Should writers and authors ever throw ethics out the window, just so they can share their truth?
I’ve been thinking a lot about writing and ethics recently, and also about the courage that’s needed in order to be a writer in the first place. There are probably scores of writers and authors who can relate to what’s going on this season on the “Queen Sugar” television drama. It’s all about speaking your truth as a writer, and dealing with the aftermath that follows.
I’m reminded of just how much courage it takes for writers and authors to do what we do.
Show Spoiler Alert
Are you a “Queen Sugar” fan who is already are up-to-date with Season Four of the television drama? If you watch the show, but you’re behind, be advised, this story contains some slight SPOILER ALERTS, but only in an attempt to clarify a point. This is not a review of the show or the season.
I find myself constantly thinking about the current season of the “Queen Sugar” television show, and for a very good reason. The subject of Season 4 should be of particular interest to you if you happen to be a writer. The problem that the writer- turned author character is facing is a definite reminder of something. I’m reminded of just how much courage it takes for writers and authors to do what we do.
The troublesome events that are happening to my favorite character (Nova) are actually starting to disturb my thoughts. The buzz words around this season of the nighttime drama are truth, confession, abuse, survivor, and healing, to name a few. These are terms that I’m all too familiar with, as a writer and as a survivor myself.
Great Book & Show
Ava Duvernay’s “Queen Sugar” television series (on the Oprah Winfrey Network) is definitely a must watch show if you haven’t already started tuning in. I love the show a lot, and although I must confess, I haven’t read the book (written by Natalie Baszile), I have no doubt that it must be an incredible read. My plan is to get around to it, at least before the next season comes out.
The show centers around the Bordelons, a proud African American family that owns hundreds of acres of land in Louisiana. One prominent character, this season, is Nova Bordelon. She’s a journalist who is an outspoken, pro-black activist who loves and stands behind her family and community.
You can image what kind of powerful message she was trying to convey in her newly published best-selling autobiography. Unfortunately, not everyone is happy about the book; particularly her family, because it tells some embarrassing details basically about all of them. The fact that she revealed her own shortcomings is little consolation to the others.
Writing for Healing
Nova’s book is a memoir and wasn’t written out of spite or with any kind of malicious intent. She was merely speaking her truth and writing for the sake of healing, but her family doesn’t see it that way. So , instead of celebrating her newfound fame with her loved ones, Nova is alone and having a rough time of things. Her tell-all book is now causing her mixed feelings, though she still sees herself as on the right side of the issue. Meanwhile, her memoirs have not only exposed her own “truth” but everyone else’s in the process.
Needless to say, as a writer, this has given me much to think about. Being an author myself, I can completely relate to the dilemma that Nova currently finds herself in for having shared “her truth” with the world. No writer wants to have to censor their self in the way they express their creative work, regardless of whether it’s fictional or non-fiction writing. But that doesn’t mean I automatically take her side.
Confessions Hurt & Heal
There’s no doubt, that it takes courage to go against the grain and write in spite of opposition. This is especially so if you’re writing to heal, but you also have to remember that while confessions can heal, they usually hurt in the process.
Does an author have the right to expose details about people and give them absolutely no say in the matter? At what point does courage end and presumption begin? I thought I had a definitive answer (at least for myself). That’s why I initially got on my high horse and judged Nova harshly. But now, I find my allegiance is shifting back in her favor.
Courage to Write
Long before I started my journey as an online writer, and self-published author, I read the book The Courage to Write by author Ralph Keyes. One particular chapter in the book actually addressed some of the same problems that plague the Nova character, as well as many real life writers and authors. I image there are a variety of opinions on the matter.
Keyes quoted William Faulkner as saying: “A writer’s only responsibility is to his art.” I don’t know if I ever believed that point of view, but if I did, I certainly don’t believe it now. But I still think some forethought, or maybe MORE forethought should go into considering what the potential repercussions for sharing your truth might be.
The truth is like a loose thread hanging on a garment. Once you start to pull on it, the whole thing starts to unravel, whether you want it to or not.
While I totally understand Nova’s perspective as a writer, in the beginning, I strongly disagreed with what she did. Now, however, after giving it much thought, I realize something. My problem wasn’t really with what she did. It was actually with the way she did it. Nova virtually laid out all her family’s business and dirty laundry for everyone to see and judge, and she did it without any warning. To me that was a violation. But then again, was it really? What choice does a writer have, especially one who is a survivor (of any kind) with a truth they finally want to share?
Truth Be Told
…it’s hard getting rid of the loose threads that make up the tapestry of your life. Pulling on just one strand could result in you ending up naked and exposed, and you may not be the only one without covering.
Okay, so you want to tell your truth, but is it just YOUR truth to tell? What about the people you’re writing about, who may be clearly identifiable? Even if what you’re writing is the truth, do you really have the right to expose their truth, just because you choose to share your own? Who of us can really say? Truth be told; the truth is like a loose thread hanging on a garment. Once you start to pull on it, the whole thing starts to unravel, whether you want it to or not. It’s inevitable.
Does that mean that Nova (or any of us) should just be quiet and live in silence? Just allow it to fester and eat us alive, all for the sake of preventing someone else’s shame? Just keep our truth to ourselves and take it to the grave, right? What do you think? I for one don’t see an easy answer.
With so much potentially at stake, the best answer comes down to this: Every single writer and author has to do what’s best for them individually. But know that it’s hard getting rid of the loose threads that make up the tapestry of your life. Pulling on just one strand could result in you ending up naked and exposed, and you may not be the only one without covering.
Rethinking My Position
This entire conversation has me constantly rethinking my position on things. In all honesty, I still haven’t come to a conclusion as to what my stand on the matter is. Whatever I decide amounts to a decision after the fact anyway. I’ve already encountered and dealt with a similar situation when I wrote my second novel “Skipping Childhood: From Abused Foster Child to Adolescent Serial Killer.”
Every single writer and author has to do what’s best for them individually.
As I mentioned n a recent Medium story, about the writing of this novel, I injected many of my own painful childhood memories. I tried to be ethical when I divulged certain details, but now I realize a lot of what I said could prove embarrassing or painful for certain individuals. This realization doesn’t change just because I happened to have told the truth.
Let the Chips Fall
As difficult as it may be, sometimes in life, you just have to let the chips fall where they may. My novel contains candid details about many of my personal experiences while growing up in foster care. Skipping Childhood was published in 2016 and is currently on sale at Amazon, so any damage the book may have caused is surely already done. I even created and devoted a related blog to the subject of abuse and survival when I first published the book.
Did I worry about conveying unflattering details or accidentally exposing child predators when I shared my truth? Not at all. Of course I tried not to be too transparent about some of the other character’s identities. I twisted certain facts around specifically for that purpose, although it wasn’t easy. It takes a continuous balancing act to share your truth, without managing to expose other survivors in the process.
But even though I did what I could to stick to telling my own story, I realized there was nothing I could do about overlapping truths. If someone who may have known me way back then ends up reading my book and putting the pieces together, then so be it. I already resolved in my mind and heart to just let the chips fall where they may.