Things I Can’t Write About

“When we are told that something is not to be spoken about, we understand that to mean that this something should not exist—should not, cannot, must not, does not exist. In that moment, our reality and, consequently, our lives are distorted; they become shameful and diminished. In some way, we understand this to mean that we should not exist. To protect ourselves, we, too, begin to speak only of the flat world where everything is safe, commonplace, and agreeable, the very small world about which we can all have consensus. Soon we don’t see the other worlds we once saw, for it is difficult to see what we are forbidden to name.”

–Deena Metzger, Writing for Your Life

Now try this exercise from Deena Metzger’s book, Writing for Your Life:

Make a list of things you must not write about. List what you must not write about because:

1. It is not generally important enough from the point of view of literature.

2. It is too private and therefore trivial from the point of view of literature.

3. It would embarrass you to speak about it.

4. It would embarrass or offend your family and associates.

5. It would embarrass or offend the reader.

6. It is taboo.


  1. Sharon R. says

    Thinking about this one.
    In the meantime, David Orr has a pithy discussion about embarassment in Chapter 1, “The Personal” of his new book, Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry.

  2. Laura Davis says

    I’ll check out David Orr’s embarrassment piece. Sounds good. Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. Tammy Tucker Weston says

    “Almost Anything”
    I always thought there wasn’t much I couldn’t write about. Not that it would be awesome writing. Just never placed anything in the category of “off limits”. Now this question has got me thinking. I have had many trials in my life, those trials I was given no choice but to overcome them. The hardest subject for me, which is probably to most, would be death. Recently I wrote of my Mother’s who was killed in 1982. Took an open forum, many friends and family, plus a very supportive man to be able to allow myself to let go and share with others inner emotions myself did not know. I have a few more losses in time I will free myself again to expose this part of myself. However, there is one I can say
    without a doubt I will never write about, my niece “Christy”, she died of a accidental drowning when I was twelve years old.
    Experiences of youth. Some call mistakes, bad decisions. Yeah I have a few of those too. I would never write about a couple of those. I believe if a topic reveals more about you than you are ready to show, don’t write just for the sake of juicy writing. Wouldn’t shame myself in that way. No one is entitled to my history but me. Especially if it does not affect them. Now if I beat all my ex-boyfriends, a prospect might want to know this. I write, however do not share intimate personal poems with the public. They are too special, those are our memories for him and me. I also write when I am angry, I would never divulge that to anyone, because those writings are cathartic. Write it down, throw it away. Wouldn’t want to die and a person I was angry with once be left thinking I hated them. Finally, I would never say anything through my gift to embarrass my family. My parents are both deceased, but the respect I hold for them will always temper what I reveal and how I choose not to be perceived. I love to write therefore I try to keep my “taboo” list short. Cut out too many things…what will you write about..your neighbor?

  4. Laura Davis says

    Tammy, I was especially struck by your last light—cut out too many things and what will you have left to write about–your neighbor. That’s the challenge. I know it’s the pieces where I dig the deepest and reveal the most that often touch readers the most. Not if is undigested and raw–but once that pain or experience has been tempered with time and distance–it can become the stuff of compelling art. Still—I’ve got my own list of things I won’t write about–at least not without the protection of fiction.

  5. Tammy Tucker Weston says

    Laura, sometimes the pain is too difficult. but as you said in time, can reveal that part of me to help someone else expose their hidden pain. Writing has been an outlet, along with humor that has got me through a lot of crap in this life. I love this blog by the way..thank you for reading my stuff.

