How to Write Non-Fiction & Keep Your Friends

Allison VesterfeltThis guest post is by Allison Vesterfelt. Allison is a writer, managing editor of Prodigal Magazine and author of Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage (Moody, 2013). She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband Darrell. You can follow her daily on Twitter or Facebook.

In a few months I’m releasing my first book, a memoir titled Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage. One of the difficulties I encountered while writing was: how am I supposed to tell my story in an honest way, while still protecting the people and relationships involved?

I don’t think I’m alone in this dilemma.

keep your friends

Photo by Vinoth Chandler

Many writers have a story they feel inclined to tell, but keep it to themselves because they think, “My mother would never speak to me again if I wrote this,” or “I would ruin that person’s reputation.” The thought of altering the truth to appease concerned parties, or speaking the truth in spite of potential chaos, both seem unacceptable sacrifices, so the story sits hidden for decades.

While I admit it hasn’t been easy to find a way to tell my story honestly, while protecting all of the relationships involved, I am also the first to say it is worth it. It has actually made me a more humble, more honest writer.

Here are a few “techniques” I’ve used.

1. Change names.

Anytime you are writing a memoir, you are dealing with real people and real incidents. For that reason, my publisher made it clear to me from the beginning that I would have to receive legal permissions from any “character” I chose to give his or her real name.

Since there were some “characters” I knew would not provide this permission (or with whom I simply had no contact) I changed names and identifying factors to protect their identities. This solution isn’t simple enough to protect every relationship (it doesn’t matter if you change your mom’s name, for example, she’ll still know you’re talking about her) but I was able to use this strategy to protect a few characters without sacrificing the integrity of my story.

2. Focus on yourself.

Since the book is a memoir, I tried to focus on myself more than I did on other people. That means, when I shared about arguments or misunderstandings, I tried to take the approach any psychologist would recommend in real life. I try to talk about me instead of them.

“I felt lonely” instead of “He abandoned me.”

I share personal details about a romantic relationship gone wrong, for example. While I could have taken this as my perfect opportunity to air every grievance I had against this particular person, instead I tried to focus on my own fault in the situation (which was plenty). I believe this is the more mature route, in writing as well in life.

I tried to give every character in my story the benefit of the doubt.

3. Alter details.

Sometimes changing names and identifying factors wasn’t enough to protect the identities of the people I was writing about, so I had to play with the details a little. This can get fuzzy, because I also have a high value of telling the truth, but I think there is a way to keep your message in tact while artfully shaping details to protect delicate friendships and relationships, or the identities of those who haven’t given permission.

A few examples of this might be:

  • Sharing a conversation with a friend as if it happened with a stranger
  • Changing the time period, or location of an event
  • Altering the outcome of a particular incident (when the outcome doesn’t impact the meaning you’re communicating)

4. Leave stuff out.

Sometimes, with some details, it’s just best to leave it out.

There are no hard and fast rules behind this, and I think we have to be careful not to hide our stories because we’re afraid of how people will react, but as a general rule of thumb I am learning to leave details out when they are distracting to the reader, are in some way unhelpful, or cannot be verified by the memory of myself or others (in that final case, it might be appropriate to try telling the story in a different way).

As writers we have a responsibility and a privilege to use our platform not to shame people, or embarrass them, but to love them.

We have to balance that very gently with telling the truth.

What story have you been keeping to yourself because you’re protecting the people in it? How can you use these techniques to tell it?

PRACTICE

Write for fifteen minutes about a something that really happened to you, without revealing any of the people or places involved. Try to keep all other details the same.

When your finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to comment on a few posts by other writers.

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  • annepeterson

    Great post Allison. Very helpful. I guess I would have thought if I changed names, changed details, and left some stuff out of my story, is it still my story? And yet, I see the value in what you said. And it certainly isn’t worth lost relationships to keep everything letter perfect.

    • It’s definitely difficult, and there is no recipe to follow. I think you have to find a balance between telling things the way they happened (not fudging the details) and being graceful… much much easier said than done. But, yes, if you change too many things it would cease to be your story.

      Thank you for your comment.

  • Erika Simone

    Thank you so much for these tips. I’ve often thought about this dilemma and wasn’t sure how to deal with it. It’s great to hear how someone else did it.

