Someone Hurt You. Should You Write About It?
There is a quote by Anne Lamott that I like a lot and it goes like this:
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
This quote comes from her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (a book I highly recommend to writers). I like it because I think it gives writers permission to let go of some of the fear and anxiety that they may have when it comes to writing about things that happened to them. I think a lot of us fear what others will think when we tell our stories, especially if those stories paint someone else in an unflattering light.
I also think if someone has treated you badly in the past they lose the right to get offended if you decide to tell that story. Because, like Anne Lamott says, what happens to you belongs to you. The way someone treated you becomes part of your life’s story, and as such you are allowed to tell the truth of that story.
But sometimes I wonder, is there a line that we aren’t meant to cross when it comes to writing about other people? Specifically, when writing about the ways in which others may have hurt or wronged us?
When does writing your story go from “telling your truth” to needlessly bashing another person? Is there an objective line that we shouldn’t cross, or is it subjective based on the individual?
I don’t necessarily have the answer. I’m thinking out loud here. But this is something that I think about frequently as a person who writes a lot about their own life. I wonder how careful I should be to protect others, even if they did things that were hurtful.
After all, I have certainly done things that I’m not proud of and that I wouldn’t want exposed. What right do I have to reveal what may be a shameful part of someone else’s story, even if what they did was an important part of my own story?
For me, I think that there is a way to write about the people who have hurt you in a way that is honest without being cruel. Also, if you are telling the simple truth of what happened to you and it is unflattering to someone else, well, it might upset the offending party, but depending on what it is that they did, you might not really care.
And I think most of us can agree that exaggerating or bending the truth to make a person look villainous when they aren’t is wrong. But I’m also sure that there are people out there who have outright lied about the way someone behaved toward them in order to make themselves look good, or just to be cruel to someone they don’t like. And those people probably don’t care what the person they are writing about thinks, either.
I also think that, when we are writing about people who have hurt us, it is important that there is some kind of greater purpose to the writing. By that I mean, if you are writing with the intent to publish, you shouldn’t be writing a hit piece. It’s fine to vent all of your unfiltered, angry thoughts in your journal. It’s quite another to publish them. Even if the person you are writing about it truly terrible, you’re never going to look good when you’re trying hard to make someone else looks bad.
There is a way to write about how someone hurt you that helps you to genuinely connect with your reader or tell a greater message instead of just revealing someone else’s flaws because they made you angry.
In the end, I think writing well about our personal experiences comes down to the same thing that writing well about anything does: honesty and care. You want to write in a way that tells the truth and connects you to your reader.
Grace Carlson is a writer from Washington. She writes fiction, creative nonfiction, and the occasional poem. She also writes articles on travel, mental health, writing, and books. Sometimes she’s funny, or at least that’s what her mom says. Visit her blog, A Passport And A Pencil.