Deborah Siegal recently posted a provocative article over on SheWrites: Do We Overshare When We Write about Our Kids? It reminded me of a question recently put to my writing club’s author support group: What is it okay to reveal about family members? And do we need their permission?
The conflict surrounding writing and family relationships and privacy is nothing new. Ask ten different authors or publishers, and you’ll probably get ten different answers about how to handle it. Some, like Siegal, get their family members’ consent before the writing goes to print. But that opens the Pandora’s box to family wanting to control what is said about them. Do any of us really get that kind of control? And what about family members, like children, who can’t give their consent? A whole world full of mother writers would instantly lose all their material!
As Siegal herself admits: I want my children to have a sense of privacy, boundaries that I respect, and a sense of distance between what is mine and theirs. Yet I remain compelled to write about them. I simply can’t hold back.
What mother can? That’s like telling a mother she can’t share photos and brag about her kid, or complain about some new behavior that’s driving her crazy. And we all know that when mothers talk (or write) about their children, they’re really talking about themselves. This principle holds true: the writer reveals herself on the page, more than she does her subject.
Many writers compromise by using protective pseudonyms for family members, or disguising features and characteristics. Others say it’s all in the way you write—that it’s important to maintain respect and sensitivity to how what we write can affect those closest to us (even those not written about directly). I agree with this stance, yet also wonder if it’s really possible to achieve (that fact that I breathe embarrasses my teenager).
David Sedaris, in Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, says, “Real love amounts to withholding the truth, even when you’re offered the perfect opportunity to hurt someone’s feelings.”
What’s your take? What’s a writer to do?