“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” It’s not clear where this quote originated, but it’s been around a while.
I’ve also lost count of the number of writers – on Medium and elsewhere – who share some variation of this maxim as a newly-discovered truth.
Over and over, contributors are urged to dig deep into themselves and share what seems scary.
The time a parent committed suicide. Abusive relationships. Hitting bottom emotionally.
There’s no denying that these stories draw attention.
But frankly, this advice feels reckless.
It’s like someone who jumps off a rock into a river, gets an adrenaline rush, and urges everyone around to do the same. So the next person dives in. Who wants to be a chicken? And the next…and then someone stumbles or hits an obstacle.
Maybe it doesn’t end this way. Maybe everyone jumps and celebrates a victory. That’s what we’d like to believe.
3 reasons to be squeamish about opening up your veins
(1) Too many people are sharing personal stories. It gets old.
I have to admit I can’t handle the New York Times column Modern Love. Readers (often professional writers) share stories about romance, breakups, family, and more.
Personally, I get numb after hearing too many stories. The emotion feels fake. It’s like getting all those excuses from students for “why I can’t take the exam.” When I was a college professor, I’d get them every semester. So many grandmothers died. It became hard to feel empathy.
I once met a woman who’d left a prestigious program in clinical psychology. Those programs are very competitive and she was looking forward to a good career.
“I got so bored listening to patients,” she said. She switched to the business school.
(2) Not everyone has a story that can be shared.
Some of us just don’t have those experiences.
And sharing your story may mean exposing people who would rather not be part of your story.At a writer’s conference, an aspiring author raised the question, “What if people recognize themselves in my novel?”
The moderator answered, “You’re lucky if all these people are reading your novel.”
True. Yet writing can affect the ones you love.
For a long time, I was an Amazon Vine reviewer. One time, I reviewed a popular memoir. To my amazement, a relative of the memoirist messaged me. Members of the author’s family had been hurt by the book. They felt it was inaccurate. They were upset that my review had referred to the author’s discussion of those family members.
Was the author doing the right thing when she wrote the book? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s something to consider.
(3) Stories are sticky and memorable.
That’s what gives them power. You’ll be remembered for the most emotional story you share.
For a memoir writer like Mary Karr, that’s not a problem. For the rest of us, it’s a judgment call.