Do I Own My Story? But What If It’s Also Your Story, and You Don’t Want Me To Tell It?

January 5, 2016 § 83 Comments

zz hertzel

Laurie Hertzel

By Laurie Hertzel

Like any good student, I sat in the front row, took diligent notes, and believed, for a while, everything my teachers said. As a young newspaper reporter, I had ambitions beyond daily journalism, so for years I attended as many workshops and seminars as possible, studying narrative writing, fiction, and, eventually, memoir.

“I own my story,” I obediently jotted during a memoir lecture—or words to that effect. “No one has the right to tell me what I can or can’t write.”

But when I began working on my first memoir, I realized that it’s not that simple. Yes, I own my story—that is, I have the right to tell the stories of my life.  But I don’t live in a vacuum, and in order to tell my stories I cannot help but tell the stories of others. Do I have that right? Do I have the right to recall things that other people did, write them down, attach their names to them, and publish them in a book? Do I have to ask permission? What if they say no?

(“I own my story.” Like that’s going to persuade them.)

I kept going to workshops and seminars. I asked this question. I got a lot of different answers. Some recommended that I change names. Some recommended that I change names and identifying characteristics.  Some recommended folding several minor characters into one composite.

I began to wonder where nonfiction ended and fiction began. Is there no way to tell a story honestly and fully without fictionalizing—or without alienating people?

In my memoir, News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist, I took the easy way out. When I wrote about the city editor who trapped me under a desk, and the university professor who sneered at my career, I didn’t use their names.

Clearly, this will not always work. This is not the answer for characters who appear in more than one brief scene, and it’s not the answer for writing about siblings, or parents. (How do you change the name “Mother”?)

I thought about this a lot, for years. I went to grad school, and as I worked on my MFA, I chose this topic to explore in my craft paper: How do established memoirists handle writing about people who might not want to be written about? How do they handle telling stories that might not be entirely theirs? The answer that I found, of course, was the frustrating one that there is no one answer. There are a lot of ways to handle this. While I longed for clear guidance (remember, I was a good student), I did find it comforting to realize that most writers have given this serious consideration.

  1. Just go for it. “You own everything that happened to you,” Anne Lamott wrote in Bird by Bird. “Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” I like this answer because it’s flippant and freeing, but at the same time I know that the city editor and that English department chairman, had I named them, would almost certainly disagree.
  2. Don’t go for it. “If you have reason to believe you’re another Dostoyevsky, you can say anything you want to,” said Calvin Trillin in Family Man. “The readers of the future deserve that. If you don’t have reason to believe you’re another Dostoyevsky, you can’t.” Also flippant. But not freeing; constraining. Who among us thinks they’re another Dostoyevsky? (In my experience, it’s generally people who definitely are not.)
  3. Change names, change relationships, obfuscate. Phillip Lopate’s mother “forbade me ever to write about her again. I refused,” he writes in To Show and to Tell. “She said she would still come to my book party but would tell everyone I was her nephew, not her son.” Lopate did change the names of his siblings in some of his essays, but it didn’t help; one sibling remained furious twenty years on.
  4. Avoid naming anybody. In his memoir, Pull Me Up, New York Times reporter Dan Barry barely mentions his siblings. They didn’t want to be in his book, he told me, and so he didn’t include them.
  5. Be bold, but accept that there will be fallout. “I’ve lost quite a few people along the way,” Patricia Hampl writes in I Could Tell You Stories. “And not to death. I lose them to writing. The one who accused me of appropriating her life, the one who said he was appalled, the poet miffed by my description of his shoes, the dear elderly priest who said he thought I understood the meaning of a private conversation, this one, that one. Gone. Gone. Their fading faces haven’t faded at all, just receded, turned abruptly away from me, as is their right.”

It is Hampl’s fate I worry about. I don’t want to lose friends or family members. So I continue to attend workshops and seminars, continue to search for a magic one-size-fits-all answer. At AWP in April, I attended a panel led by memoirist Debra Monroe. I sat as close to the front as I could get, and I wrote down a lot of familiar advice:  Change the names. Change identifying characteristics.

