Do I Own My Story? But What If It’s Also Your Story, and You Don’t Want Me To Tell It?

“I will tell the truth, be bold, and whenever possible, be kind.”

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zz hertzel Laurie Hertzel

By Laurie Hertzel

Like any good student, I sat in the front row, took diligent notes, and believed, for a while, everything my teachers said. As a young newspaper reporter, I had ambitions beyond daily journalism, so for years I attended as many workshops and seminars as possible, studying narrative writing, fiction, and, eventually, memoir.

“I own my story,” I obediently jotted during a memoir lecture—or words to that effect. “No one has the right to tell me what I can or can’t write.”

But when I began working on my first memoir, I realized that it’s not that simple. Yes, I own my story—that is, I have the right to tell the stories of my life.  But I don’t live in a vacuum, and in order to tell my stories I cannot help but tell the stories of others. Do I have that right? Do I have the…

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  1. […] via Do I Own My Story? But What If It’s Also Your Story, and You Don’t Want Me To Tell It? — Memo… […]

  2. Thanks for the re-blog!

  3. This is something I worry about. Many of my “memoir victims” are off the hook by virtue of the fact that I no longer remember their names; but I certainly remember this one’s long blond hair and pock-marked face, where I met him, what I fed him for breakfast…not that I ever expect him, or most of my other victims, to read my memoir. But there are others who figure hugely in my life and writings, some of whom are no longer living, who must be named for one reason or another (Stephane Grapelli comes to mind.)

    Now and then I consider what would happen if one of the living victims were to sue me because they didn’t like how I portrayed them. I know that since I’m not a movie star or even, for heaven’s sake, a known author, a disgruntled victim would know that I’m not a lottery ticket, but you never know.

    What’s your take?

    1. I worry about a few school friends that I mention but I don’t worry about them nearly as much as I worry about family not liking the way I truthfully portray them. I honestly don’t believe that when you write and publish memoir, you should not expect to lose some relationships–it comes along with the territory of writing memoir. Memoir ruffles feathers, but sometimes, a story needs to be told for the sake of the writer and the readers, for validation of their experiences. I like one of the points made in this post: “I will tell the truth, be bold and whenever possible, be kind,” which is pretty much my motto as I finish the final edits of my memoir.

      There’s a Maya Angelou quote that I love – “There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.” I think this is the main reason memoirist, family and friends remember things differently. Family and friends see the facts. Memoirist see the truth of the matter. Fact: A young girl lived in a nice house, had food to eat and nice clothes to wear. Truth: She was routinely sexually abused. Family and friends will only acknowledge the fact and not the truth. I don’t think friends and family will ever be able to appreciate a memoir the way the writer and readers do.

      Back to your question, I do worry about friends but not a lot. I worry more about family because I know they don’t want to hear the truth.

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