Last year saw me read memoir/essays.

This is a genre that I have never read much before. I was strictly a fiction only girl. My 2020 goal was to expand the genres that I read.

Mission accomplished. For all those who constantly ask me what my “good” thing about the pandemic was- the answer would be “I read more.” Some people would not think that was a good thing though-

but anyway…

I recently read “Southern Lady Code” by Helen Ellis. For the most part, I enjoyed this memoir/essay collection. The writer has a breezy way of writing that draws you into her stories. She is funny and quite clever.

That’s the good thing.

The not so good thing is some of her content.

Are there stories that should not be told?

She mentions a story about her Father- I will say this story (it’s not incest or anything like that) shows questionable judgement.

But is this story hers to tell?

I get that ideas can’t be copyrighted. I get that if ten people witness something, they all get to comment on it: after all, it is their story.

But…

In writing, is there a time when you should hold back?

As a blogger I often write about whatever odd thoughts come to my head. As Sheree pointed out last week, I am totally capable of overthinking any subject- even a TV show.

But should I be putting all these thoughts out into the world?

What thoughts should be public and which should be private?

How about when I share personal tales- the stories that have shaped me as the person that I am.

Should I be writing them for all the world to see?

For all the world to judge me on?

Because, let’s face it: people will judge everything that you do. For every person that gives you a thumbs up, there’s at least one shaking their head in dismay.

Does telling your story, the cringey ones, make you a narcissist? An exhibitionist’? Is it an excuse to put yourself in the center?

Or does telling your story set you free?

Here’s a quip: I grew up in a house where we weren’t supposed to say things out loud. To this day my Mother will tell me something and she’ll say “Don’t tell Husband.”

This explains some stuff about me, doesn’t it?

When I blog, I often wonder if I am revealing too much about myself. And I sometimes wonder if I’m not revealing enough.

I do know that when I write something about my past, something painful, I do exhale. I said it and nothing bad happened to me…

But then there’s the exposure thing again…

I can’t help but wonder what people will think…

Was my Mother right? Should we close ourselves off to the world? Or does she have any of the wisdom that she claims to possess?

I know I’ve thrown out a bunch of thinking questions- but here’s the real question:

On a scale of 1-10, how much should we care about what others think of us?

On that same scale, how much of ourselves should we reveal?

Do you reveal yourself when you write? How much do you reveal to your friends? Your family? Your partner?

Are there stories that you shouldn’t tell?

93 thoughts on “How Much to Tell

  1. How much information is too much information? With any kind of writing, it’s a personal decision. There is advice to serious writers that says, “open a vein.” Oftentimes it helps to just “get it out.” No rules need apply.

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  2. My question to you is this: Why are you revealing it? Is it to impart a lesson you learned, to explain why you are like you are, to rat someone out, just plain gossip? Before you share/reveal anything that involves someone else I would ask myself what my reasoning is.

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  3. I ask myself this all of the time. I’m writing a memoir about my son’s schizophrenia diagnosis, the effects on my family, and our journey toward help. When I started, I didn’t realize the level of courage and honesty needed to write it. And my relationship with my son is such that he doesn’t even know I’m writing it. So I’m not sure if I will ever even publish. Part of me feels like I should be asking permission from others. Part of me feels like this is my story.

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    1. Exactly! I was writing a fiction novel, but have now chosen to do the memoir/essay route. But it’s all about my relationship with ,my mother. Should I be doing this? I question this all the time

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  4. it’s an interesting question: to tell or not to tell. I know I hate it when people share stories about me that I consider secret (something I confided but did not want shared) or sacred or really, just too personal. So, I try to ask myself if what I’m writing will bring displeasure or hurt to another. Sometimes, while it is MY story, if it does involve others I try to be sensitive to their feelings, opinions, etc. It’s a balancing act.

