Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sometimes Writers Have To Make Hard Choices

This woman looks perplexed. I have a writer friend who must be having the same expression on her face, even though she lives on the other side of the world from me. She recently had to face an unexpected tragedy in her extended family. She wrote about it and asked for feedback.

Those who read her personal essay were all of the same mind--it was powerful and needed to be submitted for publication somwhere. I agreed at the outset but a question from the wirter made me step back and think a bit more. The piece has names and points fingers to the writer's family members, but it is not done in a malicious way. It's seeing the situation for what it is. I think she wrote it as a beginning to a healing therapy for herself but it could be hurtful to others in her family.

The writer asked if she should change the names or if it should even be published at all.

Writing difficult things about family and friends creates a dilemma. Even if it is one of the best things you've ever written, should you risk alienating family members by publishing? Do you take the chance that they would probably never read it if it's published in a small magazine or an online website? Do you tell them that you have written an unflattering essay about the family and that you really meant no harm but wanted to tell the story as you saw it? Do you write the story and change the names even though they'd probably recognize themselves anyway?

Does she risk losing some members of her extended family? Should she keep her written therapy in a file to publish much later when the wounds are not so fresh?

I've been in a similar situation with a few of the family stories I've written. I grew up with a father who could be extremely difficult to live with but who also loved his family deeply. He hurt so many people and he left me with so many stories to be written as to the how and why. I chose to not write anything about the difficult times until after he, and also my mother, had passed on. I still loved him enough that I wouldn't risk hurting him by telling the world what I thought of him. Nor could I hurt my mother by doing so either.

I did write a poem while Dad was still living that allowed me to begin some personal therapy over some things that happened long, long ago. But I put it in a file and have never considered publication for what turned out to be a powerful piece of writing. That was my choice. My writer friend must make her own choice, even while considering the advice others might give her.

If you find yourself having to decide whether to publish a fine piece of writing and risk hurting or alienating family or friends, you'll waver back and forth before you decide. It's far from an easy choice. The list of pros and cons might be short but important. What's also important to consider is how much relationships with the people involved means to you. Others can give objective advice but no one can make the final decision but you.

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