How to deal with family politics when writing a memoir
As writers, almost every experience presents itself as good story material. Get pulled over for speeding? Take notes and see how you can use that drama in a story. Cut your finger off and need it reattached? Definitely take photos and notes for future reference. Aunt Mabel said something completely inappropriate at the Thanksgiving dinner table? Quick, mentally record all family reactions and dialogue.
Unfortunately, while some family members are naive about our writerly observations, others can be quite suspicious of all that scribbling we’re doing. I teach workshops and work one-on-one with people who want to write memoirs. One of my students’ big fears is what their families will think about their writing. Will mother be mad? Will grandma disown me? Will I lose access to a family member’s treasure trove of historical documents and artifacts?
It’s true that some of these fears may be legitimate. Others may not. Here are a few thoughts and ideas to consider if you’re concerned with what your relatives will think about your writing.
1. Write for yourself. It’s hard to be creative when you’re worried about what people will think. Tell yourself that you’ll examine the potential for conflict during the revisions.
2. Evaluate your reasons for writing. Writing to exact revenge isn’t productive. Writing to tell your truth is empowering.
3. People may not be as upset as you think. Some of my students have told me that when it was all said and done, family members didn’t recognize themselves or weren’t even phased by what had been written about them.
4. Family members may not agree with everything you write, but your story is your story. One thing you can gently tell them is that they should write their story if they feel they have another perspective. You’re entitled to write your own truth.
5. Show your family that their concerns are unfounded. Sometimes just explaining what you’re doing and why can show them that your intentions are good. Share with them your bigger goals for telling your story. Maybe they’ll understand if they realize you’re trying to connect with people who have a shared history or problem.
6. Share some of your writing. Fear of the unknown can be a huge burden for you and the people who are in your stories. Share a chapter or scene with your family and you may find that they become your greatest supporters.
You may be surprised. The family members you feared would be upset about your writing just might feel honored to be included in your story. Often it is the meaning you ascribe to the events of your life that makes all the difference in building understanding