  • Great thoughts, Allison. I grew up in a far-from-perfect home; the lessons I learned through disappointment and crisis are legion. Auto-biographical accounts can be difficult, and I’ve been struggling with how to incorporate very recent lessons in the workplace into my blogging. It’s a delicate balance between withholding certain details and capturing the depth of the issue you’re trying to relate.

    Something left a little uncovered here is the impact on the author him/herself. Digging up painful experiences can be…well, painful. Writers have to be careful of the impact of our work on everyone involved, including friends and family as well as ourselves.

    I wrote an exercise, but locked it away; I’m practicing tip number 4. 🙂 Sometimes, this exercise can be as much a therapeutic exercise as an opportunity to share.

    • Good for you Justin. Yes, the word that comes to mind with what you’re saying here is discernment. You have to engage your mind and your heart to guide you through relationships, and writing, both. It’s not about sacrificing one completely for the other. It’s about finding grace and balance. The struggle isn’t easy, that’s for sure, but as we seek balance I think it makes us better people and better writers. Thank you for sharing. This is a thoughtful, helpful comment.

    • JacHeart

      I’ve also recently struggled with the idea of sharing something personal on my blog, because a lot of my family reads it. I like the idea of locking a story away. I can always share it later, if I’d like.

      • Some stories might not ever be shared. During a particularly dark time in my life, I kept a journal of short stories and essays. I wrote neither to refine my skill nor in hopes of publishing my work. I wrote for myself.

  • gordy

    There is a story I have been working on that is “largely autobiographical”. It draws on some specific details from my history but, there are some details that I have changed in keeping with #1 and #4. How much is too much when changing details in a story that those who have experienced it with you will recognize? For example, there is a character in my history who had a breakdown quietly behind the scenes. Do I enter a literary no-go zone if that incident is portrayed as a suicide attempt to move the story forward?

    Thank you for this article Allison. I really appreciate you sharing your wisdom!

    • Gordy — I’m not sure I can speak with authority without knowing all the details, but my gut tells me that, especially if the people involved would recognize the story, the change to suicide would border on dishonest.

      Again, I don’t want to shut you down, especially since I’m not an authority on the subject, and I haven’t read your story. Maybe ask a few other writers what they think and weigh the responses. If you decide the changes is too drastic, experiment with other ideas to communicate the message you’re trying to get across.

      Thanks for your question. Anyone else have thoughts about this?

      • Thanks for your honesty. My guts must have been talking to your guts. I liked what you said to annepetersen about it possibly ceasing to be your story if altered too heavily.

        Personal non-fiction is a bit of a tightrope isn’t it!

  • Julie

    While I appreciate the loving and sensitive spirit of this advice, I have to disagree, or rather, modify this. Authenticity doesn’t always have to come at the expense of other people, but changing, altering, skipping, details or the impact of an experience to protect feelings is not always possible. Consider Salman Rushie and his book Midnight’s Children. While it was fictional, many believe, and he has admitted, that it largely reflects his childhood growing up in India. It was not flattering to his father, an alcoholic, or his mother, who he subtly accuses of adultery. He has spoken of this in interviews many times, and he was honest with his parents about what he said. His father didn’t speak to him for years. His mother was not offended. But in the end, he wrote a gripping, real, and much lauded story about India and its cultural history, wrapped in his own personal experience. He’s not the only writer to have talked about what we put in and what we keep out (see anything by Henry James or Virginia Woolf), but I think this advice would be better balanced with the admission that sometimes, to be real, we either write nothing at all or write it all and be prepared to take the consequences. Perhaps the best way is to prep your family or friends, or whomever, by giving them access to what you’ve written before it’s published.

    • Julie — Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is one of my all-time favorite novels, and I’m a huge fan of Virgina Woolf as well. I’m not suggesting that we should alter or ignore the difficult parts of our stories to “save face” or “protect people.” Some of the best, most life changing novels I’ve read — fiction or non-fiction — are those that are willing to be honest, even when it’s hard. That’s why I share (on my blog) about the childhood sexual abuse I experienced. I believe sharing my story rescues people from keeping their own secrets.

      I can see now how this could come across as a call to “protect everyone involved” but that wasn’t what I was going for. I guess I was calling us to write with maturity and integrity, and to be creative with how to stay connected with good-hearted people who are close to us and don’t have the choice (like we do, as the writer) to share their dirty laundry with the world.

      Thank you for your comment. Really helpful to help us clarify this conversation! Appreciate you taking the time to read and share.

