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Mary Beth asked, in a recent comment in response to my blog post Too Painful To Write:
“I know that some day I will write a book that will help ME, but I’m terrified that people reading this book would be very hurt by it. Just by telling my story from my point of view, people may feel that they aren’t potrayed in the best light. How do you be true to your feelings and not hurt the people that are a part of your life now or were a part of your life in the past?”
There is no easy answer to this question, but here’s your writing coach’s advice:
1. Write the book true to yourself. You can always decide to withhold some information later–but start out with your most powerful truth.
2. Weigh your decision. When it is time to decide, ask yourself how important certain details are to the story. Perhaps you can soften or leave out those details that don’t move the story along and would hurt others. Some “truths” may be very important to the story, in those cases, see number 3…
3. Communicate. Talk to those people you portray in the book. Let them know ahead of time if their “appearance” is not negotiable. Yet, let them know you’re contacting them first so that they’re not surprised by what they see in the book. Perhaps you do want to give them the opportunity to suggest a middle ground–but perhaps not.
4. Be clear of your subjectivity. You can begin your book with a note to the reader stating that this book is about your recollection and perspective, and that you don’t hold a patent on the truth. Acknowledge that others may see a situation very differently.
5. Talk it over with an objective colleague, mentor or writing coach. It may help to discuss your dilemma with someone who’s not involved in the situation. They may shed some light on an issue that may be too close to home to weigh.
Of course, you also have the option of publishing your book as fiction. In general, fiction is harder to sell and I don’t know how much it would truly protect anyone’s feelings, as they may still see themselves in the characters.
Recently a writing coaching client of mine mentioned a friend of hers whose memoir was published and shocked the author’s family members. This author had not let anyone know the details of the book ahead of time. Her family read sensitive information about themselves at the same time the press and the public received it. Now, that is a recipe for disaster in terms of relationships.
You’re walking a fine line of being true to yourself and your story and being sensitive to those who love. There’s no pat answer, but, as a writing coach, my instinct is this: if you keep asking the questions you’re asking, I think you’ll find your way just fine, Mary Beth.