The Splatter of Words

There’s an interview with Patricia Hampl in the latest issue of The Writer’s Chronicle where she addresses the negative repercussions that can come from writing memoir.  “Don’t think you can write your way around hurting someone,” she says.

I write mostly nonfiction, and one of the things I worry about constantly is how the real “characters” in my stories will react when they read my work.  My most recent experience with this was a story I published about my Aunt Mary, easily the most entertaining and colorful person in my family.  Almost everyone who read this piece responded with, “I love your Aunt Mary!” so I was not expecting my favorite aunt’s feelings to be hurt — and they were — when she read the story for herself.  Lines that my readers thought were endearing and real and hilarious were shocking for her to see laid out flat on the page.  Her exact words were:  I know I said those things, but I sound awful.  I need to watch my mouth.

I learned a lesson here about being prepared.  No matter what I think or how outsiders respond to a story, I have to steel myself for the (often unexpected) reactions of the real people I’m writing about.

Hampl goes on to quote Czeslaw Milosz who said, “When a writer is born into a family, that family is finished.”  As if writing in general, and putting your stories out there for readership and judgment is not enough, we’ve got this.  In the end, sure, it’s part of what we’ve signed up for by splattering our words on the public stage, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

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4 thoughts on “The Splatter of Words

  1. glasseye

    I thought I’d save my family by using pseudonyms, but my people have, inevitably I suppose, found me out. A while back I wrote a piece about my dad that required a stiff drink and a box of Kleenex to produce – it’s the most honest thing I’ve ever written and I cringe to think what my sister will say if she ever dives far enough into my blog to find it.

    “When a writer is born into a family, that family is finished.”

    This makes my blood run cold.

  2. Deb

    I’ve stayed clear of non-fiction. I’d like to write about a few things because I am the keeper of all the memories. I think I’ve forgiven but it still hurt at times. I’m afraid I’d destroy the one who I spent so much time on getting better.

  3. Teri Post author

    I hear you. Stiff drink, check. Kleenex, check. I tell you, none of this is for the faint of heart. When someone says (about once a week), “I wish I had time to write my memoir!” it leaves me speechless.

  4. glasseye

    Yes! I want to point out the fact that they can recite the names and complete biographies of every contestant on every reality show out there.

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