Last year, a friend was getting a divorce and I knew about it for quite a while before it became public. It was a hard secret to keep because our other friends wondered why her behavior was changing and why she wasn’t showing up for things. I watched how she was changing and I watched her children, who were oblivious to what was happening, but clearly acting out due to the stress that surrounded them. It was awful and fascinating, and I really wanted to tell people, and yet, I kept the secret.
In one of his books on writing, I can’t remember which, John Gardner wrote that all writers are gossips and I’ve thought of that often because since I’ve become a fiction writer, I’m usually a great secret keeper despite that urge. Why? It’s not that I don’t feel the burn. I still feel that eager desire to share a real, juicy story because I know it will create some kind of extraordinary reaction. At my core, I’m a storyteller. You get an adrenalin rush when you share something awful. I have to admit that I do feel that burn, still, after so much time of secret keeping. But I’ve come to realize that this burn is part of the creative process; in fact, it’s essential to the creative process.
When I get a new idea for a book or a character, I feel that same burn. I want to tell someone right away. Oh glorious day, I have an idea! It’s a beautiful, perfect idea. However, I hold it inside because it is exactly this burn that makes me want to write and gives me that passion and makes my fingers fly across the keyboard.
Other people’s secrets may show up in my fiction, but they are heavily disguised, and really, what shows up is the knowledge I’ve gained about the human experience by keeping that secret inside. Once you’re privy to a secret, you have a new insight into people around you and you can watch the human interactions with a whole new level of knowledge. Also, once you become known as a secret keeper, more people share their secrets with you and this both unburdens them and also makes you a more trustworthy and graceful person.
Go ahead. Try it. Hold secrets inside and use that energy in your fiction or non-fiction. You’ll be shocked how well it works. Your writing will resonate more with others and you’ll write faster than you’ve ever written before.