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Taboo Subjects -- Writer's Poke #170

First there was the group known as the Confessional Poets. They incorporated highly autobiographical elements into their poetry, and it changed the way people thought about "proper subject material" for poetry.

Then, anyone who has read autobiographies in the past 15 years has surely noticed that no subject seems off limits. Want to talk about your incestuous love affair with your father? Go for it. Want to discuss your history of one-night stands? Why not? I bet you'll sell a lot of books.

Personally, I don't have any problem with this. If you're a writer, the number one source of material that you have is your life. And yet, we don't want to hurt the people we love. So we have all kinds of material that most of us never delve into, not because we're scared of "going there," but because we don't want to make those closest to us angry or jealous or bitter by what might come out.

For the longest time, I can remember wanting to be a writer, but the idea of "What would my parents think if I wrote ____?" stopped me cold. It's probably taken me years to get beyond that barrier, and while there are still subjects I know I won't write about, I also acknowledge that I am a writer, and I cannot always protect loved ones from being hurt by my material.

If you're a writer, neither can you. What you can do, though, is explain your need to write. If your loved ones listen to your explanation, perhaps that will be enough to keep their feelings from being bruised. In any event, if you're a writer, you have an obligation to write. Don't ever let anyone take that away from you.

What subjects are taboo for you to write about? What makes them off-limits, and is there a way for you to use the material in non-autobiographical ways?

"There are no taboos." -- Angela Merkel


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