrets you hold in your life, those that you cannot reveal because they are too embarrassing or shameful, or, if someone finds out about them, the repercussions would be too terrible to imagine, not only for you but many other people?
Having a 'secret' at the core of a story can generate a powerful narrative: we are intrigued when someone says to us, 'Shall I tell you a secret?'
'Oh yes please!' we say, hungry for something deliciously terrible or tantalising. The person then begins to string us along, dropping hints about 'the secret' which becomes more enticing chapter by chapter until we're almost desperate with anxiety, wanting to know ... and then all is revealed in a powerful and usually unexpected ending.
It's the stuff of bestsellers, let me tell you!
Writing about our own secrets can be done 'in secret', writing we do just for us.
Writing about those things in our lives that we simply cannot share with others for whatever reason, can help us to process, understand, and either ease the burden or put those secrets to rest for good. Keeping a journal can be one way of processing our secrets or sitting down with pen and paper, writing it out, and then destroying the writing afterwards can also be helpful.
Dani writes of a phrase quoted from a psychoanalyst, Christopher Bollas, one that guided her as she delved into the secrets long-held by her parents. You may like to use this as a prompt for your writing:
'There is in each of us a fundamental split between what we think we know and what we know but may never be able to think.'
The Greek philosopher Epictetus said,
'If you wish to be a writer, write.'
Simple as that!
I'll add to this by saying, 'If you have a story to tell about your life and times, then I'll bet people will want to read it.'
Tell it well and compellingly, and you may just have a book that will not only sell but will touch the hearts and minds of the people who read it.
You may ask: 'How does she know this?'
Because we all have a built-in curiosity about others, a hard-wiring that goes right back to our earliest ancestors sitting around fires at night. Before language there was visual communication. Take the charcoal drawings in the cave of Altamira, renderings of local fauna and the prints of hands. Perhaps this was a visual sharing of the story, 'Look what we hunted and killed today and now we're eating it for dinner.'
Michelle Obama's memoir Becoming has now sold over 10 million copies worldwide and her story could become the best selling autobiography ever. Sure, she received a real incentive to write her story - a reported $60 million US advance for the memoir - and this was a real measure of how eagerly anticipated her story was, now widely praised for it's raw and truthful telling of life before, during and after the White House years.
The corridors of power attract us, the lives of the rich and famous do too but we also want to know about the everyday, the lives of people like ourselves, those who have experienced something wonderful, traumatic, hopeful, joyous, or unbearably sad, and have been able to translate their thoughts, feelings, decisions and actions into the written word.
These are stories we can relate to, learn from, and enrich our own lives through the reading.
I'm so proud of Josh Komen and his book The Wind at My Back which reached number two in the Neilsen Weekly Bestsellers list for NZ adult fiction for the week ending 2 March 2019. Josh is a young man who had a special story to tell, one that has resonated with so many - not only because it describes the harrowing journey of a young man diagnosed with an aggressive blood cancer but also because it is a story of hope, of overcoming a stack of incredible adversities to beat the odds and find joy, friendship, and love.
You can do this too. You absolutely can. If you want to be a writer, just write, tell your story.
If you need help getting started, call me!! We can chat.