But I also heard this, from writer Emily Fox Gordon: “Beware the small, gratuitous hurt.”

And I think that is the best advice of all. It’s not magic, and it’s not going to solve the problem. But it does allow me to write with as clear a conscience as possible: I will tell the truth, be bold, and whenever possible, be kind.

Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as North Dakota Quarterly and South Carolina Review and one of her stories won the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize. She is the co-author of They Took My Father: Finnish-Americans in Stalin’s Russia, published in 2004 by the University of Minnesota Press. Her memoir, News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist, (U of Minn. Press, 2010) was the winner of a Minnesota Book Award. She will earn her MFA from Queens University in Charlotte, N.C., in January 2016.


§ 83 Responses to Do I Own My Story? But What If It’s Also Your Story, and You Don’t Want Me To Tell It?

  • “Beware the small gratuitous hurt.”

  • Reblogged this on Esse Diem and commented:
    “Beware the small gratuitous hurt.”

  • Jan Priddy says:

    I am working on memoir and chewing on this exact problem—the alternative would be not to care. Some do not. How to tell truth without causing pain? How to talk about the impact of family members’ mental illness, for example, without identifying them? How to “play fair” about the pain I both caused and felt? I very much appreciate your review of the various answers to the quandary anyone writing about their own life must address, if they are to retain relationships that matter enough to bother writing about.

  • bethfinke says:

    How about sticking to writing fiction?


    • That would seem like an easy way out, and many people choose it. As I teach in my writing classes, you have to have facts in nonfiction, you can have facts in fiction, but you can find truth in either. However, when writers turn their nonfiction truths to fiction, I think we lose something. Two of my writer friends have written phenomenal memoirs, but then fictionalized them. The facts don’t matter anymore in the new versions by these women, and I am saddened by the subsequent loss of their individual truths.

    • As the author of five novels and a memoir, I have inadvertently offended people who saw themselves (whether there was any reality to their perceptions or not) with every book I have published.

      • Ruth says:

        I would accept being inadvertently offended, but I was the victim of total out and out lies in someone’s “autobiography” and even though she changed my name, she left plenty of clues as to what my real name is. Because I had actual police and court documents that proved the author not only lied about certain events we both shared, but she painted me as a career criminal. She said that I had been given a one year restraining order to stay away from her (when in reality it was for 6 months). She also reported in her book that I had been sentenced to probation, when I was not.
        She blended 2 different actual court cases into one, failing to reveal the second case was my harassment against her for her writing letters to my mother in law’s house defaming my character.
        As I had all the paperwork to the court cases, I sent copies to the publisher, and their legal team determined that the author committed libel, and pulled the book from publication.

  • chrislwriter says:

    Very interesting-since my writing deals with personal material, I think about this issue a lot. I usually opt for some combination of 3 and 5, but a defiant 1 often comes chirping…

  • Thank you for not pretending that there’s any one answer to this. We all have to find our way through this mess and make a lot of hard personal decisions along the way. Well done!

  • Great insights! I started to comment on this post with a personal anecdote of my own. Then I realized I was hedging on my own part of the story. “Physician, heal thyself!” So here it is.

    As a college student, engaged to a man whom I did not eventually marry, I became pregnant. (I hedge here for good reason: it was through no fault of my own. I’ll leave it at that.) I learned I was pregnant when I miscarried.

    When I went home for Christmas the next month, my mother said to me that she had not told any of her friends what had happened. “That’s your story,” she said. “It’s up to you to decide if and when to share it, and with whom.”

    For years, I have been working on a series of personal essays, but I have not published any that reflect badly on my parents or siblings. I think it was that one conversation that made me want to wait until my parents and most of their friends were gone. I respect their right to privacy.

    Along the way, I have published eight books and hundreds of articles, so it’s not like I’m sitting in a corner, cherishing my unpublished essays. They will be published in due time. I’m not willing to sacrifice my loved ones for the sake of seeing my words in public.