      • Rebecca Klempner

        I like how you say you want to remain “connected with good-hearted people who are close to us and don’t have a choice…to share their dirty laundry.” I think your suggestion at #2–which I hadn’t thought of before–is a great step towards this goal.

  • Julia Whitmore

    I was recently at a workshop where the same question came up. A couple memoirists noted that often after a book is published, people aren’t all that unhappy to see themselves in it, even if it’s in an unflattering light. Still, everyone agreed, sometimes you have to choose between the story and potentially hurting someone you care about. I loved what the moderator said — “The radical and daring, the jump off the cliff, is the only place where stories come from. It’s going to hurt. Be ready. The page will hold you.”

    Glad to read your responses to the comments. My take from your original post was that you were in favor of dumbing down a story to protect the subjects, but your responses cleared that up. Thanks —

    • Wow, that’s beautiful Julia. Thank you so much for sharing.

      I love what you said, “you have to choose between the story and potentially hurting someone you care about.” That strikes me as really important. It IS a choice, and like with any choice, no one can tell you which is right for you, and for your story. Sometimes the “right” choice IS to tell the story in a way that hurts someone, or alienates them. Sometimes the “right” choice is to be more gentle, and protect…

      I’m so thankful for this conversation because it has me thinking… articulating better what I’m trying to say… and considering it from all different angles. This is how we learn and grow and become better writers, so thank you for joining the conversation!

  • That challenge was not comfortable for me. I clearly don’t do well in the first person and in being so open. All my delight in words went out of the window. But at least I did it.
    …………………………………………………………………………………………
    It was the white trousers. I had put them on in the morning with such pride – a size smaller than I’d been wearing for years. I’d customized the festival t-shirt as well – trying to look original. Honestly, it did look good and, unlike most of the other times I’d thought this, I was confident I wasn’t fooling myself. My hair was doing the right thing for once and I turned up to do my shift hoping I would turn heads.

    I walked up to the staff office to clock on and get my I.D pass. One of the girls behind the desk (always perfectly turned out) actually did a double take and deigned to comment on how great I’d made the t-shirt look. I flicked my hair and said a cool, “Thanks,” like it was just an every day thing. Still smiling at her I bent to write my name on the log when I felt a brush of lips on my exposed shoulder and stared into the brown eyes of one of the competitors. He was handsome but I wasn’t about to play the part of a blushing teenager and I raised my eyebrow at his impertinence and flounced off. I couldn’t deny, though, that he’d made me feel good. It had created a fluttery feeling in my stomach.

    As I walked down the track towards my stand, a handful of men, the bloom of exertion on their cheeks and the sheen of water still on their hair, strode to pass me. Normally, I’d have been self-conscious and would have studiously ignored them; this time I was going to meet them eye-to-eye. It was then that I felt the sharp pain in my lower abdomen and the bud of wetness seep from between my legs. The jolt of horror must have shown on my face as they covered the remaining distance between us and stared full at me, while the fan of scarlet threaded its way across the pristine front of my pure, white trousers.

    • Rebecca Klempner

      This may not have been comfortable to write about, but you did a good job–and I think every woman can identify with your horror. Isn’t that feeling of mutual experience one of things we look for in a personal essay?

      • Thanks. I’m glad it wasn’t a total fail! I do like being honest. I’m just not use to be open about myself. But as you say, we are often in the same boat.

        • Mirelba

          well done, Kelly. And as Rebecca says, I think most women can identify 😉

    • I agree with Rebecca. This is beautifully written. I love the way you start with “It was the white trousers.” Such a gripping entry into the story, and a perfect foreshadowing of what comes later.

      Thank you for sharing, and for trying this exercise, even though it wasn’t comfortable!

      • Everyone is so polite on this board. No savaging of an embryonic writer, here! Thanks for the challenge and the encouraging words.

        • Rebecca L

          Hahaha, you spoke too soon … I actually disagree with Ally, I felt like the white trousers already told the story, I read it, knowing full well what was going to happen next. I would have saved the white trousers until later.

          • Yes, I can see your point. It does set the reader up for the scenario, so that could be a little patronising -like a Columbo episode. However, there is also the delight in presenting a idea of an potential outcome and allowing the reader to writhe in the discomfort of the expected, as in the prologue of a tragedy. It’s about gauging when it’s acceptable to forewarn. Clearly, opinion is divided!