  6. Sarah says

    I can write about almost anyone or anything just not with the complete truth. If it’s personal in nature I just make the writing a work of fiction. I do worry about offending people I know since I often write about them. So, I would say that at least one thing I can’t write about is the absolute truth. I can fictionalize the work enough so no one would know it was about them and maybe they would catch the sublty but maybe they would not. I will not often write a person’s flaws though because if they do catch the subtly they may be offended or angry and if they do not I feel like I am lying to them. So, neither option makes me feel better. In my world walking on eggshells is commonplace and it’s not something that makes me happy. It seems that everyone could use a dose of reality every now and then instead of always living in their own world. But even cracking someone’s existence in my world can cause disaster and it becomes a toss of of disaster for truth and weighing the odds.
    Another thing I find difficult to write about are any feelings about myself be it a positive or negative lite. If I’m to upset then people say get over it or ignore it, if I am too happy people say stop being selfish and look at the people who don’t have what I have. So I say neither and everything about myself gets oushed to the back burner and then people say I don’t think about myself enough.

    • says

      Sarah, I think it’s important to have a place where you can say anything and everything–freely and without all the constraints you write about. You may not choose to publish it–but your real truth should be expressed and shared with at least one other safe person. It makes a huge difference.

        • kathy says

          A safe person could be a friend,counselor, church pastor; it’s someone you can trust with your deepest, sometimes dark secrets that need healed. someone that no matter what, they will still be with you and love you for who you are and from where you have come from.

          • says

            the most important safe person is yourself. can you imagine being able to sit with all of who you are without rejecting or pushing away any part of your disowned self? i can’t always do this in real life, but I can always do it on the page.

    • Rose Ann Farese says

      I usually write the things I don’t want anyone else to see in my journal
      It has saved me in many instances from blurting out an
      inappropriate and emotional response.
      my journal is online so it is easy for me to access anytime
      Saved a lot of embarrassment!

  7. Kathy Dana says

    Wow!!! What a huge topic to think about. For me, there is no topic I would not write about. The more important question for me would be…where am I writing from? If I would be writing from a place of anger, fear or devastating grief then I would have to wait, heal, learn….then when the time is ripe I will be able to write with confidence from a place of love, forgiveness, acceptance and growth. This writing will enlighten all who read it…This much I know!! *!*

    • says

      It’s interesting, Kathy, but I have many more topics now that I won’t write about than I ever did when I was younger. I used to value the truth more–and my right to tell it–than I did the complex, messy world of familial relationships. Now I value people more and I think more about how publishing something would affect someone I love–and I often chose not to. It’s no coincidence that I have published far less in the past decade than I ever have before.

      • Kathy Dana says

        I hear you and definitely value not hurting people with anything I write! That is why I said I would not write from any raw unhealed place. I think we are actually in agreement. I just would want to write from a healed place that allows everyone who reads it to grow. I believe that writing from a place of love does not point fingers or hurt it just allows a place for the truth to finally bring healing and forgiveness to everyone in the story. There are no good or bad stories or emotions for me they just are emotions and stories and without allowing a place for all of them to be, I cannot be whole. I believe the telling of a story from the place of love can be healing even for the person who originally caused a hurt when they see they are forgiven and loved in their own humaness. Afterall, in the end we are all human and less than perfect.

  8. Kathy Dana says

    In reply to Sarah…what is a safe person? A safe person is someone that you implicitly trust with who you are, all of it. Someone that allows you to just be , no matter what that is!

  9. Hevinlee Melton says

    Hello! I am new here!
    For me it started out as a journal; suggested by a trusted therapist. Flashbacks went from my mind to my monitor in my documents file. Over a period of 20 years or so, I had compiled pages of emotions dating back to when I was only 4 years old. I looked them over and they were chronologically shuffled; much like my nightmares, flashbacks, etc. Time to put them in order, I thought to myself. Easier said than done. This long, hard and arduous task led to depression in bed where I found a fraction of peace. Depression swept over me whenever I read or had to write anything pertaining to my painful childhood. Long story short, after five (yes five) long years, I decided to write a book about my ‘unusual and painful’ childhood. It was accepted upon my first submission and is now a novel. As painful as it was to write and recall many painful memories, it was a purging of my soul. Reaching out to others was my ultimate goal. Little did I know how healing would find me once it was down on paper. I encourage everyone to get those ‘feelings’, whatever they are down on paper . . . and just see what happens from there.

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