We had been talking a lot that morning about things going on in our lives, and she had disclosed some of the recent struggles she had been going through. I knew where she was going with her question. In effect, she wanted to know if she could trust me, being a writer, with the personal details of her life that she was sharing.
I wanted to shout, almost haphazardly, Of COURSE you can trust me! In my head, I was quickly trying to think of the many ways I could reassure her of this, while at the same time resisting the temptation to be stung by the thought that she would even have to ask such a question.
Can I trust you?
Yes, yes and yes.
A classic challenge of a nonfiction writer is towing the line of truth while not dishonoring those who are part of a story. If you’re a writer who cares more about the story than the people involved, then the solution is easy: pursue story, burn bridges if you have to. But if you’re a writer who puts people and relationships first, then often you have to sacrifice story for the sake of a relationship.
While many struggles and experiences of others may be good ideas for story material, I have learned to simply let go. If I am being held in confidence, an automatic wall goes up: No story here. Conversation and relationship only.
Only if I think a particular experience might have a lesson or somehow offer a glimmer of hope to a potential reader might I approach my friend later and ask for permission to share her story. But note these words: later, ask, permission.
In other words, it’s the confidence that matters most to me, the fact that I consider myself a friend worthy of someone’s complete trust. In the moment, when I am being asked to listen and be supportive, my writer hat comes off. In that moment, I am not a writer. I am simply one human being paying attention to another.
Can you trust me?
Yes, yes and yes.
End of story.
*Who do you go to for confidences? Is there one person in particular with whom you can tear down your every wall?