          • Kelly – lol. It’s fun to see the differing opinions individuals have when reading a story. I had no idea you were leading up to the specific embarrassment you experienced, and even once I read that, I had to double back and look at your opening sentence. I feel too like it was a clever way to open your story. Although it was just a short story, I felt drawn in and eager to see what would happen next.

            Do you have a blog? I’d love to see more of your writings.

  • Mirelba

    Interesting topic. Sometimes sensitive situations are easier to deal with in fiction, since we can be true to the situation and emotions while changing identifiable bits. I wrote the following, changing all details about what prompted my introspection so as not to be killed or even just cold-shouldered…

    Reading is an all engrossing adventure for me. My general reading style is to pick up a
    book on Friday, once I’m done with my work for the week, and read it straight
    through. Saturday morning I’m usually
    ready to devour my next book. After the weekend,
    I generally try to avoid new books, because I know that once I start, nothing will
    get done at home or at work until I’ve reached the last page.

    However, a recent trip to the library, reminded me that it
    wasn’t always this way. At the library I
    overheard a child, who appeared to be about 8 or 9 years old, arguing with her
    mother about a library book. The girl
    wanted to take out a book that her mother thought she wasn’t ready for. The child insisted she wanted to read the
    book she chose, her mother insisted that she first demonstrate her readiness to
    read that book by finishing several easy staged reading books. It brought back memories of my own early
    reading stages.

    My mother is fond of reminding me that present habits aside,
    as a young child I did not particularly enjoy being read to. Although she began taking me to the library
    at a young age–and I do remember loving both my weekly trips to the library
    and my time browsing the library’s bookshelves–I had little patience for
    hearing the books read. The only book
    that I really loved, and wanted to hear over and over again, was Richard
    Scarry’s ” Naughty Bunny,” a
    character with which I strongly identified.
    All these years later, and that book still brings a smile to my face.

    Then first grade came. I was seated in the second row of desks, where
    I learned all my ABC’s, and became familiar with Dick and Jane, their mother
    and father, their sister Sally and let’s not forget their dog, Spot. When spring came, the teacher divided our
    class into “Robins” and “Blue Jays.” My seat in the second row was now among the 6
    rows that comprised Robin territory. Perhaps I was bored. Perhaps I did not find “See Spot. See Spot run.
    Run, Spot, run!” especially stimulating. But whatever the reason, I was moved to the
    middle of the last 2 rows–which were now Blue Jay territory–and seated next to
    a new immigrant from South America who spoke little English.

    It was late May that I finally found my wings. A 2-day holiday was coming up, with no
    swimming and no television. Before the
    holiday, my mother took me and my brother to the library. As usual, she let me browse the shelves and
    choose any book I wanted. I chose Frank
    Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”
    It was a case of love at first sight, or maybe I should say, love from first
    page. Once I began that book, I was so
    mesmerized that I was unable to put it down.
    I do not remember how my mother got me to put the book down at night to
    go to sleep. I DO remember bringing the
    book with me to the table for all my meals and reading while I ate whatever was
    on my plate. By the time the holiday was
    over, I had finished all 300 plus pages of that book and transformed my
    life.

    It is not just that one little blue jay learned to fly, but
    that that little blue jay learned the power of reading: How a good back can transport you to other
    worlds and open your mind to new experiences; how a book can teach you all
    manners of things, and in fun ways too.

    My mother never tried
    to guide my reading selections. She let
    me make my own choices and learn all on my own what was good, and what was
    worthy. Over the years, I did choose
    some books that weren’t worth the time I spent reading them. And I also chose books, occasionally, that I
    was too young to appreciate at the time.
    But reading books that weren’t worth the read helped teach me the
    difference between good and bad both in terms of writing and content. And reading books that I was not mature
    enough to appreciate- well, I went back to some of them later and enjoyed them
    all the more for realizing that it was I and not the book that had
    changed.

    I am not against guiding children, in fact I’m all for
    it. Buy them good books to
    treasure. Tell them classic tales that
    you enjoy. But also allow them to follow
    their hearts. They may surprise you– and
    then you can discover the joy of watching them soar.

    • jennastamps

      I enjoyed hearing your experience about how you fell in love with reading. Incidentally, my daughter just discovered the same Wizard of Oz books this month and has been crazy about them. If you’ve never seen the movie “Return to Oz”, you should–it features a lot of the additional characters from those books that the “Wizard of Oz” movie doesn’t include :). Great job on your writing here! You had me intrigued with your conflicts and your success.

