Friday Speak Out!: Sacred Material

Friday, August 10, 2018
by Laura Yeager

We all have material that we are holding on to. It’s sacred material.

When I was 19, I lost my virginity to a neighbor boy. I want to write about this, but, at 55, I’m still not ready. I hold on to the material, processing it, needing it.

I am also keeping private the story of my father’s suicide.

Just think of all the material you’re retaining. Just when is something ready to be written about?

Most of the time, we write about dicey material when we’re good and ready to write about it. This means that we’ve let the significant amount of time pass so that we “heal” about certain material. But sometimes, events prompt us to compose, perhaps, sooner.

We might write about something when we feel we can’t keep it secret another minute longer.

Perhaps, we meet someone who needs one of our stories we have to tell. We may write a story for him or her, sharing that material that is so dear to us for the good of a friend.

Perhaps, in the spirit of the times, people have started to write about, let’s say, sexual harassment. And let’s say you have a sexual harassment story. You may feel that it’s finally time to write this down.

Maybe, we feel we’re finally ready to tackle something. Maybe now that I have a son, I’ll better understand my father and his story.

Been to therapy? Perhaps, you’ve talked a story out with a psychologist or counselor and feel that you better understand the material. What better time to write about it?

Maybe you’re living in a painful present. Maybe going back into the past is easier.

Perhaps, a key reason we process dear material is because we finally have the time to sit down and think about it.

Whatever the reason that leads us to write about those delicate, fragile stories that we hold dearest to our hearts, it’s good when we finally write about them. This material is, again, sacred. It might produce some of our best work.

When You Shouldn’t Let the Material Go

When you don’t fully understand the scenario.

When you’re fearful about revealing what you’re about to reveal.

When you can’t be honest about what happened.

When, in the final analysis, maximum self-exposure will kill you.

What happens when we’re not ready to use the material, and we use it anyway

Vagueness. We may hint at what happened, but not really fully disclose the incident to the reader. This makes for weak, uninteresting, colorless writing.

Euphemisms. We may sugar coat the experience, wording it in false language.

Noticeable gaps in the manuscript. The manuscript might lose a “wholeness” it could possess.

Lies. We may lie about the truth.

Sacred material. We all have it. It’s the stuff that makes us who we are--the events that define us.

There is a right time and a wrong time to write about this material. It takes judgment and intuition to know when you are ready.

How to make yourself ready to confront dicey material in your past

Meditate on the events.

Talk about them.

Read books and watch movies that relate to the sacred material to see how others have handled the issues.

Try writing about the material and see what happens.

By giving our stories away, we claim them as ours.

I wish you luck in having the will to confront the sacred issues of your life.

You’ll be better for it.

* * *
Currently, Laura Yeager is writing regularly for, a leading cancer website, and Laura teaches writing at Gotham Writers’ Workshop and at Kent State University. She is looking for an agent for her book The Prodigal Daughter, a collection of short fiction and nonfiction about bipolar illness.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Laura--Thanks for having the courage to write this post.

I've found that writing sometimes is therapy. I was working on a piece of fiction (thinly disguised as fiction--in reality, it was a memoir) and as the plot dictated the direction it was going in, I found a way to forgive a family member who had done something horrendous. Do I still cry sometimes? Yes, but the bile and venom and revenge that made me miserable for years is now gone.

Good luck with your "Prodigal Daughter" project. I hope it finds a home soon...

Laura Yeager said...

Thanks, Sioux.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Laura, what a beautiful post about our sacred stories. You've really tackled this topic from all angles! This is a problem I constantly struggle with. I have some stories that may seem hard to write about, like my mother's suicide, but I want to let go and I also want to seek answers, so I'm not afraid to put them out there in the world. Then there are others, like an abusive relationship, that I've written about and completed several essays that I think are ready for publishing, but they've sat in a file on my computer for a couple years. I really want to publish them, but I just can't pull the trigger. I guess it's harder when the people involved in your stories are alive and can find you. So I guess that's another reason to put on your list of when you shouldn't let the material go...when the person is dangerous and there might be repercussions, or maybe that's what you meant by "maximum self-exposure will kill you" (I wasn't thinking about it literally, but I guess it could go both ways!). I think I'll take your suggestion and meditate on it.

Thank you for the post, and good luck on your agent hunt! :)

Laura Yeager said...

Thank you, Angela.

Margo Dill said...

I agree that you know when you are ready to write about something or when you're not. I have tried to write about emotional events in the past, and when it came out stilted, I knew it wasn't time. The other thing that I have found is that I can't write about some of these events as non-fiction/memoir/personal essay, but I can take the themes and events and turn them into fiction. Then I can write about it. It is so interesting the way each writer's brain works!

Laura Yeager said...

Thanks for your comment, Margo.

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