When You Write What Scares You—And Then See It in Print 

July 23, 2019 § 30 Comments

Diane GottliebBy Diane Gottlieb

An essay I wrote was just published last week. It was my third publication, the first that will appear both online and in print. You’d think I’d be thrilled.

Part of me was. I had worked this shorty (432 words) for about two years, off and on. I’m proud of it. It’s tight. Honest. And it’s … personal. Very, very personal.

That’s the part that’s got me.

I’m fifty-eight years old, and while I’ve come to writing late, I’ve brought with me many rich stories. I’ve led a full life, with lots of joy and a fair amount of pain, neither of which I’ve ever been shy about sharing. Yet, seeing this particular piece, all 432 words of it, triggered me in a way I hadn’t expected. I felt naked. Exposed. I felt shame.

Why is it so hard to tell our stories? I take that back. Why is it so hard to have our stories heard?

The piece is about a time after surgery, when I spent two days in a morphine-induced haze. I had just had a hysterectomy, that I needed because I had cervical cancer, that developed because of a run-away STD, that my first husband so generously gifted me—the same STD that the woman with whom he was having an affair had shared with him. Yes. Ouch.

I’m not the first woman to have been betrayed by a husband; not the first to have had an STD, a hysterectomy, or cancer, for that matter. Not even close.

And if there’s any shame to carry in this story, it’s certainly not mine. Yet, carry it I do. I carry it like something precious, or like so many heavy stones.

Putting this story out into the world will not hurt anyone. My husband died almost fifteen years ago, and the woman he was sleeping with left both our lives a long time before that. Hurting others is not the concern. It’s the secret. Giving voice to the secret is what’s giving me pause.

There’s yet another voice from someone long gone, a haunting, steady voice that I hear. It’s my mother, herself no stranger to affairs. “Don’t air your dirty laundry,” she whispers in my ear. “Don’t air your dirty laundry for all the neighbors to see.”

Secrets. Dirty laundry. The very stuff that desperately chokes for air.

Giving voice to those secrets takes away their power. Am I afraid to stand in that light, to take on that power and claim it as my own?


Telling stories and having them heard can indeed be terrifying. And yet, it is the scariest stories that most need to be told. The more of those stories heard around the world, the less others will feel alone. I get that … And still.

We’ve all been told to write what scares us. But long held secrets, or whatever it is that scares you most, can do damage, when exposed. Those secrets are frightened animals with sharp claws and sharper teeth.  Tread carefully—and be gentle—with yourself. Write slowly. Walk. Breathe. And put down the pen before your mind or your body go into overwhelm.

The story that was published last week is an old story. I’ve had plenty of time and distance from the events, yet seeing them all in print still packed a mighty punch. It took me two years to write 432 words. We must remember that writing is not a race.

Continue to write those secrets. Write what you fear. I certainly will. But write consciously and with care. And when you’re ready, only when you’re ready, submit.

Diane Gottlieb received an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles where she served as lead editor of creative nonfiction and as a member of the interview and blog teams for Lunch Ticket. Her work has appeared in Burningword Literary JournalPanoply, and Lunch Ticket. You can also find her weekly musings at https://dianegottlieb.com. @DianeGotAuthor

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§ 30 Responses to When You Write What Scares You—And Then See It in Print 

  • Hats off to you and thank you! This is so perfect and helpful. Looking forward to reading more of your secrets! 😉

  • TammyB says:

    Congratulations on the publication!! It is difficult to see the words sometimes let alone know it is published. Great advice

  • Well done — for the story that’s published, but just as much (and perhaps even more) for the courage and for facing those darker corners where what we fear to face may lurk and where one might not be sure one wants to turn on the light fully for all to see.
    We all have cobwebs in our corners. They are part of the human condition. Shame, too, to a degree, though sometimes it is put upon us more than it is fair. I’m glad you decided to disown the shame and own the story. It is an act of healing. May it be.

  • juliemcgue says:

    Beautifully written and expressed. Kudos to the author for getting those 432 words on the page, getting them published, and sharing the aftermath with all of us.

  • “Little Secrets” is art.

  • Marie Tully says:

    Your well-written words give me the courage to try writing my scary story. It’s buried so deep inside I wonder if I shall succeed, or even if I want to wake the monster that has controlled me for so long, and is now sleeping.