      • Mirelba

        Thanks, Jenna. Oh yes, once I finished the first book, I read the whole series. I guess I’ll have to look up “Return to Oz”, I missed that one.

    • ” I DO remember bringing the book with me to the table for all my meals and reading while I ate whatever was on my plate. By the time the holiday was over, I had finished all 300 plus pages of that book and transformed my life.”

      I can so identify with this! I also couldn’t fall asleep at night because I was always reading. Thank you for sharing your story.

      • Mirelba

        When I was a little older, I used to hide my current book under my pillow with a flashlight and read after my mother had turned the lights out. It was only years later that my mother confessed that she knew I was secretly reading till way past my bed time.

        It’s the second paragraph of the writing that had to be totally changed from reality to protect the people involved.

  • This is very timely! I have been pondering this question a lot recently. I also find it hard that some friends feel rejected because I am sharing stuff on my blog that I haven’t told them in ‘real life’ – but I would tell them in real life if I had seen them that morning and if they had asked me. It is one of those peculiar paradoxes that writing honestly in memoir or blog can bring you closer and generate friendships with complete strangers whilst simultaneously alienating those who should know you better.

    Thanks for this – great piece! P.s. massive fan of Prodigal!

    • Tanya — I totally get that! I’ve run into the same issue. Sometimes I’ve shared things on my blog and people have told me later they were hurt by the fact I didn’t share with them first… It’s good to know because it helps me do it differently in the future, but I also can’t keep everyone from getting hurt every time… it’s too much to manage. Yet another tough balance to strike as a writer!

      Glad you like Prodigal! Thanks for telling me!

      • I am so glad it’s not just me!
        On the plus side, whenever I feel frustrated that there are family and friends who should understand me but really don’t seem to get me at all, I have discovered a whole tribe of people who do get it, and are grateful that I’m talking my life out.
        I’ve really enjoyed reading the replies and discussions on here – thanks for taking the time to do it.

  • jennastamps

    I have a few questions for you because I’m writing my own memoir right now, but I wonder if there is another source I should read for all of the “legal” rules and such so I don’t miss anything. Do you have a source you would recommend? Here are a few of my questions though, if you don’t mind helping…
    -Would I need to get legal permission if I just use someone’s real first name only, omitting the last name?
    -If I mention a real person in my story but don’t make them a “character” (like when I told the story of my first celebrity crush as a young person), would I need to change their name for that?
    -How do you know if you’re giving too many details about a person? If I’m telling a story about a certain high school friend, and I change his name, but our mutual high school friends (and only them) would know who I’m talking about, would that matter?

    -Lastly, what constitutes “legal permissions”? Would an email suffice, where I say “Here is the segment of my story where you are mentioned–do you mind if I use your real name?” and they reply “Sure, that’s fine.”?

    Thanks for your post!

    • Thanks for your questions Jenna! I’m sure others have wondered similar things. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I’ll tell you what I know.

      1. First, if you keep the first name and identifiable features of the person (personality, location, physical features, etc.) you may need to obtain legal permissions. Publishing companies are basically trying to protect themselves from getting sued by someone who says, “Hey, that didn’t happen like that!” or “I never gave the author permission to share that information with the world!”

      2. I’m sure you can mention a celebrity crush without permission.

      3. Again, I would ask yourself the question — when this person reads the book are they going to know (beyond a doubt) I’m talking about them? Are they going to care? Might they sue me and/or my publisher? If so, you might want to consider altering a few more details, just so you’re protected.

      4. I think legal permissions is a written agreement, which means an e-mail would suffice. But if you are working with a publisher, you should talk directly to them about what they want, because it might be different.

      Hope that helps!

      • jennastamps

        That really helps, thanks! Looks like I have some adjusting to do. I’m glad I know how now! Thanks.

  • Steve Stretton

    This may be recognisable to those who know me, but not I hope to those who don’t.

    She handed me the letter. I knew in my heart what was in it but I still had to read it. I had had warning enough, three months warnings in fact, but still the word “Terminated” felt like a kick in the guts. I had done my best, I had changed my work habits to fit their schedules, I had tried everything to make it work. I felt they were being unreasonable, I knew I was not the only one struggling. Still, I was the one chosen.

    What made it worse was that I was quite fond of her. Not a crush or anything, just a respect and feeling of friendship. Now she had had to do what she had to do. I wonder what she felt when she wrote the letter and gave it to me.

