Writing about yourself, your friends and family is your bread and butter when you’re a nonfiction writer. But it gets rather tricky. Most of my friends and family are very, very, very (very!) private. And so for the most part, no one’s interested in seeing themselves in the limelight much less a critical one.
I’ve made mistakes in the pursuit of storytelling. So now, frequently conversations with friends and family will start with, “I better be careful with what I say around Aliza because she’ll write about it” or “This is off the record.” I’ve learned how to veil people’s identities using pseudonyms or just first names or changing distinguishing characteristics “to protect the innocent.” I’ve also learned that you can ask for permission but you won’t always get it.
I’ve also learned, I’m not alone in this quest to tell stories without hurting loved ones. I recently watched in horror as the comments section of a really good piece on indifference by Emuna Braverman turned into a debate about whether writing about real people is lashon hara. And biracial comedian Sundra Croonquist, a convert, is being sued for telling jokes about her in-laws. I guess I should be grateful I haven’t been sued.
In “The Memoir and Children’s Privacy,” author David Matthews writes, “When it comes to writing about family or friends, you can be liked, or you can tell the truth. If you want both, you should become an accountant.” It’s too bad those are the only choices a writer is given.