Write what you know. That’s what they always tell us writers. And so we do. Whether we write non-fiction, fiction, or a mix of both, we draw from the world around us to craft our stories for the world.
When it comes to writing slice of life commentary, things get more complicated. We strive for universality, and we respect our friends’ and loved ones’ privacy, so names are often left out. Truth is paramount, but we tend to mix details, drawing bits from here and there to paint a picture. Life is, after all, something of a stream of consciousness, and so that’s how it is written.
The problem for any writer comes when people who know her (or him) begin to read what’s written. The problem comes when people read things not just to read but with a personal agenda, looking to find a piece of themselves inside what has been written.
I’ve written about life for more than a decade now in the newspaper, about things I’ve seen and things I’ve heard, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come upon someone who is personally affronted by something they assume I’ve written about them.
Nine times out of 10, they’re wrong.
We writers write what we know. We writers write about our lives.
We’re narcissists that way.
Unfortunately, our loved ones, our friends, even our acquaintances are even more narcissistic. They read our work trying to parse out what is about this person and that. They assume that a passing relationship will ensure themselves space in our heads and in our words.
We writers don’t have the space to include everyone we know in everything we write. We’re constrained by word counts and page space, by the increasingly short attention spans of today’s readers.
We’d love to wax poetic for pages, to go on and on, but no one wants to read it all, not even the people who love us.
So a word to the wise, from a writer? Next time you read something that just screams “they wrote this about me,” think twice before assuming it’s true. You do know what happens to folks who assume, don’t you?
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