Ask Vivek: How do you write about the personal?

How do you write about the personal?

This week’s question is about how to write about the personal—specifically, how to write personal narratives based on or including friends and family.

Different writers approach this in different ways, but it is something many of us struggle with. In my case, I am often inspired by family and the people around me. But instead of worrying about asking for permission or how others will react, I focus on the writing. For me, it the story that I want to tell that is most important. 

When possible, I try to write ethically. I change the names of individuals and settings. I change the description of individuals’ appearances. 

When writing about my family, I try to write about them with respect and compassion, even when the story I want to tell is hard or unflattering. Sometimes I share these stories with my family but only after it’s been completed or published. This is so that I am not swayed by their opinion or emotions during the writing process. Other times, I have asked my parents to just not read certain books. 

I am less concerned when writing about violence that has happened to me. In these instances, I prioritize my right to speak about my experience over trying to “protect” the person who has hurt me.

One thing I am cautious about is writing about the experiences of others. Of course, I am inspired by events around me. But some stories aren’t mine to tell or take. 

So in short, I would say when writing about the personal, centre around the story you want to tell. Ultimately, when a story lands on the page, it becomes a form of fiction anyway. 

Thank you again for your question. Please keep sending me questions and I will keep answering them here!

Lastly, this week I feel inspired by Vancouver-based poet Amber Dawn. She is someone who writes about the personal in various genres including memoir and poetry. What personal writing inspires you? Let me know in the comments!