    • Lyn Cramer says:

      I have many stories and guess many of us do. There is time and room for all of them in this world of care and woe. Do no gratuitous hurt will guide me in deciding where to house them. Thank you for discussing the complicated and often painful choice of what to express of the truth we know inside.

  • Great essay, and there is no fix-all solution. Mary Karr has some things to say about this in a recent interview and she addresses it in her Art of Memoir. I’m working on a memoir so I think about this. After I write scenes I ask why a person may have acted in such a way; I can’t read another person’s mind or ever presume to know, but at least it helps me write with more empathy and compassion about other people in my life.

  • David says:

    There was a small moment in my first memoir, Accidental Lessons where a particular person and I remembered an incident with my son somewhat differently. Her role was much more involved, she believed, than how I had written it. She may have been right. But I simply didn’t remember it that way. The issue was not about kindness, but in her mind more about fact. She believed I had embellished and made my role look more important in the matter. I told her that was not my intention, but that the story was my story and it was how I remembered it. I was sorry if it somehow had ruffled her, but I had to believe, at least somewhat, my own recollections. Plus, what we leave out is as important as what we put in, and we all need to remember that omission—intended or not—can also cause tension with those who end up in our stories.

    • RSGullett says:

      Personal history is about memory. How someone or something is remembered, how that memory is later revised, and how the memory is told shapes the story.

  • “Be bold, tell the truth, and be kind.” I’m writing that one in my notes.

  • Timothy Kenny says:

    Nicely done. In the end, we can only think long and hard, look for fairness and remember that what we write lasts forever.

  • Joanne says:

    Really thoughtful article, and great comments, too. Thanks for addressing this issue. I plan to refer my students to your post.

  • Jan Wilberg says:

    I think there’s life as a writer and then I think there’s life as a person. As a person, I endeavor not to damage other people. That trumps my desire as a writer to tell every story. There are boundaries to stories I can tell and that’s okay with me. I’ve plenty to work with without risking damage to other folks.

  • Sammy D. says:

    This is a vital topic as Creative Nonfiction grows exponentially as a literary category. For studious novices (raising my hand), you have captured exactly what goes through our minds. After reading numerous ‘expert’ opinions, I use three guidelines 1. Tell the truth 2. The truth is only your own perspective. Own it, but do not obfuscate or embellish it. 3. If you lack – or are uncertain about – facts/truth that are vital to your narrative, and you are unable to obtain them or corroborate them, write about what you don’t know (the gaps/uncertainties).

    You make a personal decision what/who is part of your narrative, and guiding principles are accuracy and relevancy. Either write the story, knowing loved ones might not embrace your telling, or don’t write it. But you can’t manipulate your own truth if you write non-fiction.

  • sonyalea says:

    There’s another possibility, unspoken in this piece. I wrote a memoir that many called unflinchingly honest, and have written essays about the uses of this honesty in Psychology Today, Salon, and elsewhere. What we cannot envision when we are writing our stories, from our perspective(s), [for we are not even one continuous unchanging narrator throughout our lives], is that this kind of intimacy brings renewal to our relationships. My mother died on Christmas Day, and she struggled with reading my memoir, published last year.

    Last autumn, after I visited, she picked up my book. Our conversations became ones about guilt, shame, forgiveness, how the past might be held more lightly. What happens when we become characters in a work (for memoir is shaped and therefore no longer strictly factual, but very much true.) Through those talks, and because of the way I wrote about her in the book, we both found that we could be whole, with all of our flaws and regrets. I did not know that two months into this profound connection with her, she would be gone. Because I risked honesty in the memoir, she turned toward me. This was her greatest gift to me, to demonstrate how to overcome the personal wish to control impressions, and to be as we are right now. This remarkable experience of withdrawal then forgiveness happened with my sisters, who also had concerns about the way the family narrative is held.

    Of course, writing ourselves into the work as flawed humans also balances things. There’s no need to be ruthless with anyone, least of all the character we write as ‘me.’ But to witness oneself with empathy and rigorous honesty brings to light the awareness that life can’t have been otherwise. We can try a little tenderness.

