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I am going through a difficult time in my life and, as a keen amateur writer I’m seriously considering writing about my experience. My motivation is two fold, firstly I believe it will help me, but also to pass something onto the next person who may find themselves in a similar situation.

Now here’s the problem. Many of the challenges of my situation stem from the reactions of friends and family, this would form a key part of the work as it’s such a source of pain for me and would be vital for anyone else to understand what to expect.

I should stress that people aren’t deliberately hurting me, but many of their comments and actions are extremely painful.

How could I approach such a project? I want to document this time of my life, but I’m scared that thoroughly describing my experiences and how I feel could destroy these relationships if the people around me ever read what I wrote?

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    Welcome to Writing! This isn't a full answer to your question, but you may want to look into questions here tagged pseudonym. – Neil Fein Feb 10 '18 at 17:11
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    I suspect this is common - even in fiction I find myself putting beliefs, world views, and so on into the story and a few folks haver reacted strongly. Are you imagining publishing this? My advice is to write it, for the therapeutic and discovery angle (you may discover reverse messages too) and the sort out whether to share it after that. See it as a diary, if anyone asks, say, it's a private journal. You can make another decision about publishing, or not, it down the road. I've met another person in your situation - unsure if children will be hurt by what he writes. Anonymous blog maybe? – DPT Feb 10 '18 at 17:13
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    You may also want to check out our sister site InterpersonalSkills.SE to help you with your situation. – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Feb 10 '18 at 17:23
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    Anne Lamott talks about this in BIRD BY BIRD (it's on Audible) which is a wonderful listen for any writer. She talks about how she has written about people in her life by keeping the situation the same but changing details about the 'character'. She says that people don't see themselves as the villain, so if you change small details about them, changing their sex, making them tall when they're short, they won't recognise themselves. To quote: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” – GGx - Reinstate Monica Cellio Feb 11 '18 at 10:57
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I'm inclined to suggest that you go with what DPT posted as a comment.

Start writing things down in some manner. If nothing else, record the facts, including the facts about your thoughts, feelings and emotions in the moment.

You don't have to share the first revision with anyone. In fact, it's normal to write a first draft or two before showing it to others.

Writing things down as they happen will serve several purposes. At least, and in no particular order, it is likely to be...

  • Therapeutic. For lots of people, actually stating things, even just to oneself, can be enormously beneficial in processing what's going on. You don't need to ever share any of it with anyone for this.
  • Free-form. It doesn't have to be in any publishable form. It doesn't even need to make sense to anyone but yourself. This gives you the freedom to write down your thoughts, rather than focusing on constructing a compelling, understandable, self-consistent narrative based on unfolding events in your own life.
  • Documenting. If you end up wanting to publish something, you'll have the raw material at your disposal. You'll be able to look at these notes and see what your thoughts and feelings were at the time things happened, and you will be able to look back at it with the benefit of later experiences.

I do want to emphasize that what you write down does not need to be publishable at all. It doesn't need to form a narrative. It doesn't need to be only things you'd want to publish, even if you do later publish something. Instead, consider it a "brain dump" of sorts, which you may or may not go back to later.

Basically, start writing a journal. Whether you do it in physical notebooks, as a private blog, as documents kept on your own computer, or using an online word processor such as Google Docs, or by some other means, really doesn't matter (but you may prefer one over the others, as a personal choice); what matters is capturing what's going on. If you then later decide that you want to publish something, even if you end up changing details, you now have a large set of raw material which you can use to actually construct a compelling narrative that will convey precisely the message that you want to convey. Such a narrative is much more likely to be read, and much more likely to be interpreted in the way you intend, than thoughts written in the moment as things are happening.

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I would say, don't give it to them.

There is a maxim in the writing world, that stories are not about facts, but the truth. What it means is that "what really happened" and "how I really reacted" tend to be boring, facts are boring. Facts are told, not shown. The "truth" in this maxim means emotional truth revealed by a good story.

Unfortunately, a study of real life that really happened very seldom makes a good story at all, because it has no plot or a very weak plot. The person in real life stories is usually a victim suffering a loss.

There is no plot! There is only persecution for being the wrong color, or homosexual, or unattractive, or disabled. Or sexual exploitation or child abuse (or both combined), or discrimination for being born a female.

There is seldom striving to reach a goal that is then triumphantly achieved against all odds: There are thwarted efforts that go nowhere and leave the person sad and disillusioned. There is seldom "justice", Karmic or real, there are seldom puzzles to solve, or mysteries to explore, or a world in danger.

Real life emotional journeys are seldom "big enough" or dramatic enough to make a good story. Some real life murders, revolutionaries, or national-stage or world-stage lives are big enough: MLK, JFK, Thomas Jefferson, Gandhi, Churchill, Al Capone. But we aren't one of them.

My advice has two parts. First, write it out, write everything you feel in the moment, and try to catalog all those feelings and get them on paper (or disk) as best you can. Keep it to yourself.

Second, after getting real life on paper, and realizing there is no plot or arc, see if you can invent one that pleases you. Use your real life experiences to inform a work of fiction, in which a character does triumph against odds, struggles with failures but achieves some successes, and is finally freed of the hardship that plagues them, becomes a victor over them, finds love or success or freedom from persecution.