  • Tom says:

    Diane . . . what could possibly be more important to write about?

  • kim4true says:

    Thank you for sharing, and for encouraging the rest of us.

  • Very relatable! As I go deeper into the heart of my memoir, the fears of what will happen post-publication are part of the daily dialogue I engage with as I sit down to write.

  • equipsblog says:

    Your bravery serves you and your readers well. Thanks for putting it out there. Hats off to you. Quite a profiles in courage story.

  • floatinggold says:

    CongratZ on the publishing.
    I know exactly how you feel about writing something personal. I’m not a big fan of that. Some say that’s what readers like… Maybe one day…

  • Jan Best says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. As hard as it was for you to write it, your narrative is courageous and inspires others.

  • camillasanderson says:

    It’s fascinating to me how we are moving away from a patriarchal culture of perfectionism and shame, towards vulnerability, authenticity, courage and grace through women sharing their stories! Brava, Diane Gottlieb! Congratulations for having the courage to share your voice! 🙏❤️🙏

  • Leslie says:

    This is beyond beautiful and raw and encouraging. Your words flow through me. Thank you for sharing with us.

  • When we write of something like this from a point of understanding and perspective it is so far from “dirty laundry.” If anything, it’s laundry that’s been washed clean, repaired, even remade. Your essay is important to everyone who has suffered from something that made them ashamed.

  • lgood67334 says:

    I have a couple of things I’d love to write, but I don’t want to hurt anyone, so I write them without any intention of sharing, and when I am done processing I face the choice of disguising myself or moving on. On the other hand, what positive actions might I trigger if I stopped hiding my truths?

  • Dorcie says:

    Great piece


    On Tue, Jul 23, 2019, 10:58 BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog wrote:

    > Guest Blogger posted: “By Diane Gottlieb An essay I wrote was just > published last week. It was my third publication, the first that will > appear both online and in print. You’d think I’d be thrilled. Part of me > was. I had worked this shorty (432 words) for about two years, off” >

  • Lauren Kim says:

    Thank you for your courage & for sharing your stories. This inspires me to write more bravely, even if doing so feels scary & vulnerable. Definitely an important message to remember.

  • Margaret says:

    Well done Diane on what sounds like quite a heart rending task. This post has just arrived at the right moment for me as I am at the contemplative phase of writing a big part of my story. i was interested to read that you had reached a point where enough time had elapsed before you started writing.I feel I am at that stage.
    Thank you for this inspiring post..
    Take care.

  • menda says:

    Thank you for sharing with us.
    Captivating how our own story, out there, for others to see it, made us feel. Maybe this is the ultimate answer to all the questions.

  • Shabnam says:

    Reblogged this on The Growing Mind and commented:
    What a powerful piece! So beautiful “Giving voice to those secrets takes away their power. Am I afraid to stand in that light, to take on that power and claim it as my own?”

  • NZain says:

    So true! Wonderful words of wisdom and courage—and compassion. Thank you for sharing.

  • Cheryl says:

    Thank you for sharing, for being vulnerable. I know what it is to lay it all out there, of feeling naked. But, that’s what we do as writers…we say what others cannot. Good for you.

  • chitravaidi says:

    It is so great of you to share, i know it takes lots of bravery and mental strength to finally come out with our inner feelings. Thanks – good for you

  • First, congratulations for submitting a very personal story. Secondly, as you review your writing and begin to focus on the intimate details that frightened you that’s only one side of your story’s prism. The light you shined on a situation, that I’m certain many others have faced, allowed them to no longer feel isolated and reliving their situation in silence. And finally, great advice because If we all unearth the buried stories we will find support and encouragement to fuel our freedom and prism lights by releasing the burden, shame, etc. out of our heart and mind!

  • […] Thrilled to have this piece published in Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog! […]

  • […] via When You Write What Scares You—And Then See It in Print  — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • […] Diane:   I wrote a really personal spill-all piece that got picked up, and then I wrote a piece about that experience called “When You Write What Scares You–And Then See It In Print.” […]

  • […] in Bending Genres, 100-Word Story, About Place Journal, The VIDA Review, The Rumpus, Hippocampus, Brevity blog, Lunch Ticket, and Entropy, among others. She is the winner of Tiferet’s 2021Writing Contest in […]

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