    Thanks for a provocative, wonderful piece. May you find the perfect way for you.


    • lhertzel says:

      Sonya, that is the best response you could have hoped for!

      You are probably familiar with Joy Castro’s book, “Family Trouble,” a collection of essays by various memoirists on how they handle this question. (Including an essay by Dinty Moore.) Many of the writers said they were pleasantly surprised by their family’s reactions to what they wrote.

      But that has not been my experience, and it is most definitely not everyone’s experience. I’m glad yours was so good.

    • Thanks for your honesty Sonya. I believe that it’s important not to write our stories until we have taken the opportunity to process our pains that relate to those stories. Those unprocessed pains often guide the story-line and speaks volumes to the readers whether done so intentionally or not. At that point, the author can come from a place of authenticity when expressing themselves in the details of their story. It’s never a guarantee in how receptive others will be to how we tell our stories. And, it’s not at all unusual for others to recall things differently. After-all, it’s all subjective. But, when you’ve done the work and processed your pain, you can have peace in knowing your own intentions of sharing your truth!

  • clpauwels says:

    Reblogged this on CL Pauwels at Large and commented:
    I struggle with the concept of “my story” quite often. I don’t live in a vacuum; none of us do.

    No easy answers…

  • Anne says:

    First, I commend you for getting this many followers. May I ask how you accomplished that? Second, several authors have written about the collective consciousness of intellectual ideas. That’s why so many writers come up with a very similar idea–they all live at the same time in the same global village.

  • unclesmedley says:

    Almost everything is misremembered and/or embellished.
    So, stay as close as you can to the truth and,like you said: if you mean to be mean then, by all means–but, it’s best to try to be fair and inclined to be kind..

  • hyper4reading says:

    Love this last line. Kindness is key for me. I will tell the truth, be bold, and whenever possible, be kind.

  • It’s so hard — because some really grueling things have happened in my life, in relation to other people — my exhusband, my stepkids, my husband’s exwife. I’ve been through the wringer with these relationships, and I want to write about how *I* experienced them. It won’t make them happy, though, that’s for sure.

  • jniesslein says:

    I struggle with this, too. I’m fine with losing some people over something I wrote, but not those closest to me. As a result, my laptop is a graveyard of essays that I won’t ever send out because the real-life fallout is too much for me.

    I also think about the power dynamic between the people I’m writing about and me. My problem with Lamott’s statement is that it can slide into what feels like bullying to me.

    Clearly, I haven’t resolved this, either!

  • […] I’m finding there is no answer.  Opinions vary on how to handle this fragile […]

  • Reblogged this on carrollannsuscoblog and commented:
    This is a problem all autobiography/fiction writers/pseudo autobio writers come across…worth thought

  • I am brutally honest. Because I need to be.

  • This is such a timely post for me. I have struggled with this for years. Right now, I’m going the route of a fictionalized story. For those close to me, they will recognize the story, but some of the elements have been changed so that it isn’t a blatant slap of truth in the face. But, I must say I struggle with doing that. I really want, need to tell my story in all its brutal honesty. I’m just not sure I can.

  • Barb Knowles says:

    I just hung up the phone with my daughter. We were talking about my latest blog post that she said she thought was the best so far. I was surprised, because it was my story about prayer and I hadn’t really shared it before and I thought she would have liked some of my other ones better. After we hung up, I thought that so many of my stories can’t be told. They will all hurt someone. I then opened up my WordPress reader and found a link to this article and here I am.
    I like the idea of telling the truth, being bold and being kind. I’m not sure that I’m quite brave enough for that. Thank you for this wonderful article.

  • keishashafer says:

    I have worked on a book for years. Afraid of even trying to publish it due to family. Enjoyed reading this. Guess sometimes you just have to do it.

