5 tips when writing about your family

Sometimes memoir writing involves exposing dark secrets or uncomfortable truths. Sometimes these stories come from difficult times with loved ones, best friends, or family members.

Choosing to write about your own story as part of your own family’s history can be a sensitive issue and something to consider carefully. There is not a single perfect way to address these issues inherent in memoir writing. However there are a number of way to address these issues that can potentially reduce some of the common pitfalls. 

 

5 Tips for Writing About Your Family

Prepare your family.

Does this sound too obvious? Well, obvious or not it has to be said, and importantly, in most circumstances it is recommended to do for all memoirs. Having an honest discussion with the whole family why you have decided to write your memoir is a great place to start. 

There’s no guarantee that it will be well received. But even so, knowing any potential issues in advance will help you in crafting your memoir, and preparing it for publication. 

It is also important to articulate how the story will be shared. Some memoirs are just for yourself and your family. Others stories are written with the intention for publication through online stores like Amazon, while some are focused through bricks and mortar businesses, or both. And the size of the audience may impact your families response to the memoirs, as will the potential for significant people in their life that might read the book. 

 

Interview your family.
Once your family have had a chance to process your intention to write your memoir, it is absolutely beneficial for you to interview as many of them as are willing.
This will provide you answers to many questions you may have, from missing bits of the family tree, as well as the origins of relationship tensions that may have preexisted your birth. It may also raise new avenues to explore and give you a different understanding of events than you have had in the past.  
Hearing another family member’s point of view or specific shared memory is often very revealing. It may possibly fill in any gaps in your own knowledge, and also providing key information for future generations.

 

Write under a pseudonym.

This can be a decision you make yourself if you choose to self publish your memoir, or a discussion to have with your publisher. Essentially, a pseudonym is a fake name used by a writer to protect themselves or to maintain the anonymity of themselves or their family.

This might be important when covering difficult topics, or sharing 'family secrets' that impact the wider family. The details of these types of discussion are often contested which is one set of difficulties. The other issue to be aware of is the potential legal issues should a person particularly contest the details, or claim their life and or reputation has been damaged because of the publication of the memoir. 

Writing under a pseudonym can protect you from a number of these issues, but means that as a writer you won't get the credit for the publication. However if it is more important to get the story told than credit, this may be a preferred option. 

 

Writing the truth

Let me say it very simply and clearly - write your truth first. The whole truth as far as you know, and edit later.
It is important when write your first draft to do so without worrying about the legal risks. Use the real names. Do not change the facts or fictionalize any characters.
It simply confusing, and causes issues in editing later if this process starts too early. 
Once you have written the first and perhaps second draft of the memoir, it is now time to look at what changes might be appropriate or wise. This can be done by changing names, ages, physical characteristics of a character. In the case of allegations of criminal activities or abuses, it is most often recommended that these characters are largely cloaked, and anything you can not 100% prove are written as opinions. 
Seeking Legal Advice 

    Do it. In our society it is very important for writers to seek advice about their manuscript before it is published.

    Issues might arise immediately or even years after your memoir has become available as people and attitudes change over time. By setting up your memoir in a truthful way that protects yourself as well as others is one of the key steps to take before publication. 

    While lots of good information is available online, these are opinions and general principles that are not related to your specific book. Specific advice should be sought for your memoir, and all of the recommendations should be thoughtfully considered and auctioned.

     

    So, should I actually do it?? 

    Families both in person, and writing about them are tricky. It takes a great deal of consideration to choose the different elements to include, as well as what to leave out. There are lots of things to think about and felling and implications to consider. But like our actual families, writing our memoirs is absolutely worth all the hard work! 

     

    If you would like to learn more, check out:

    Blog: What's your story - What TYPE of memoir are you writing?

    Blog: What is a video memoir?

    Blog: How to write when you don't want to write!