Monday, October 7, 2013

Writing about Real People

Writing about real people, especially family, is probably the number 1 issue writers of personal stories worry about. But it is not just an issue for nonfiction writers...

In my article "Writing About Others," published last week in the Washington Independent Review of Books, I discuss a few ways to tackle that issue. Please leave comments (either below the article at WIRoB or here) and let me know what you think, or share how you've handled this.


  1. "Likewise, it’s not worth possibly upsetting someone with something you’re not sure you’re going to put out there."

    Right. And not everyone has earned the right to read everything we've written about our private selves. I struggle with this a lot. I was a diarist (and still am) since I was 13. Writing to myself about myself was how I survived a difficult childhood with interesting narcissistic parents, one of whom killed themselves when I was 15. Thank God I took notes. Wouldn't be here today had I not. But some stuff people don't need to know even if I have the need to write about it. I still haven't published my most personal work. Yet. But I'm on the verge. Some pieces I have worked on for years both processing it and refining what I didn't know how to write. And I continue to write through my present life especially with the ongoing trials with one of my children. One story I began summer before last at Southampton is in its final stages. I know my child isn't ready to read it. He couldn’t begin to comprehend my teenage traumas and acting out which are so similar to his. But he knows I have written it and the subject matter. I have gone so far as to tell him I wouldn't publish it without his permission. But that isn't entirely true. I will publish the piece at some juncture. It is also my story concerning my struggles to parent a difficult child who at an earlier point in his young life had a parent who didn't know how. Tough stuff.
    The writer also has to know our own motives. Revenge, for example, is the wrong motive. But if the motive is to 'know ourselves' and those in our lives deeply and truly, then that's right. It's also so vital to have a writing community with whom we can exchange our work before it hits the cold light of day. Not non-writers. Unfortunately, no matter how well-meaning those who don't write about personal things can never council those who do. They just don't get it. I can't tell you how many times I've been told: You don't have to tell everyone everything. No, I don't have to tell everyone everything but I have to write about it and I will. It’s also up to me to be selective and in the long run to publish or not to publish. Time will reveal what to do.