I am not writing about you. Or I am.

October 16, 2020

writing-about-you“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Every writer I know loves this quote from writer Annie LaMott. We do own our experiences and we absolutely write about them, at least in my genre, which is first person essay and memoir.

At the same time, speaking our truth can be expensive. We must be willing to pay the price.

The pen is mightier than the sword.

Work on my memoir stalled when I asked my husband if it would bother him if I wrote about certain things. He said it would. I chose to not go forward with the work I had begun.

Several years later he broached the subject with me and said that he was now ok with my writing about those things. What a huge gift–and what a mature guy.

“When you are emotionally attached to a subject, your writing can be transcendent,” he told me. I mean. Who wouldn’t want their husband to think that about their work? And to be so supportive. Big enough to accept he might not look so good in parts of my writing. (Not that I look that good, either.)

But not everyone feels that way.

I’m working on a performance piece that is told through someone else’s story. It’s deeply personal to that person. I have not asked permission, but they do know I am writing it. I have no idea how it will end up–it may be nothing more than a long writing exercise. But I’ve had to think through the cost of actually producing something so personal, and I don’t mean financial. Because I do want to protect them. Lamott might not agree. But that is how I roll.

And then, here’s the other thing. There are people in every writer’s life who thinks they are the subject of a piece when in fact, they are not. Call it guilty conscience, or maybe ego. Some people think they are the center of a writer’s universe. And yes, sometimes they ARE being written about. But other times? No. They aren’t even a passing thought in a piece. Because life is full of universal moments. Nothing that has happened to us is unique–it’s happened or is happening to others right this very minute. So now, it’s not all about any individual at all. It’s usually about the universal.

Oh and also this: most of my blog posts were written at least a month and often even more before I hit “publish.”  Sometimes a year ago. They are usually not related to what’s happening now.

One of the things I love so much about bestie and her family is that they are all writers and they all do write about one another. And have even written about me. And me about them.

You really haven’t lived until you see a play in which you are referred to as a neurotic bitch. Especially if you ARE one! Yes, that was me, and that was one of bestie’s plays. We writers? We are pretty ok with being written about. Because if we weren’t, we’d have to lay down our pens. What’s good for the goose, and all that.

So here’s what I have to say about it: I’m not writing about you. Or maybe i am. But probably not when you think I am.


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16 comments on “I am not writing about you. Or I am.
  1. Diane says:

    I just tell everyone that anything I witness is fodder for my pen. (Also to never anger a writer!) So be warned!
    Usually, we’re good…

  2. Betty Kaufman says:

    Carol, what a great piece. Your last line that maybe you are and maybe you’re not is perfect. Love it.

  3. Matt says:

    The last line reminds me of that your so vain song. Many songs are written about the songwriters experience with someone and I always find the backstory so interesting. Great article!!

  4. Alana says:

    I don’t think I’ve been written about (as far as I know). Not even sure how I would react if I ended up in someone’s play or memoir. Perhaps I would be proud of rating high enough, either good or bad, to be remembered like that. I love the saying about never making a writer angry.

  5. Sue says:

    Dear Carol and Friends, love Annie LaMott’s quote.

  6. That is very mature of him. Time can be a great healer too. The pen really is mightier than the sword.

  7. Linda Hobden says:

    This reminds me of an author who wrote a novel loosely based around the different parent characters that congregate around the school gate. It is a comical book,and reading it you find yourself either knowing the stereotype parent or can identify with that parent, eg the parent who always arrives late, the one who dresses up in full heels for the school run, the gossip, the timid one, the organiser …. However, the village where the author lives banned her book because, although the characters were fictional, some parents complained at the way they were portrayed..!!! Surely every character in a story is loosely based on someone the author has come across in life or has casually observed 😊

  8. Jennifer says:

    Are you writing about me?

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "I am not writing about you. Or I am."
  1. […] Some memoir writers feel strongly they must write their truth, no matter the consequences. But, is that really a good idea? Carol Cassara shares her thoughts on writing about others in the course of telling your own story in “I am not writing about you. Or maybe I am.” […]

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