    It’s been six months now and I wonder if any of them think of me, as I do them. Officially I’m retired, but I still feel a bit lost without them. They were my family away from home and while the work was a cause of stress, it did give purpose to the day.

    So I sit and write when I can, go out to lunch at the local cafe and occasionally wonder what has happened to them all. I have no hard feelings, just disappointment and feeling a bit lost still.

    • There is a bleakness to this piece that is completely suited to the narrator’s emptiness. It makes the reader feel the sense of the narrator’s abandonment but also the wider issue of men and their relationship, for what of a better term, with work. Very interesting. Reminds me of so many men and women in semi or enforced retirement. Thanks for your honesty.

      • Steve Stretton

        Thanks Kelly, I am constantly reminded of another colleague who was forced into retirement many years ago. He wasn’t coping with his job either. The parallels are eerie. I always remember him. As a man, work is so important to us for a variety of reasons. It offers safe relationships, a sense of purpose and also a sense of worth.

    • Thank you so much for sharing, Steve. My favorite part is when the narrator wonders what the boss felt as she wrote the note and handed it to him. I think that makes good non-fiction as much as it does good fiction — the ability to see situations from multiple perspectives. It makes the story seemed so much more balanced than it would if it was just a narrator ranting and raving about being “let go” unfairly.

      Thank you for writing.

      • Steve Stretton

        Thanks Ally, I tried to be dispassionate about it all but find I’m still affected by it. It can’t be easy to let go someone you’ve worked with for four years. The balance was not easy but I felt it was necessary.

    • JacHeart

      I like how objective you were able to maintain throughout an obviously emotional experience. If you wonder about them, why not write them a letter or email?

  • These are really great tips. I still haven’t quite convinced myself that the story I’m holding back is ready for public consumption. There are too many other stakeholders, too many other people who were hurt, and I’m not ready to write until I know I can do it in a way that honors them.

    How’s that for a teaser?

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    • That’s a great teaser! And mature perspective. Sometimes I think we’re most ready to tell a story well when we can see it from many perspectives….

  • Sela Toki

    For this very reason I have been sitting on the memoir I wrote a couple years back. Indecisive whether to proceed knowing full well it will offend and hurt some of the characters that are included in it. Thank you for the enlightening post. Now I have to go back and rewrite.

    • I’m so glad it was helpful Sela! Hope your memoir gets published someday.

  • Laura

    #2 is a great bit of advice, not just in writing but in life in general. Not that you must blame everything on yourself to avoid hurting the other person’s feelings — but learning to take a more mature perspective is definitely the right thing to do.

    • Agreed, Laura. It’s difficult to find the balance between taking all the blame, and passing it all to someone else. Finding that balance (or at least getting close) is the mark of maturity.

      • Honestly, given my background, I’d have no idea how to find that balance. When you’re brought up feeling like everything is your fault, how do you even start trying to find that balance?

  • Awesome advice!

  • e g

    lady#1 How could you be so naive? lady#2 But he was so nice….. lady#1 NICE does not mean GOOD ! This antecdote is in responce to the reference that one should speak of his or her participation in allowing one’s negative experience . 🙂

