How do you write your memoirs or life story without hurting family members? These tips for writing memoirs are inspired by a question from a reader…
“Your article on tips for writing your memoir is informative as well as inspiring,” says U. on Here’s what a reader asked How to Write Your Life Story – 5 Tips for Telling Your Story. “But there is a question which disturbs me. What about certain unpleasant events related to your extended family that you will have to divulge if it is a genuine memoir and which may hurt others?”
All families have unpleasantness, embarrassments, and even scandals! How do memoir writers find the balance between sharing their story, and not hurting their family members? And, how much responsibility do writers have to protect people — especially at the cost of squelching their own creative urges?
I have no easy answers, but I do have a few suggestions…and for more memoir writing tips, read Writing Life Stories: How To Make Memories Into Memoirs, Ideas Into Essays And Life Into Literature by Denis Ledoux.
How to Write Your Memoirs Without Hurting Family
Let time (and family members) pass before writing your memoirs
Wait until the family members involved in unpleasantness have passed on, and then write your memoirs. This may sound odd, but I’ve read it more than once in books about writing memoirs! Of course, this doesn’t help if a living family member is insulted or hurt by what is written about his or her relatives. It’s not just the person directly involved in unpleasantness who is affected – it’s his or her children, grandchildren, and other relatives.
Conceal the details
Change the names and identifying details of the family members, and note in your memoir that details have been changed to protect family members. This doesn’t mean your memoir isn’t real or true, it just means you’re not exposing family to unnecessary unpleasantness. Whether or not they’ve asked for forgiveness for the “transgressions” they committed or the mistakes they made, the events are still in the past. Changing their identifying details may be the best tip for writing your memoirs without hurting family members, because it balances your need to write and their need for privacy.
Ask for permission to share
Inform your family members that you want to write your life story, but you don’t want to hurt them. Ask if they’d be okay with you sharing the events as you remember them happening. If they agree, get them to sign a statement saying they are okay with this! Memories can be short in situations like this.
Say nothing about writing your memoirs until you need to
Do you hope to get your memoirs published? Are you planning on self-publishing your book? You could write your book without saying anything to any of your family members, and only ‘fess up if it becomes necessary. It’s hard to get a traditional publisher to publish memoirs, unless it’s the life story of a famous or rich person. It’s much easier to self-publish, but not every writer wants to go that route. So, you might consider writing your memoirs and holding your tongue until you know for sure they’ll be published.
Spill your guts, and be prepared for the consequences
Here’s a short and “sweet” tip for writing your memoirs: Tell the truth as you know it and brace for the outcry.
Also – it’s important to know why you’re writing your memoirs. As long as you’re not writing your story to punish or expose family members, you have every right to share your experiences! Writing your memoirs is about you.
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To connect with a personal historian who happily teaches writers to write their memoirs for fun and profit, visit Wayne Groner’s blog.
If you want to write your memoirs but struggle to express yourself, read Expressive Writing – 5 Ways to Write With Emotion and Hook Readers.
What do you think of these tips for writing memoirs without hurting family members? Questions and comments welcome below!