Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Illness, Wellness, and Storytellers: Publication Day Musings

So today is the official publication date for my book, which is pretty exciting. I’ve seen photographic evidence of Life Disrupted officially on bookshelves, and I’m looking forward to walking into a store and seeing it with my own eyes.

Given its content, I find it somewhat amusing and fitting that if I don’t make it to a store tonight it is because I am sidelined with a freak viral infection of the lymph nodes in my abdomen. I mean, really, I couldn’t have scripted that life disruption better if I’d tried. (And oh yes, I did just make that terrible pun, but it’s my first and last offense on that front, I promise).

Anyway, while my mind is very much on writing these days, I couldn’t help but linger over this post by Felicia Sullivan, a terrific writer and supporter of writers who has an amazing memoir out right now. In this post she’s writing a review of Petite Anglaise, but what resonates most with me are her thoughts on blogging and its function in our lives as writers:

“This book is timely, however, when we’re all discussing “oversharing” and how our online “personas” affect our lives offline. One’s life should be lived not be crafted as a series of anecdotes fit for a blog post, so admittedly I came to this book with pre-conceived views on what parts of one’s life should be kept sacred.”

I couldn’t agree more. Of course life events are where writers and bloggers get their inspiration and everyone approaches how they blog differently, but Sullivan’s position that life shouldn’t be lived to serve as writing fodder is right on the mark. And I can’t help but feel that for people writing about disease/medicine, that rings especially true.

How do we sift through the symptoms and mishaps and complications and come up with something worth sharing (that isn’t over-sharing?) I’m curious what those of you in the trenches of medblogging have to say about that, because again that line is not only blurry but it varies greatly depending on writing style and approach. I don’t ever want my conditions to become why I write—after all, who wants to hear daily that it’s hard to breathe? That isn’t news or newsworthy in my world; as I’ve said before, it’s merely an occupational hazard of being me. It’s a thought trapped in a vacuum, when what I want is to open things up a bit.

But more than that, I find myself thinking about those parts of our lives we keep sacred and off-line, something even more present in light of the fact that it’s publication day for The Book. Obviously details of my personal life make up a lot of the book, as do personal details of several other patients. In a way, I faced the same questions and decisions in writing the book that I face when I blog—is there an added value to bringing in a particular story or anecdote? Does it advance or complicate an idea that’s important enough to warrant a reader’s time and attention?

And more universally, how do we know what stories are ours to tell and which aren’t? Anyone who writes nonfiction or blogs faces that question. Just because someone is or was in our lives, does that mean it’s fair game to include their details and their lives in our stories, especially if a medical situation is involved? Yet at the same time, our lives are so linked to the people in them that there’s no way our stories don’t involve them.

Personally, I err on the conservative side. I rarely use names on my blog unless it’s a public figure, and it isn’t, I just use first names or the ubiquitous “my friend” or “a loved one.” I wonder if that takes away from the human interest side of the story, but I’d rather take that risk. I don’t think there’s one ultimate solution to this question of whose story is it to tell, and it’s definitely not a problem unique to blogging—it’s just more exaggerated by the immediacy of blogging.

Anyway, before you rush out to buy a copy of my book (you are going to get a copy, right?), here are some links that are very apropos to this discussion on storytelling:

Check out this week’s edition of Grand Rounds over at Shrink Rap. Then, head to ChronicBabe where my friend (and a patient whose story is in my book!) Jenni Prokopy is having an essay contest to celebrate ChronicBabe’s Third Anniversary.

Happy reading on all accounts!


Anonymous said...

Congratulations! You are such a deeply thoughtful writer; and you write with great self & other awareness about topics that need to made more visible (audible?).

I hope your book has great success. I know it will help many people.

Anonymous said...

hey babe, so many things to say! first, congratulations! i know how hard you worked for this day and even if you don't make it to the store, i'll stop by my borders and make sure it's on display. :)

on your question about how do we choose to reveal our personal lives in our health writing, that's something i think about every day. i think each situation is different; sometimes, i like mentioning a friend by name because i want the world to know how awesome they are. other times, i am as vague as possible to protect the identities of my writing subjects.

writers love details, so it's tough sometimes to be ambiguous about things...i always think the more details, the stronger the story - the more relatable it is for our readers. but it's never worth risking hurting someone's feelings.

and of course, i don't live my life so i have something to write about...i just live my life, and when bad (or odd, or new) things happen, i do sometimes think, 'hey - this would make a terrific story' and i try to remember as many details as i can for later. if it feels okay later, i write about it.

alright, back to MY blog now. :) but have a great day, my fellow chronicbabe, and thanks for the mention of my contest. you rock!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the publication of your book! I'm going to be on the lookout for it in the bookstore!

Anonymous said...

i think about those questions every day in my blogging...and while i don't orchestrate events to end up on the blog, i definitely (and often) think as i'm experiencing something, "oh, this is going to be fodder for the blog!!!"

congratulations on your big day laurie!

Lyrehca said...

Hooray! I will look for the book in the bookstore this week (and to answer your email question, NO, I haven't seen a review copy at all yet). Have been swamped with assorted things, but congratulations on reaching this day and as always, fascinating blog post about writing and perspective. Looking forward to getting together soon (I will answer your email ASAP)...

Roy said...

Thanks for the mention. Hey, we plugged your book on our Grand Rounds podcast, which should be up by the end of the day on My Three Shrinks.

Good luck with it!

Aviva said...

Congrats, Laurie! And I'm really sorry you're not feeling well enough to run out to the bookstore and make sure yours is in a prominent place. :)

I made the mistake of pre-ordering mine on Amazon with another pre-order of a book that's not out until October, and because I chose free shipping, I won't get anything until the last book is available. :( But I'm sure it's wonderful and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Any chance a book tour will bring you out West? :)

MJ said...

I just got your book in the mail today, Laurie. Very excited to read it.

Anonymous said...

I just found your website! Thank you for mentioning Sky. I'll purchase your book ASAP.
Cheers, Felicia

The Diva said...

I'm happy for you about the book. Found your blog thru a Google gluten intolerance alert. I'm also GF along with CF, and I have lots of weird chronic ailments.

I'm sorry you're weren't feeling well when you wrote this. Very ironic.

Thank you for giving another voice to the dilemma of living w/chronic illness.~~Dee

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