That is what people want to read. Then, if you DO get it published, you can tell your family (if they bother to buy it): This is a work of fiction, with exaggerations and, by definition, many things that are simply untrue.

Don't read it as my confession or an accusation, it is a novel (or screenplay). The villains are presented as evil without nuance or excuses because the audience you wrote to reach doesn't care for ambiguity. They aren't interested in real life or what really happened and I couldn't slow down my story to explain all sides of every incident. I wanted to write about something I do know something about so that my fiction would be plausible to others that also know something about it. It isn't a documentary.

  • One of the things I like about this answer is that it enables me to take my characters to unrealistic extremes, which I had tried to avoid and now feel much less guilty about. :-) – DPT Feb 11 '18 at 0:02
  • @DPT Many hero stories are unrealistic extremes, even if they aren't aliens (Superman) or mutants (X-Men). IronMan, Batman, James Bond, Kingsmen, many villains, with many of them billionaires (another extreme), mob bosses, serial killers, etc. We traffic in extremes because they are interesting. Even in movies and TV we cast the most beautiful women alive as maids, hookers and housewives. Our TV characters are the world's best Sherlocks, cops, lawyers, hackers, doctors, martial artists and sharpshooters. Nobody will blink twice if some of your characters occupy some extreme or another. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Feb 11 '18 at 0:19
  • Yes. But, science. – DPT Feb 11 '18 at 1:17
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I would definitely write down your feelings in some document or journal. There’s no reason you would ever have to share it with them until you're ready, if ever. Writing is about expressing yourself in one way. And even if you don’t publish this (you don’t have to by any means) you’ll at least have somewhere you can let go of the stress and bottled up emotions.

Also, do try to talk to your family about these feelings. They aren’t intentionally trying to hurt you, but they can’t make the effort to help you if they don’t know/understand the full gravity of the situation.

  • We don't know the intentionality. – DPT Feb 12 '18 at 0:00
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I would normally advise to write it as you think it should be written. It is your artwork, made out of a piece of your most personal experience. Having reached the point that you feel you are ready to share it, you should provide it as it comes most natural to you to tell it. This means writing in the manner, with the style and registry, and with the accuracy of references that you see best fit to your artwork.

However, as this touches something so dear to you that reactions of others are likely to have a profound impact on your feelings, I would rather recommend to re-elaborate your work further. You can turn it into a work of fiction, alter the references to places, times and people, and even some events, which are of secondary importance, can be reshaped to calm down the critics.

It is also important that you are honest with yourself in understanding why you wish to write about it. If it is meant to be a relief from the burden of carrying such experience within yourself, then you can select readers that will be able to understand your history; if it is meant to be for others who may be in your situation now, or have been in your past situation, then these should be your readers too. If it is for everyone, then I'd suggest again to turn it into a work of fiction, even into an allegory if needed, given that the critiques may still be too heavy for your taste.

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It's a tough question any way you slice it. Let me show you how I've written it all out, put it out there, and had the very people that did those things that hurt me read it without them ever understanding it was them and their actions.

First. I write fantasy, though I had my start in fanfiction (still mostly fantasy, but still). So what I do, is I create a character (or characters) that 'do the thing' that I need to write about. Whether in story or the backstory of a character (it doesn't even have to be the main character). Then I let them work through it, or have them struggle through it. Either way, I can show exactly what bothers me, but in a way that makes the characters feel almost disturbingly real.

Examples. In my Naruto Fanfiction, Butterflies, I wrote Aya as as socially inept orphan. She had trouble saying more than a few words before she'd start tripping over them, because she shut the world out since her parents died. I let myself work through my anger at the world through her. But I ramped it up to eleven in an offshoot, Butterflies Solidarity, where she's eternally pissed at the world--blaming them for throwing her away after her parents deaths.

Also in Butterflies Solidarity, Aya works through figuring out her own sexuality, navigates the lows of her depression, and finds purpose in the arms of a woman she never thought she'd see again.

In the Sequel to Butterflies--The Butterfly Effect--I have Aya working through neglect, her own shortcomings, and coming to terms with abandonment issues (having found out her parents weren't dead, but were presented to her as such to keep her from going rogue to find them.

It's cathartic, working through these things with characters being the 'Id' trying to work it all out. And, in doing it in this supposedly roundabout way, the very people that hurt me in the past have read it, and never knew I was talking about them (i.e. their actions, attitudes, and often rejection).

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There are multiple options.

  • Don't.
  • Write a draft, shelve it up somewhere and consider publishing it in 50 years or so.
  • Ask for consent from at least all major characters in the story. (So-oooo not happening.)
  • Use a pseudonym, ideally, also rename the characters. Possibly also combine/split/rearrange the personalities and "clean up" the events, but then it's fiction.

For the last option: many established authors are known to use the autobiographical events in their prose, in most cases it's obfuscated to an absolute irrecognazibility by anyone not familiar with authors situation. To name a foreign-language classic that is quite obviously done like this: "The White Guard".

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