Should I Write a Novel That Would Hurt My Family? Ask Anne

by Anne Wayman

should I write or not?Hi Anne,

I’ve been a song writer most of my life, but over the past year, I have questioned whether or not to begin a novel.

The problem I have is in the event the novel were to be published, it would deeply hurt my mother, father and siblings.

It would be very therapeutic for me though.

Any thoughts?

Brandy, in comments.

Hi Brandy,

Congratulations on writing songs! Neat.




You’re assuming that if you write the novel that would hurt your family it would be published. How about writing it just for yourself, for its therapeutic value and with no intention of letting anyone else, except maybe, a therapist or spiritual counselor read it?

Yes, I have some idea of how tough it is to write a novel, so start with writing the stuff that would be therapeutic for you, only think of it as journaling.

Like many, I’ve found writing about the painful parts of my life often helps me understand what happened and my reaction to it. That can be healing, without a doubt.

If, after this sort of self-examination, you find you still want to write about it in novel form you’ll be in a much better position to decide how much, if any, hurt to your family you’re willing to risk. Your options include:

  • Not writing it for publication at all.
  • Writing for publication but fictionalizing it so there’s no possibility family members will recognize themselves – although be aware that family members are likely to find themselves in any writing you do even when it isn’t about them.


  • Talking with them before you submit the piece for publication – giving them warning as it were.
  • Negotiating with them how much you tell and in what way. This will take deep listening and compassion on your part.
  • Waiting until they’ve passed on.

There are probably other alternatives I haven’t thought of.

By and large, I  think it’s not worth the family agony to publish something you know will be hurtful even if you find it healing.

Write it for yourself. It will inform the rest of your life and and your writing,  probably in a positive way. (And always remember, I am not a therapist – I’ve just lived a long time.)

What experiences and/or thoughts do you have to share with Brandy about writing, publishing and the pain it may cause someone? Let’s talk about it in comments. 

If you’ve got a question about writing, contact me and I’ll do my best to answer it here.

Image: AttributionSome rights reserved by *_Abhi_*

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

DG February 1, 2014 at 8:14 am

Wow, such aversions to someone writing The Truth, as they see it. Lol. The truths in life include ALL: the good, the bad, the ugly. There will always be people – known to us & not – who will loathe our view of truth. I don’t like “shoulds”. Life is best lived less the “shoulds”, as hard as that can be at times! (My “shoulds” & your “shoulds” inclusive.) Rather, it’s much better to suggest, share thoughts & experiences, then leave others to make their own decisions. Many people do realize lots of novels ARE about The Truth! Names & locations are changed for a myriad of reasons. Some novels are pure fiction, others a mix of truth & fantasy & yes indeed, still others are all about The Truth from the author’s perspective. And so yes, this would include those novels which are indeed, someone’s real memoirs. They too obviously had some personal reasons to compose it as “a novel.”And so, MY suggestion – trust your OWN head, heart & gut. When I cannot quite decide which way to go, I then toss it out there, seek answers from the universe via other people, etc.. Then, I may make some pros & cons lists, spend quiet time w/myself pondering, praying, meditating, ultimately arriving at my own decision. If one wants to compose a novel, sharing the truth as one sees it – I say bravo! Follow your own path. Change names, locations, etc., then, carry on! Unless one IS a purely selfish person – it is NOT a purely selfish thing, this cathartic sort of novel, it has the potential to give our universe another venue to help other people. Perhaps others would relate, identify, feel empowered, affirmed, etc., etc.. And so for me, I would check my motives. If I am ok w/them, then I let go of those who will misconstrue. I cannot please all of the people (ever) & it’s neither my job nor my motive as a writer. Not sure about anyone else out there, but for me? I write what I feel called to write & I need no one’s permission to follow through, other than my own. If I am ok w/me & I feel ok w/God – then that is all I need. If I worried about other people feeling hurt, offended, etc., then I would never talk, never share, never be silly, never be endlessly friendly to strangers and… never write anything. It is not possible to be true to one’s self & then, control how others’ feel/think. We are each here to be who we are. I can try all day to not offend another, and still, it is absolutely impossible! Therefore, it is a given: some will like/agree w/my words here & others will dislike/disagree! This is both normal & ok. Best wishes to everyone! Write on! =D

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annew February 1, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Write on for sure, but with family stories it often, imo, pays to be kind and careful.

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Helene Poulakou January 9, 2014 at 5:40 am

My take on this (’cause I felt a similar urge at some point of my life) would be:

Write what you want, what you have inside you, if it’s for therapeutic reasons. Discover your truth, process whatever you think is an obscure, painful situation in your past. Have this for personal use, only.

From this initial memoir, you can later spin off several stories, book-length or shorter, songs, whatever you want — not necesarily exposing the actual actors of your real life story (as Beth suggests). This way, your work won’t be lost and forgotten in a dark drawer.

Another test, that might help you decide what to include and what to omit, is the following question: ‘would it be okay for me’ (notice: not merely comfortable ;) ) ‘to discuss this or that particular point, like face-to-face, with the person concerned or with other persons who know us both?’ If it would seem like gossip or some other form of indiscretion, then don’t.

If healing ourselves involves hurting other people, well… would it really be therapeutic for humanity as a whole?
Helene Poulakou recently posted..Blogging Your Processes, Writing Your BookMy Profile

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annew January 9, 2014 at 7:42 am

Excellent.

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jorgekafkazar January 8, 2014 at 9:33 pm

You talk of a novel, but it sounds like what you’re actually considering is a memoir, something very different. Novels are fiction, though they may be based on disguised real characters and real incidents. A memoir is non-fiction.

The reality is: First novels are very hard to sell. Memoirs are even less marketable. Unless you’re a famous person, your chance of selling either type of manuscript to a publisher is extremely small.

So if your objective is therapy, I’d suggest you save a year or more of effort and just see a good therapist. He/she may recommend journaling, group therapy, etc.

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annew January 9, 2014 at 7:43 am

Chuckling, Jorge… well said.

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Elizabeth West January 8, 2014 at 6:01 pm

I second the journaling exercise. It might be all you need to do. If you still want to write it, you could come up with another story that uses the same emotional journey without hurting anyone’s feelings. But I would try journaling it first, even if just to get your thoughts in order. It seems to me that you’re searching for catharsis here, and that might be enough.
Elizabeth West recently posted..Holy Cats, Someone’s Reading Tunerville! and Other Assorted StuffMy Profile

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annew January 9, 2014 at 7:43 am

Catharsis… good way to put it I suspect.

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Beth January 7, 2014 at 12:45 pm

I think the hallmark of a great writer entails the ability for evoking emotions felt in one’s own life while telling a completely different story. If your novel is merely the retelling of your life then it is really memoir and people who know you will see clearly it is not a fictionalized account. I agree that writing for yourself is of the first importance – then decide if you want to try to publish. Writing is extremely difficult and in completing a manuscript you will have accomplished much. You could opt for memoir – an excellent book about memoir writing is Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainier – she describes the various styles of memoirs, some of which may suit your needs by helping you choose only what is necessary and omitting what’s not. (That way it’s about you, not them!) Good Luck!
Beth recently posted..Fishing in Wiscasset Bay, pastel of an egret by Beth LowellMy Profile

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annew January 7, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Good distinctions and suggestions, Beth – thanks.

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