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      1. If you are writing for your own healing, then maybe you have a right to tell the story. You mother sounds like maybe she is vain. Given this, I think she would be horrified to know you’ve published a book about her that might not be flattering. This is tricky, people do it all that time. I know that if I try to talk to my mother about certain issues, she becomes extremely defensive. So, right there would be my clue that if I wrote a memoir, I’d have to be prepared for anger, sadness, etc. BIG Question — why would you want to publish this? So, you can find others with same issues and prove that your mother was the one with issues? Determine your WHY… and if it is strong enough, write/publish it.

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      2. I think my story defines me as a person. It goes back to my whole thing about parenting being the root of every problem we face as a civilization. We all make mistakes, but first we have to own our mistakes. I was talking to her this morning and she’s still preaching. Secondly, we have to accept that our parents made mistakes in order for us to get in with our lives. But to add on top…my mother was controlling to such a degree that I feel like I can’t speak my truth. So why? It’s somewhere in there

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      3. Then, it seems to me you need this book for your own healing and to be FREE of the preaching. This book will help you cut the umbilical cord, but at what cost to your mother and other people in your family. Your daughter loves you, but maybe one day years from now, she will complain about things. How would you feel if she wrote a book about you/family stuff that made her suffer. We all have faults. Isn’t it better to just dis-engage from a family member/your mother who makes you/us feel sad. Things to think about for sure.

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      4. I hope my daughter has the courage to tell me what I did wrong. The relationship is more important than my feelings. We can’t heal and move on if we can’t face our own realities. Of course it would hurt. But healing is painful

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      5. I’ve been thinking about your comment. I think part of it is that I’ve never done anything right in my mothers eyes, she’s never been satisfied with me as a person. I think by not saying how I feel I’ve only hurt myself. So if I tell the story, she gets hurt. If I don’t, I get hurt. Which is worse?

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      6. Here is how life is… when we are in our 50s, if we are still suffering from something from our childhood… then people can argue, YOU are an adult, why did you keep talking to the person if they hurt you so. You will say, because it’s my mother, I have to be polite. I would argue… NO, there comes a time you just politely walk away.

        When the person says hurtful things, you GROW YOUR VOICE and you say, “Mom, not this again. I’m sorry, I don’t want to engage in this, I”m going and you hang up.”

        So, to me, writing your book is the same sort of idea, except your approach would be public and then you would open yourself up for more criticism from your mother when she goes into damage control defending herself.

        Ask yourself… what will be the happy outcome to this? That you won’t have to talk to your mother ever again? Maybe that is your goal OR you think miraculously she will say she loves you, she’s so sorry, she had no idea she had hurt you. If your mother is very controlling, I don’t think she will show love and remorse over this.

        Anyhow — with COVID we are ALL trying to heal. You have to make the decision that is BEST for you and your family, as they are involved.

        Maybe you write this and it’s healing, but doesn’t need to be published. There’s a thought. ❤

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      7. Oh I definitely don’t expect my mother to ever admit she was wrong. I also don’t expect she would read it. Or that I would tell her about it. But then there’s the whole getting published thing….

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      8. I think as long as authors/writers/bloggers are writing without a desire for revenge or to be vindictive it should be fine. Yet, nobody can answer that but you. It’s a bit of a thorny issue for me. There have been times relatives have told me I should write something about my family. I mean they’re all great people but also human. Perhaps my take on things would be hurtful to some. It’s still on the back burner of my mind as I wrestle with that same question: do I have the right? Not an easy one to answer.

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  5. It’s a struggle I deal with all the time. I think there are many stories I don’t tell that are too painful to share. Also, I learned to be careful when writing about my kids. I wrote a listicle about choices swimmers make when they are truly passionate about their sport –things like not going to prom or skipping Friday night football games. It wasn’t solely about my daughter but a compilation of many swimmers I’ve seen through the years. My daughter read it and was hurt by the comments, which attacked her viciously.

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  6. I disagree with sharing personal stories that can be tied back to people in real life. If I’d started this blog myself, I wouldn’t have named it with my name. Still, I realized that I would likely have reverted to my own name once I started publishing (you know, assuming I ever take that leap).

    It’s not my place to say my mother struggled with this or that unless she’s okay with my saying so. It’s not okay to complain about my neighbor -one, she might read my post. Two, the other neighbors might. This *is* a public blog.