  • I like your Post, Greats and Cools, Thanks your Article

  • […] Today I read an article about stories; more specifically, whose story is whose.  […]

  • […] Source: Do I Own My Story? But What If It’s Also Your Story, and You Don’t Want Me To Tell It? […]

  • Nice piece! I would just say that if you want to write a story then, IMHO, you are free to blend, bend, fold, make-up, characters, scenes as much as you would like for dramatic effect. If you are writing about memories and real people just always add a slight, vailed dash, of the “real” person, place or event. How big a dash I would suggest being based on how much you would like to “real” to be recognized. That is you may want the “real’s” to be able to say “I know she’s writing about me! ” but build in enough what’s that idiom “plausible deniability” so you can always “maybe, maybe that’s you”. Doing it this way will make for an interesting “factional” story. In this case, you are not writing a strick documentary piece, so you can “play” with facts any way you want. If you were, on the other hand, wanting to write more of a straight documentary piece, not a story, then NO you must stick to the facts. Just the facts mam. Just sayin.

  • drandomgirl says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I wish to write mine in the future. These questions have crossed my mind too. I am an honest person, but I am flawed too. I misunderstand things too. I do not wish to lose my loved ones when I write about them.

  • I love that “you own everything that’s happened to you”

  • beingagirlsite says:

    I love this article. Its so much thoughtful. Do visit me blog too

  • Canoncol says:

    Writers should write what they like, but be careful if they go to publish, it just makes sense. I’m a Photographer first and a Writer second If I worried too much about what people thought I wouldn’t get anything done. If someone tells me to F*** Off, I do…and leave it at that.

  • readmyphotos says:

    This is an opinion (not legal nor professional advice): Your questions are interesting and they are probably questions that many writers have asked themselves. I like your number 1. Yet, your number two answer/statement just seems like scare tactics aimed at stopping writers from writing the truth (whoever wrote that to you). To me, I believe the key is asking yourself , “Why am I writing this” , as many writers write for different reasons. If you write for the yearning to simply use your voice which has been silenced, then that’s a good motive and you’ll probably come up with a good answer and response, so go for it. If you write for revenge, (that’s never good), then your writing will probably suck and not be good for you or for anyone else. If you write for practice, then none of that matters since a practice writing doesn’t need to be shown to anyone nor published but can be used by you to further your writing experience and ideas. If you write to help someone, then go for it because your writing will probably help someone and also help you. If you write for money, well, that’s a whole nother story and you probably need to practice lots and write and read a lot before you begin your adventure into writers’ moneyland, but go for it anyway. Key is write from your heart, mind and soul and use your experience to add excitement and life to your writing. Again, this is only an opinion, that’s all. There are many other reasons for writing but I figure this note is long enough. Guess the best plan is freewrite and see what else you come up with and your heart and mind will tell you, in no uncertain terms whether your writing should be shown or published. Peace in all your adventures, both present and future.

  • […] Source: Do I Own My Story? But What If It’s Also Your Story, and You Don’t Want Me To Tell It? […]

  • […] Source: Do I Own My Story? But What If It’s Also Your Story, and You Don’t Want Me To Tell It? […]

  • Possibly the best post I’ve read on this topic and since my memoir is about my dysfunctional family, I’ve read many. In my case I had already lost them; we are all estranged so I didn’t have to worry about that. But (and this is key for me) my goal was to tell my story as a way to help others who suffer at the hands of similar narcissistic persons. I no longer, by the time I wrote the book, was out for revenge. I think motivation for writing a memoir is the most important question for a writer struggling with exposing ugly truths about others. So, I changed their names, I even disguised the charity one of them runs (because I didn’t want to hurt any potential recipients) and I stated at the beginning that these are events to the best of my personal recollection, colored by the vagaries of time and mind, etc. Still one of the family members got a lawyer to threaten a lawsuit. However I knew the legalities and I was protected from that and established that firmly by speaking directly to her lawyer, who had to admit I was on firm legal ground. I couldn’t always “be kind” as part of this post says because the truth was unkind but I did my best to be respectful yet truthful. However, I’m sure my siblings would disagree. For that, they are free to write their stories!

