I’m working on a memoir. It’s gritty, raw, painful and real. But the reality of grit and pain is that it doesn’t happen alone—it happens in a larger context in which other people play a role. My story interweaves with many others’, sometimes in a beautiful way, other times with conflict and painful consequences.
So when I choose to write about my life, am I writing my story, or all of the stories of everyone involved?
Any time I bring someone else into my non-fiction story I am telling their story too. Do I have that right? Do you? If you, too, are working on your memoir, you may be asking yourself this complex question: do I have the right to tell someone else’s story, even if it forms part of my own? In my case there are children involved, not to mention adults who rarely share their private lives. Shouldn’t they have a say in whether their story becomes public knowledge?
I’ve been struggling with this for a few months now. Because if I do decide to fictionalize this story, I need to figure out how to maintain the truth of the story when it becomes buried under scenes and characters from my imagination. I need to preserve a universal truth without revealing characters that can easily be recognized in real life.
But…I mostly need to hold off on a decision.
First I need to just write the darn story—the whole naked truth with all its thorns and roses.
Because I’m realizing that the process of writing is entirely different from putting that writing out into the world. There’s the writing and then there’s what we do with the writing. The two must be handled separately (tweet that!) If we let our perceptions about how others will receive our story tamper with the way we write it, we can’t remain true to what we need to say. And the last thing we need is for writers to start lying about their truths.
Until I’ve finished my story I’m trying to put off the question of what to do with it. It may be that the story is never published but instead forms the foundation to another story. Or I may start again and fictionalize everything except the basic premise of the story. Or perhaps this story only needs to be told to myself as a form of healing.
Starting the process
My advice to anyone considering writing their story is to forget about the end product and its purpose and just begin. So many people never start because they are afraid of what will happen when that story makes contact with the outside world. They fear hurting people and losing relationships. But the worst case scenario in your head will likely never happen; the greater tragedy is if you leave an untold story to die inside of you.
When the writing is done
This may sound hokey, but I think that when we finish a piece of writing we intuitively know the answer to those questions we have struggled with throughout the process. And if the answer is that we put all those pages we have painstakingly drafted into a drawer, that’s okay.
I don’t believe any writing we do is ever wasted—as long as it bears witness to truth— because it helps us understand more about ourselves and the world. But if we don’t stay true to ourselves and the process throughout, that’s when we regret.
Your journey with story
Are you thinking about writing your story? Do you have any of the concerns I’ve mentioned in this article? Ask your question or share your dilemma below and I’ll answer with my thoughts.
If you are serious about writing your story but don’t know where to begin, my online course Write Your Story will guide you through the whole process. Click here for more details.
Image by Klutch Photography