March 2, 2011

Too Close to the Bone

One of the more difficult things for me as a writer is figuring out how to write what I know without writing about people I know.  It is my biggest barrier, one that I don't know if I'll every be able to hurdle.  At my age--let's just say I'm a grandmother--my relationships have become more dear, more powerful, more entangled in my life. Others, such as Carol Shields (a Pulitzer Prize winner)  have thought through this as well:
I made up my mind at the beginning of my writing life not to write about my family and friends, since I want them to remain my family and friends. Others, it seems, have come to a similar conclusion. The novelist Robertson Davies was once asked why he had waited until age 60 before writing his marvelous Deptford Trilogy. There was a long pause, and then he replied, haltingly, "Well, certain people died, you see."

My father always says if you don't want to be written about, don't be friends with a writer.  Then he chuckles, and those invisible handcuffs strengthen on me.  He doesn't say this to prompt this reaction in me; I'm convinced he says this to steel himself against the day I may write about him.  And while he's alive, I won't.  And since he'll live to be a thousand years old, the chances of him being written about are slim to none.

Do we write about those around us because they are "easy" material?  Just blurt it out on the page and done--a blog post?  An essay?  A character in a book?  Or are we shaving too close to the bone, and may possibly draw blood by using those relationships as our fodder for writing?  As Shields goes on to say:
During the 20 or so years I taught classes in creative writing, I never once encountered a student who didn't worry, at some level, that a friend or family member was going to be. . . crucified in a piece of writing. The concern was real, and often it afflicted young writers with classic writer's block before they'd written so much as a single word.  I always urged them to say what they had to say anyway, unshackled by any thought of personal response. They could revise afterward, I said, burying the real person by altering gender, race, the time frame, the geographical context. The choices were limitless. Write bravely, truly; revise with discretion, tact. . . .We love fiction because it possesses the texture of the real. The characters in a novel resemble, more or less, ourselves.
In other words, just write.



Return to Slice of Life, Day 2.

10 comments:

  1. This reminds me of a time a relative had a torrid affair. I couldn't help but use her situation while taking a writing class. There was so much material. I always worried that she would find out and be deeply hurt by it. I too, changed names, places, and times but any member of my family would have been able to identify the source. If we write what we know (that is what I tell my kids) then family becomes our richest resource.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I tend to write about myself, not because I'm full of myself, but rather to work out things that have happened in my life. This inevitably leads to writing about situations that involve my family. Things that I'm worried are too personal, I keep to myself. It is a hard balance for sure.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am new to writing/posting pieces and I have not worked out how to write and shield family and friends from appearing in my slices. You have given me something to ponder.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Some of the ideas of writing about things that are close to us is difficult for me, at least if I intend to put it out there for others to read. Yet, writing it down seems important too. Thanks for showing us the dilemma.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have always pondered this when modeling writing in front of my class. My family is the heart of my life and I'm always bubbling over with enthusiasm to share and brag. I try to keep embarrassments to a minimal but need to be careful now that my oldest is in school. Decisions, decisions!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'd like to think that we write about those around us not because it's easier but because it's real, as Shields says near the end of the quote. We can see their dimensions and want to understand them better.

    I loved reading your dad's advice in your post! Seems like a sweet and funny man.

    -Carrie

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love when a post makes me think. Your dad's advice is wise....

    Deb

    ReplyDelete
  8. So true...just write, let the words flow and stop worrying about perfection - there will be time for that later, after the words are written.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I battle with this even writing about my teachers and our students. But I try very hard to honor the work they are doing together in my writing so I am hoping it would be okay with them.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This really made me think because I tend to write about my children and students. I even went back and looked at my posts. I did decide that all the things I have written about are things that I never want to forget. This post really made me think about who I write about and why. Thank you!!

    ReplyDelete