  • Joyce Dade says:

    I loved reading this so much. I had to let you know and to thank you. It is a tough call. No way of the casualties that may result, but I agree that kindness accounts for something, and not naming names or being too pointed. Better not to betray our friends, family and associates, after all, as imperfect as they are, they have loved and still love us. Thank you so much for this and a marvelous New Year to everyone!

  • John Maberry says:

    I struggled with the same issues writing “Waiting for Westmoreland.” I changed the names of people I served with in Vietnam, especially ones who I didn’t want to embarrass about drug use. Contextually, if one wasn’t there in the unit one couldn’t know who I was referring to. It also was 35 years in the past when I wrote it so the biggest nemesis I said bad things about, renamed Sergeant Seagal for his alcoholism, most likely had to be dead from cirrhosis, heart attack or lung cancer. Ex-wives? Nothing to be done to disguise them. Siblings? Same thing. But it is MY story.

  • majidusman says:

    That’s totally fabulous

  • travtrails says:

    Helpful hints for my memoir…still in planning stage

  • krpooler says:

    We,as memoirists need to be committed to our truth without intentionally disparaging others. A fine line but our passion to tell our story needs to outweigh our fear of repercussions..which are very real. Mary Karr once said, “stick to the essence of the truth”. I agree with changing names,disclosing that this is your recollection in an author’s note and seeking legal advice before publication. Thanks for this excellent post. I will be sharing.

  • Writers write what they must. If you change things, you are changing your perception of the truth; but the perceptions of everyone you write about won’t change. Their opinions and memories are flawed by nature and time, as are yours. Write what you must write. They can kill you, but they can’t eat you.

  • artseafartsea says:

    This was very enlightening. Good to know there are others out there that struggle with the same problems on this subject.

  • Sue J says:

    Can’t get enough points-of-view on this topic . . . strictly a judgment call after a LOT of consideration. I’m at least 5 years into the “consideration process” and in the meantime completed the full first draft this past summer. On to editing this year. Suppose I’ll just have to wait and see what I end up doing with it. No loss at all in going through the motions of writing and editing it to death. If nothing else, I’ll have a good read when I pull it out every five years and revisit my own life. 🙂

  • I published my memoirs in October. I cleared passages with all my relatives, who I dearly love. I even, with my wife’s permission, called and emailed my ex-wife to get approval to publish memoirs about her. I thought carefully about former employers who might be offended and eliminated any potential offense.
    I feel, nevertheless, I “bled” on the pages of this book, revealed the inner workings of my wounded soul and have no reservations about the book I published. I tried to write with “…malice towards none.” Most importantly I prayed that the book would be bathed in truth and love. Fortunately, to date, the readers who reviewed my work publicly agreed I achieved that goal. Thank God for small and large favors.
    H. Robert Rubin, Memoirist and Author of the E-book, Look Backward Angel, available through Amazon.

  • Grandtrines says:

    Reblogged this on Still Another Writer's Blog.

  • This is a topic I’ve struggled with in my writing as well. Thank you for the excellent post.

  • […] piece over on the Brevity blog by Laurie Hertzel, on memoirists’ “ownership” of their stories–and the various ways to write […]

  • Reblogged this on Write Through It and commented:
    A thoughtful discussion of a crucial issue for most of us who write nonfiction about real people. Read the comments too.

    Having come up through the feminist movement, written for feminist publications, and worked in a feminist bookstore, I know how important it is to tell our stories. If we don’t, our stories don’t get told. Taking their place in the public area are stories about us told by others. At best these are incomplete; at their all too common worst, they’re self-interested distortions and outright lies.

    At the same time, writing confers power, especially when it comes with access to a large audience. Some glibly say “Let the people I’m writing about tell their own stories,” ignoring that those people usually don’t have our skill, our will, or our access to print. This goes for journalists as well as memoirists, personal-essayists, and all of us whose writing involves real places and people. These are big questions, and they deserve better than glib, self-serving answers.

    • I so agree. Anne Lamott’s quote about “they should have behaved better” always rubs me the wrong way. Writing truth should take into account the humility of knowing that our versions of our stories are only that. And I always think about how I would seem if my family or friends wrote about me.

