Writing Out the Tough Times

Voluntary Nomads, coverNancy Pogue LaTurner is that author of Voluntary Nomads, a book I reviewed a couple of months ago. Read the review for general information about the book. For now I’ll simply say that I was mesmerized by the grace and compassion with which she wrote an account of a time when her husband became involved with Another Woman. After some brief correspondence, I asked Nancy if she would consent to an interview about the experience of writing that account. She did. Here it is:

SL: You made a brave decision to write about an affair your husband became involved in for a time. Many wives who remained married afterward may prefer to simply forget about that difficult time and avoid reliving the trauma. What was your purpose in including this material? How did you make this decision?

NPL: Before writing my stories, I took several writing classes and read as much as I could about the memoir genre. Absorbing great advice from William Zinsser, Natalie Goldberg, Judith Barrington, and others, I realized that the essential element in any memoir is the author's own truth. Then I made a conscious decision to write as honestly and openly as I could about what I believed to be my truth -- both the good and the not-so-good experiences and the lessons learned. "The whole truth and nothing but the truth" became my motto. My nemesis, That Woman, taught me an important lesson: in her words, "Life is a series of tradeoffs." I believe we are able to make better choices when we are fully aware that any of our choices can, and usually do, rule out other options.

SL: Did writing about it reopen the wound and/or heal it?

NPL: It is important to note that the events took place more than twenty-five years ago. But, even though I approached the writing of this issue with resolve, I still suffered pangs of the long ago pain and anger. In fact, in the beginning I couldn't write it in first person. So I methodically outlined scenes and created character profiles for a fiction short story. About midway through my preparations, a bright light bulb lit and my story took its own direction toward an ending that turned out to be the complete opposite of what transpired in real life. The process was like picking a scab -- it drew a few drops of blood without completely opening the old wound -- and it took me right down to a basic level of healing. Experiencing an alternative choice (that is, to leave my husband) within the fictional account empowered me to let go of any residual anger I still harbored.

SL: How did you handle the matter of letting your husband know you planned to write (or had written) about this and include it in the finished manuscript? How did he react?

NPL: After I finished and polished the short story, I gave it to my husband. His comments revealed that the fictional account provided him new insights into my feelings. It also resurrected some of his old guilt and shame. We had a few valuable discussions on the subject, but he still seemed reluctant about "going public." He did, however, leave the final decision up to me.

SL: How did your children respond?

NPL: Our daughter, also a writer, gave me her complete support, both on the infidelity issue and also on the revelations about her own teenage problems. Our son gave no feedback. He explained that he couldn't bear to read the manuscript and thus verify that the best years of his life were in his childhood. Now, three months after publication, he says that he is reading the book and finds it "interesting to view those years through his mother's adult eyes." I hope to create an opportunity to hear more from him when he finishes reading.

SL: What sort of response have you gotten to that revelation from friends and relatives?

NPL: I also gave the manuscript before publication to my husband's younger sister and her husband. My sister-in-law urged me to examine my motives for telling about our marital woes. She wanted me to be sure I wasn't doing it to punish my husband or get revenge. That prompted another round of soul-searching for me.

One of the first copies of the published book went to a dear friend who gave excellent feedback on all aspects of the memoir. His heartfelt comments on our near-divorce had the most impact, especially when he revealed that what we thought was our "shameful secret" was actually known to many through the grapevine of our community. My husband and I both felt unburdened -- he no longer had to bear the weight of secrecy and I felt my courage had been vindicated.

SL: Would you do it again?

NPL: Absolutely.

SL: Thank you Nancy. Hopefully your answers will give hope, courage and guidance to others who face challenging situations and want to use writing to heal residual pain and anger.

Visit Nancy’s blog to read excerpts from the book and more.

Write Now: think of a challenging situation in your life and write about it as fiction. Give it a new ending. See how that shifts your point of view about the situation.


Nancy said...

Sharon, I hope your "Write Now" prompt inspired others to try the fiction approach to probing memoir topics. Those that take that step into an alternative outcome will surprise themselves with insights.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks for the extra encouragement Nancy. I've tried that alternate ending myself, and was I ever surprised at the ending. Actually, I don't remember how the "real" story ended, but I know it wasn't like the one I wrote. I like the fictional one so much that for me it has become real! Which matters not a whit to anyone else in the whole wide world.

Nancy said...

Come to think of it, history books do it all the time. If we could heal our old hurts by "rewriting" those painful events, why wouldn't we?

kathleen said...

Dear Sharon and Nancy,

I appreciate this post so much. Addressing painful truths of our past with people who are still alive is a huge issue for memoirists. Your idea of writing it out as fiction first seems like a useful tool to get past ourselves. I like your thoughts on"healing our hurts by rewriting painful events." Thank you both for an enlightening and timely post.

Nancy said...


Although the fiction tool might not work for everyone, it is worth a try. Healing is the most important goal, and emotional hurts can't be cured by burying them. I compare that to a splinter left imbedded in my finger -- if I don't get it out, it is sure to fester.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

Leila Summers said...

Thanks for sharing, I'm adding this book to my 'must-read' list!

djpogue said...

So glad you wrote this, I had wondered about the incident but didn't want to ask.It is so good that everyone has gleaned from it. Bless you all.

Sharon Lippincott said...

The section of the book about the affair definitely seemed brave and piqued my curiosity. Disclosures about her daughter were also unexpected, but pack less shock power. I so appreciate Nancy's willingness to publicly revisit the issue, first in the book, and then in community discussion.