My Anne Lamott Dilemma

Image“You own everything that ever happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ~Anne Lamott

I came upon this quote last year while reading Anne Lamott’s book about writing, Bird for Bird. It’s been traversing in and out of my head since then. It’s bold, brash, and unapologetic, like so many things Anne Lamott writes. Sadly, I am not Anne Lamott. And, as much as I love this statement, I’m paralyzed by it. It she actually suggesting that I write whatever I want without any concern about whom I might hurt in the process? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure if I’m that brazen yet. I’ve always been careful not to burn any bridges until I’m certain I don’t want to go back, and I don’t often find myself 100% certain about anything.

If my sister does something that irks me, is it honestly okay for me to blog about and then post to Facebook her transgression? I think I would hate it if tables were turned and my sister were the writer. I’d be scared to say or do anything around her for fear that I would end up as the next diatribe or anecdote in her blog. My sons already beg me not to write about things they’ve done. On a few occasions my husband, who is wholeheartedly supportive of my writing, requested I not share something he’s done. When does my right to tell my story outrank their right not to be lampooned on the World Wide Web?

Anne is right. These are my stories, and I should be able to tell them because as much as they belong to the others involved they also belong to me. I’ll be honest. I have a lot of kooky stories I could blog if I threw caution to the wind and ratted on the people in my life because my tribe is freaking crazy. I mean, of course they are. I am one of them. But just because they’re nutty doesn’t mean their privacy should be squandered.

So, I ask you. What is a writer to do? Am I honest and true to myself, my stories, my craft or am I fair and kind to my family and friends? If you’re a writer, how do you handle this? If you’re an unfortunate relative of a writer, how would you feel having your quirks and frailties littered across the internet?

I hope someday to be audacious enough to tell my stories. All of them. I guess between now and then I’ll have to figure out a way to do it without alienating people who matter. Or I’ll have to become such a skilled writer that I can craft a story so well that no one would dare dream of being offended by it.

5 comments

  1. I may be wrong, but I think that writing a personal, identifiable story that might embarrass/insult/… someone is not how I would want to treat or be treated. Yes, if you have permission, then it is OK (like the boys or Steve).

    It would be easier if you wrote fiction, right? Just fictionalize (“the names have been changed…”) and let it go. Even though some of us might be able to see who it actually was, I believe those of us so aware of those details of your life would comment appropriately, should that need arise.

    On a personal note, I would find it most amusing to read a story that you wrote about how weird I am, and would appreciate the fictionalization of it. After all, only the Goons would get it, right? Right? Oh, jez, what have I done?

    1. I’m not sure I am cut out for fiction, so I think you are safe. And I don’t have any big, juicy story of a friend or relative I am dying to disclose. I was just pondering the legitimacy of such an action and how others might justify it as I have never been able to. I understand discretion and am aware of the Golden Rule. Writing is tricky business, which is why I primarily write about my own issues.

  2. I remember this book from uni! I especially liked her analogy of writng being like a long car journey at night. You cannot see the end, only the end of your headlights, but you make it all the way bit by bit, mile by mile. She then explains how she helped her brother to do the project on birds. I really believe this is our craft in a nutshell. We cannot see the whole story all at once, but we know it’s here, so the only way to get it out is word by word! I may have to get another copy of Bird by Bird, such a good read and extremely helpful! Word by word now…

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