      • Humility comes up a lot for me. Writing is a strange combination of humility and chutzpah. I’m capable of thinking and saying nasty things out loud, but when I write them down and read them over — something happens. I walk around them and see them from other perspectives. The writing comes out deeper and more compassionate than what I sometimes say out loud. And no, I don’t consider that “self-censorship.”

  • […] read on the topic of writing about real people. If you’re considering do so, check it out here. Do you own your story? Find out. Good luck. Writing about real people has its perils, believe me, […]

  • eagoodlife says:

    Reblogged this on The Life Of Von and commented:
    Interesting for those who write or are thinking about it. My own solution is to face each challenge as it comes along. I have a collection of short stories in which I used a different solution for each, in one not naming anyone, in another treating fact as fiction. I don’t really see a problem when all writing is challenging and a pleasure. Maybe I just don’t take it seriously enough!!

  • gertmcqueen says:

    excellent piece! great advice! There is a fine line between fact and fiction, particularly when a work is label ‘non-fiction’ yet IS FICTION, coupled with the use of identities of real people, who are portrayed doing/saying fictions words/deeds. Some just need to tell their story regardless of the impact.
    again, this was a very excellent piece!

  • […] Source : Do I Own My Story? But What If It’s Also Your Story, and You Don’t Want Me To Tell It? […]

  • I am grappling with that problem now. I have written a first draft of a novel that is part fact and part fiction. It is about dissociative identity disorder and a cover up by a government department. It’s highly controversial and some people say write it as a memoir and others say fictionalise everything. In the end it’s a story about justice and injustice and inequality in prisons. My main goal is to complete it and then decide but even though it is highly fictionalised and full of composite characters, I have already had one friendship end over it and she was portrayed positively. She was the only one who would have recognised herself – different job, appearance etc.

  • Reblogged this on Flunking Retirement and commented:
    This post spoke to me. I have a fascinating life experience that I would love to blog about, but it means telling the truth about a situation that involves someone else — let’s call him John. John has characterized the situation publicly in a way that is not factually accurate. By telling my story I would at the very least contradict John, but potentially embarrass him professionally. I do agree with the “when in doubt obfuscate”, but I also think time will lessen the injury. So check back for that post in ten years or so…

  • annj49 says:

    Reblogged this on Ann's Corner and commented:
    Some good advice!
    I plan to keep these options in mind…..

  • […] IV. At Brevity, Laurie Hertzel discusses the always present question of owning our stories and the s… […]

  • Roslyn Reid says:

    They can always write their own version of “Killing Me Softly with His Song.” 😉

  • lynettedavis says:

    Reblogged this on Memoir Notes.

  • What about letting people we write about read the sections they are in before publication? Some publishers insist on it. In the piece and all these comments, as far as I can tell, only two people mention or hint at having done that. We probably imagine them reading it. Why not let them — not to have veto power, but as a heads-up, a courtesy, even sometimes a did-I-get-it-right?

    • gertmcqueen says:

      your suggestion, letting people READ what is being said about them, is the way of wisdom, unfortunately, not everyone has wisdom nor do they ‘think’ about those they write about, unless it is to ‘get back’ at perceived hurts. I personally was never asked nor told about what was written/published about myself AND my children! until I submitted documented proof to the publisher, then that publisher pulled the book, only for the author to ‘self-publish’ same lies. If someone has an ax against family they DON’T want to give any kind of a courtesy, they just want to do harm to family.

    • To clarify, I am talking about people we are close to — family, close friends, possibly coworkers. Not everyone we write about.

      • gertmcqueen says:

        Yes I understand. I and everyone in the book I’m referring to are FAMILY members of the author. Unfortunately, in today’s world of self-publishing anyone can say anything they want about anyone and there is nothing that can be done to stop them and not everyone has $$$ for court and equally not every author has assets to take. The world of ‘blogs’ is a wonderful counter-point to bad negative book writings.

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You are currently reading Do I Own My Story? But What If It’s Also Your Story, and You Don’t Want Me To Tell It? at BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.


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