    On that note, I am not okay with using actual pictures of my children, their names, or even referencing them by age order.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. See…I vacillate to both sides of this issue. If I’m telling how things made me feel, then it’s ok, I guess. But yeah…this is why I tossed out this topic. I was interested in what everyone else thought. I specifically don’t use my real,name in my blog. Or pictures of my family/friends unless we are disguised to a point

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  7. This is a very good question and there probably isn’t one answer that covers every situation. I think if you feel you need to ask permission then do it. If you feel it’s going to damage someone don’t do it. If you need to tell it for your own health and well-being then say it. Everyone involved might write a different version of the story but that doesn’t make your version any less true or valuable. I think livingeveryday2015 made a very good point – why are you telling the story?

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  8. I have hundreds of personal stories that have, and will remain, untold. I couldn’t bare the responsibility of causing anyone else shame..even if well deserved. The line between my story and someone else’s has got to be pretty clear for me to feel free to share.

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    1. I never thought it was my right to tell. But then I read these essays, and I think it would be cathartic for me. And maybe for someone reading it

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  9. I don’t concern myself with the opinion of others. This is different from saying I don’t care, which I do. To a point. I don’t want people to dislike me, of course. But I also know that a lot of that dynamic is out of my hands so why sweat it? If they know me and still don’t like me, that’s also not something I can control. All I control is how I behave.

    I’ve struggled with what to share and what to keep on my blog. I think I used to share a lot more than I do now.

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  10. Just because one can do something doesn’t mean they should do something. I agree that assessing motivation is something worth considering. If it’s my story to tell and I believe it could help someone else through a challenging time….absolutely. If it’s a story about someone else, the risk of harming a relationship is greater. Can it be couched in a way that addresses the behavior/experience without betraying a confidence or identity? Perhaps there’s merit in that case. My blog references people in my life but not by name. If I write about an experience, it’s usually from a personal viewpoint and I hope I’m careful about not including too many private details if it involves someone else. As for worrying about whether others will judge, you are correct in that there’s always someone out there who delights in controversy and confrontation. If it’s a story you need to tell others in order to self-heal, care can be taken so the focus is on you and your struggle. I see too many people living their entire lives online and not using any filters. To me, that is a recipe for disaster. It’s a fine line, whichever way we cut it. xoxo

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    1. So many good points Lisa! Pretty much summed up my approach to blogging @ this point. (I used to put more of it out there than I do now.) but decided after a conversation about these very issues to set my original blog to “private” and continue blogging w/ a little less detail, for the reasons you just talked about DM

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      1. I don’t use my real name, or any names in my blog. But then people have said that’s not authentic…so it’s a matter of what’s best for me

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      2. You mentioned a couple of relationships (mom and ex) that you’re still (maybe) wanting to process more, and maybe this blog space may not be that space…In the past, when I had something I really wanted to process, but didn’t feel the blog was that spot (and yet, there were a few people from the blog I did want to include)..I reaching out to them individually, and sent out an e-mail (BCC) . It was awesome! Got the richest, most diverse input I could have imagined… from a wide cross sectional group of people in my life, and they felt honored that I trusted them enough to share that part of my story. Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too. 🙂

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    2. That’s my whole struggle. Can/should I tell these stories. I have truths about my relationship with my mother, with my ex husband that I need to deal with in order to heal as a person. But, it’s a very slippery slope

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  11. Tough to decide what to and not to reveal. It comes down to the age of question, “what will people think?”. I know I have that thought more than I’d like to admit. I guess in my opinion reveal what you, as a writer, are comfortable with and what you, as a reader, would be comfortable reading.

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  12. idc idc idc (in my adolescent voice) lol

    Seriously though, to answer your questions: how much should we care: 0/10.

    How much should we share? As much as we’re comfortable sharing that serves our purpose. For example, I never share something to just share, there’s always an implicit purpose to let people know they’re not the only ones going through something. That doesn’t mean I share everything, but rather, just enough to connect with whoever needs to be connecting that day.

