By Cynthia Behunin, Bluegrass Writers Studio
We all live lives filled with the stuff after-school specials are made of, don’t we? But when sharing my struggles, I sugar-coat them so my extended family thinks my life is filled with sugar plums, dancing, and laughter. Friends and new acquaintances only picture me based on what I choose to tell them and may never know the darker sides of my life (of which there’s plenty).
I am a verbal processor but in some cases talking isn’t an option and so writing is something I’ve done in its place. For years I’ve wanted to write about my life, including my tumultuous growing up years, but a memoir would be a detriment to family members still living. I’ve avoided writing down the tough stuff because I wanted to protect those close to me and once it’s on paper (or screen) it becomes more public, even if it’s in a private journal.
While sitting in the tiny room inside the Triangle Café next to good friends at Bluegrass Writers Studio’s Winter Residency, I heard our guest poet and memoirist Rigoberto González suggest to someone to take their life experiences and write laterally. Lateral thinking for writers is basically creative license: changing nonfiction into fiction. Lateral thinking can take the form of reversing cause and effect, coming up with a parallel situation, focusing on a tiny detail of the major ordeal you’ve experienced, or something similar.
Hearing this, I suddenly felt I had been given permission to change relationships, alter locations, and write what I need to. By writing laterally I am now able to write out versions of my life without anyone knowing that there are autobiographical features within the stories. Talk about freedom! I’m embracing this new method and can’t wait to see what happens as I write more complete versions of my life in story.
Published on February 17, 2014