  • JacHeart

    In the fifth week of my new position as “Director”, I was confident, excited, and maybe a little over-prideful. I had passed the initial tricky hurdles or a probationary period, meeting revenue expectations, and transitioning the staff into a new mindset. I was at the point where I’d shared my accomplishment, I’d celebrated my early success, and I’d even offered sharing sessions with others who had recently accepted promotions or new careers. I was on a “successful beginning” high! I even thought of starting a club for the young people I knew to meet and share success stories, advice, questions, and even complaints. I thought I could be great support to others in my situation! I was floatin’ on a cloud! My biggest jolt of joy came when my first paycheck hit my bank account. What a feeling to see a number more than double my previous deposits! I felt accomplshed. Now, I wasn’t just floating on a cloud, I was bathing in the luxurious cotton feel of a cloud and sippin’ on sunshine! Until I felt a raindrop. A heavy, dull thud on the tender curve of my cheek. One of my friends lost their promotion during their probationary period. What a theft, I thought. She hadn’t been expecting a promotion, but she was as mentally and emotionally prepared for the position as the person who had previously been in the position! She hadn’t prepared the employees under her for a trantition, though; she was their winding mechanism that enabled them to run like clock work. As soon as she was gone, they stopped ticking. In the interest of the company as a whole, it was decided that she would resumer her old position. Her promotion hadn’t come with a raise and the offer to prepare her staff and transition at a later date had been made, but the loss was still heavy. She had felt as though the unexpected offer had bigger meaning, was a sign, held a promise. Another raindrop hit me with a cold splash and a startle when a friend was laid off after being promoted. She was offered a raise and promotion near the end of the year, but new budgets in January called for extreme measures at her company. As if the devastation of losing her excitement of a new opportunity and losing all expected income (even her regular salary that she ahd grown accustomed to) wasn’t enough, she was also required by contract to complete a final two weeks as you would if you chose to leave. She had to return to that office daily to be of use to them even after they “no longer needed her”. Although neither incident really affected my personal life, I was taken aback by my friends’ let downs and I felt a twinge of guilt with my own recetn treasure still rewarding me. I was shocked that something chosen to be given to a hand-seleced person could so easily be labeled as a mistake. I was guilty of being no more worthy than them of acquiring success and accomplishments. I was also guilty of being a new career zealot who galloped atop raw loss by constantly asking about new careers and offering unsolicited advice. Imagine how I felt: offering to buy an expensive, overpriced, brand-name planner for a friend, only to receive a text saying that it wouldn’t be necessary and that she’d explain more later. Ouch, I sure kicked a dead horse there! I thought about the commonground we no longer shared and I have to admit that I mourned the loss of my newly born ideas and plans, but I was more concerned about my friends’ hearts left with a huge void where a new, life-changing adventure should’ve begun. The sadness and loss around me encouraged so much thankfulness for my own gain, but also so much sympathy for those not as lucky and blessed as I was at the moment. I couldn’t believe the conflict I felt, knwoing my blessings and knowing their curses.
    *Note: This is actually about my healthy pregnancy and my 2 friends’ miscarriages. I took the advice to change the details in order to share something that, otherwise, would be too obvious. My friends won’t end up on this site, so I feel comfortable sharing this info. here, but I could definitely use this story on my blog to describe my own sadness in the situation.

    • Thank you for sharing with such depth. As a Funeral Director, I often console young couples who have lost a child before birth. It’s the hardest thing I do. While others are saying “You’re young; there’s time to try again,” these friends of yours need comfort and love and the acknowledgment of their grief.

      It can be tempting, too, to sink into guilt and avoid talking about your children with these friends or inviting them over lest they see the baby stuff and get broken-hearted. But I would encourage you, when these friends are ready, to invite them into your home, allow them to spend time with your child(ren). It may be difficult at first, but it will provide them with a measure of healing that they might not anticipate.

      Now I’m off on a tangent! Great writing; great insight!

      • JacHeart

        Thank you for all the great advice! I really did struggle with whether or not to continue sharing my own pregnancy with them because I didn’t want to hurt them, but they’ve both openly shown excitement for me and have continued to heal. Thanks, again, for the advice!

  • Peter

    I am writing a non-fiction book about 6 months spent in India teaching in the slums. I am not defaming anyone and only reporting facts (as seen through my eyes, of course but I’ve been told it’s very objectively presented) but there is one main character who doesn’t necessarily shine in the book because of some of her actions. Without changing all names and places, is it possible/practical to just change the name of this one character? I’d love to be able to keep the names of the main characters and the children if I could and just disguise this one person. Thanks,

  • Carolyn Rose Stiles

    I have a couple questions about a book that I am writing. It’s a book about my life involving bulling and abuse. I obviously am not able to ask permission to use the main abuser’s name however, I plan on not using my name but a pen name and no names are used in the book. My question is, if the person mentioned picks up the book or it takes fight and I end up in the public eye, would I still be covered? If not what can I do to still get my word out but keep my family and I protected?

  • Casey Lee Anderson

    This is why most people just leave out the details of the characters and the character’s name in question.

  • Casey Lee Anderson

    like instead of saying an actual name, just my crushes if it’s a specific gender/sex, say stuff like this: my girl crush followed by what you want to say or the opposite of that sentence.

  • Bonnie McConaughy

    I’m writing a memoir, and trying to figure out how to add information about my stepdad as needed for it, without offending him because he is sure to read it. I care about him and know he’s done his best along the way, but this information is also pertinent to my story and how he went about parenting affected me negatively when I was younger. So I’m struggling with that a bit.