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  13. There are certainly stories I shouldn’t tell. If I were trying to get back at someone, a public blog is not the place for that. Explaining your reason for being mean to someone is not something I’d want to read. I suspect if I’m not comfortable writing about a subject, it’s probably one I should avoid.

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  14. Excellent question! Here we go. My story, my choice. In my writing, I reveal as much as I am comfortable with. Period. It varies on the context and content. Sometimes when I am writing, I’ll begin to write something personal, and then I’ll go back and pull it out. Conversely, sometimes, I’ll leave out something personal, and go back and add it in. Depends. Friends, family, etc. their story, their choice. Though, I sometimes will write about the boys, as you do your daughter, yet, not deeply personal…That’s my take. Cheers, LA.

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  15. As with so many of your questions, there is not one right answer. I think in today’s reality show culture, we tend to share too much. Maybe we need to go back to the questions about what we say and apply them to what we write as well: “Is it kind? Is it helpful? Is it necessary? ” If you can’t answer ALL of those with “yes,” then you probably need to rethink sharing it. (And I’m preaching to myself here, too!)

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  16. I am pretty much an open book. I don’t know why it means so much to me to feel the need for people to know almost every facet of me..different people know different things..the memoir I am writing goes further into territory I don’t freely speak of often, but with my lifelong bully (Dad) having passed, it’s a bit cathartic to release the thoughts I plan to write about.

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      1. I’ve been doing that too…reading a bunch of posts in the AM. Trying to monitor my screen time and endless wandering

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  17. Personally, I believe that unless you live in a country with a very repressive government, you shouldn’t waste much energy caring what others think of you. (If it’s important for your safety to make sure others think well of you, that’s a whole different story.) As for how much you should reveal, I think that’s simply a matter of what you feel comfortable revealing. Because you’re right: these days, everything you say and do can, and will, be judged. Rather harshly and always with great smugness.

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    1. I get that we all judge. But yes…it’s the smugness that is starting to get to me. I was trying to have a conversation last week, and the person kept dismissing everything I said because she didn’t like the sources I quoted (the Wall Street journal and an actual interview where I heard exactly what the speaker said) because they weren’t her point of view and were slanted…

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      1. When my son was young, he believed in Santa Claus long after his friends stopped believing, simply because he discounted anything anyone said to him that might point to the fact that Santa wasn’t real. And now we have all become a nation of Daniels (my son’s name), about everything! If it doesn’t fit our view, then it isn’t real…….

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      2. We’ve lost reason and rationale. I wonder if people are actually stopping to think about their actions. I see things happening and I’m writing them….but there are people who absolutely won’t even think about what I’m saying

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  18. Are you famous enough, or is your life miserable enough to make a lot of money from this?
    If not, is it worth the hassle?

    Write it, benefit from the catharsis and then put it away in a drawer as a family history document.

    Even if you wrote a straight autobiography you will still upset people. They don’t like to see the truth. I once had a phone call from my sister to protest about my description of my mother’s soup in the blog. But it was khaki-coloured and it did look like primeval slime. I never said it tasted bad, I just described it honestly.

    Frank Skinner, a British comedian, wrote a very truthful biography and his sister hated it, because she had moved up in life and didn’t like it that he told everyone how hard their early life was. This is where telling other people’s stories begins to be a problem.

    Very difficult question, and no real answer…

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  19. All good questions and I often wonder how much is too much when I blog. But I’ve found that people are really interested in those personal stories and no one has condemned me yet 🙂 I’ve also found it to be therapeutic for me to write about troubling times. And for one of my stories, where I was not so proud of my actions, I sort of fictionalized it 🙃

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      1. I think you’re right. People do seek out familiarity. We like to know that others have similar experiences and feel the same way. And they like peer behind the curtain to see what’s going on in different situations where they don’t have the same experience. Seeking reality ??

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  20. How much is too much is an entirely personal decision. I’d also suggest that it can change. I share less now than I did in my previous decade. I don’t regret what I’ve said, I simply choose to be more private now, and I also make every effort to respect the privacy of the people in my life.

