Today’s post features an item excerpted from A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration & Encouragement (New World Library, 2012) by Barbara Abercrombie. Barbara has published 14 books and numerous essays and articles, and has taught creative writing courses for almost three decades. She lives in Santa Monica, California. Find out more at her website.
When I have guest speakers in my class who have written memoirs, one of the first things my students ask is, “What did your mother say when she read it?”
But what about mothers writing about their children? My kids have some pretty amazing material, but that’s one privacy line I won’t cross in my writing. I’ll write about them—the funny stuff—but I won’t steal the heavy moments in their lives.
Though just recently, as I was discussing this with a daughter, she said in a dark tone, “Remember writing about the Snickers bars under Gillan’s bed?” I asked her what on earth she was talking about. “You wrote a poem about her messy bedroom,” she said, “and then read it to her class.”
The thing about being a writer is that you just learn to live with your guilt.
I never once encountered a student who didn’t worry, at some level, that a friend or family member was going to be violated, punished or crucified in a piece of writing. (Mothers take an exceptionally heavy rap with younger students.) … And it often afflicted young writers with classic writer’s block before they’d written so much as a single word.
From Jane: I’ll never forget the following Twitter status update from Anne Lamott:
You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.
What do you think about this issue? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. And read more from A Year of Writing Dangerously over at Amazon.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.