Updated: Jan 20
"If you lived it, you get to write it."
Jerry Stahl's quote has to be the centre of your Life Writing journey. Whether you are writing a memoir or an autobiography. To tell the truth and offer a complete picture of who you are, which of course, is the point, you have to remember that quote. I found it in the chapter titled 'Dealing with Beloveds' in Mary Karr's most excellent book The Art of Writing Memoir.
Of course, you might be thinking, what else could I possibly write about? And you would be right, but this gets tricky when our loved ones become offended or hurt by our recollection of events.
We write about our loved ones, our family, friends, and community to share a complete picture of who we are.
Second to this, not in importance but merely the order in which I am writing is the connection we create with our readers when they can connect to the universal emotions that we can all relate to. Including others into a story that is essentially yours will allow your readers to connect with the greater human emotions that we all have. If you want your readers to engage and turn the page then give them something they can feel about themselves.
Choose a family member and while you are writing about who they are, and what they did, tell us how they impacted you. What was it you learned from the loved one that has helped form the person you are today? This will give your readers a chance to connect with you on a level which is not possible if you are only writing lists of things you have done. What is essentially my life story becomes a book which you can connect with, which is a book we all enjoy reading.
However, getting back to my introduction, if the loved one you are writing about might be hurt or offended by your version of events, you must talk to them.
Here are the first steps to take: Talk to the family members you are going to include. Talk to the children of passed family members, anyone who you think might not be ok with it. And everyone else you are going to mention. Have a conversation and reassure them that your aim is not to wound, hurt or open old scars. Because if that is your reason you should not write it. Full stop.
If you are writing from a place of love and self-discovery and family members have concerns, once they have read your story, which is writing your lived experience, and detailing your version of events, and how it affected who you are, they might see that there is no need for concern.
Send them the first draft of the story that concerns them. Ask them if there is anything they would change. Ask them how it was for them and if they would give permission for you to include their version of events into your book.
They might not be happy with it, and even with your best intentions, they may still say no I don't give you permission. It is important that you listen to them, you can try to rewrite it and keep the conversation going but eventually, you will have to make a call on what you include and what you leave out. As long as you have talked about it and you are coming from a place of love and best interest, your best book will be produced.
You can also reach out for advice if you need it.
This is a Facebook live I did on the topic of writing about family. You might find something interesting here too.
Thank you all for your support.
Warm regards, Luisa