    I read two memoirs a couple of years ago – one managed to tell a personal story without identifying other participants either by name or relationship, the second was most specifically about a difficult family relationship. I admired the first, and although I empathised with the story told in the second, I’d rather find a way to write a memoir like the first one. But that’s my choice, and others may make a different one.

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    1. I have found some amazing memoirs in the past year….where things were discussed not out of vengeance but out of just wanting to tell a story…it’s all about how it’s put out

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  21. I often wonder if I reveal too much in my blog. It used to be (back in the old days) that we didn’t air our ‘dirty laundry’ but times have changed. People tell me things that I wouldn’t have told ever and I guess I’m doing it now in my blog as well sometimes. I feel like if we put certain subjects out in the open, on the table to discuss, we can learn from others’ experiences and points of view and maybe help the next person. And that’s what I think you’re doing. Bravo LA!

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  22. I think you are once again overthinking. I mean, have you already written what you might like to publish or post or are you being held back by just this very thought? Write it first, then figure it out. Who knows? By then the person you fear you may hurt may no longer be around. I say this as I am biting ever more deeply into my tongue trying to not to respond, in a nasty way or even any way at all, when for the umpteenth time my recently-diagnosed-with-Alzheimer’s Mom (but she’s acted like she had it for a long time before already) when she tells me she needs to get the carpet cleaned and I shouldn’t open the blinds because she doesn’t want her 20+ year old dining furniture to fade. I do this because I know full well it will never happen and I’ve heard it all before many many times over.

    Now that I’ve vented, I’ll share my thoughts based on both some personal experience/opinion and some guidance I got in a memoir-writing class. The latter part, IMO, is the easiest and really you’ve already got some good guidance in some of the other comments. In some respects, as others have said, it depends on the kind of relationship you have with the person now and what you want it to be in the future, if indeed they figure out it is YOU writing about THEM. One of my fellow memoirists who just recently self-published his had an issue like this with some of his siblings. They all remembered the same situation quite differently from each other. Since it was his story, he stopped sending it to them and just went with his memories, which is really what a memoir is. He didn’t explain that to him and in this situation he really didn’t have to.

    Re personal experience/opinions, I’ll start with my friend who was the first person I knew who blogged. In following her blog I learned a lot of stuff about her I’d never known before and was not hurt at all that she hadn’t told me. Maybe that’s because we have never been BFFS but still I would have wanted to know that she’d had a previous marriage. I do know, though, that she moved around a lot in her youth, her 2nd ex, the one I knew, went bat shit crazy on her but she was nice enough not to finalize the divorce till after her kids were grown. Since then, she’s been mostly on her own, still trying and I guess feeling she has to continue to make a living for herself in the relatively expensive part of the country where she’s lived the longest. One of the risks she decided to take was to do a stand-up comedy gig. I think she did it on dating, which she’s recently stopped doing and writing about, after shocking me yet again with some wittheld info, I told her if I eve did that I could/would build it around being the daughter of a Jewish mother, which most people wouldn’t understand but I think you would. She said she wouldn’t but it turned out she really loved and missed her mom, kind of like how I loved and miss my dad, though I would feel no compunction vs making jokes about him or even about my children.

    I think/hope I’ve raised my kids to have a good sense of humor about themselves. I know I’ve raised them to care more about their own feelings, wants and needs, than those of others since, as others have said here, those are the only ones they have control over. Along that line, I think I have also just come to the realization, if I didn’t have it before, that they, and I too, were not put on this earth to meet my demands or expectations or to live their lives the way anyone else, even those they love and who love them may want them to. I think they know that and I think that sometimes, especially like now, I forget that. Maybe you have, too?

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    1. I must admit I’ve read a few memoirs where I thought the authors shared too much. This original post was more theoretical based on something I read in a book. She told a story about her father (nothing sexual) that I just thought wasn’t a great story because I think she’s still traumatized by it, but is trying to laugh it off. I also had similar thoughts as I read Untamed…

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