The large elephant in the room
I had a writing mentor when I was younger, Mrs. M. She used to say, "Don't just write about the nice stuff; take on the yukky bits too."
We all have times in our lives when we've done something we're not proud of.
Perhaps we've really hurt another person through our actions or words.
Maybe we broke Aunt May's precious china poodle, worth a million dollars, when we were staying over one weekend, tried to glue it back together, failed, stuck it in the garbage and never fessed up.
And then there are those deep secrets we have that we hold close, never wanting them to see the light of day. It would be too humiliating, too devastating, to write about them, just too difficult. We might hurt someone else, too, if we let them out of their box.
Natalie Goldberg offers some good advice in her book Old Friend From Far Away:
Go for the jugular, for what makes you nervous. Otherwise, you will always be writing around your secrets, like the elephant no one notices in the living room. It's that large animal that makes your living room unique and interesting.
When we write about those things that are personally difficult, Natalie goes on to say that we're actually building up a tolerance for what we cannot bear. If you start out by writing down frightening things and then tearing up the paper, that's OK. Keep going and keep tearing it up if you want to until you arrive at a point where Natalie says 'chew it up and swallow.' It's good practice.
The more you challenge yourself to 'go for the jugular' in your writing, the more willing - and able - you will be to go to those dark, secret places, and the richer your writing will become.
Here's an exercise suggested by our Natalie: Make a list of the things you should not write about - then systematically go down the list, take ten minutes on each one, and 'let it rip.'