Fair Game?

I’m always writing, even when I’m not writing, perhaps because I have a tendency of seeing my daily life as the breeding ground for material, the great big meeting where I take the notes that I’ll use at some time or other. In my head, I take notes on just about everything: the way a leaf floats on top of the river before getting sucked under the current, the sensation of lip gloss, the strangely warm/cool smell of freshly-turned springtime earth, the careful choreography of flirting. Whether I ever use these notes or not is inconsequential; at least half the time, the notes themselves are more important than anything I have to say anyway.

What I’m mostly recording in my brain, however, is other people. The way they talk (or don’t), the way they move (or don’t), the — okay, you get the point. And then the people I know, well, they’re constantly starring in what I write. Certainly, I try to remove any evidence of this by rigorously rearranging pieces and turning things inside out and upside down before writing anything, but I always wonder, when I’m picking at one relationship or person (or an amalgamation of several of them), why I think I have the right to write any of these things. And whether it’s okay. And if there’s ever a point where it stops being okay. And if that point ever stays the same.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past few weeks, because I have some things I’d like to write, but I don’t know if it’s fair to write them. And for reasons too numerous to list, I can’t ask for permission.

So maybe I’m asking for advice, but I think it’s something that writers have to think about from time to time — where’s the line between fair game and selling someone out? If you share an experience (and you happen to be a writer) does it belong to you? In your own writing, how do decide which things you write and which things you don’t?

19 Responses

  1. It’s a secret…I think the
    It’s a secret…

    I think the real trick is to decide who will see the writing. Words often have an odd power of their own… and a secret shared is a secret divulged.

    However, you can’t always censor yourself for the sake of others. The pain that your views/writings may cause to others may be less than the pain you suffer from holding it in. Writing is often both creation and catharsis… you can’t deny yourself what may be the best therapy.

    For myself, I use writing as a means of contextualizing the world around me. When I do write (which is not very often) it is to take what I see and to probe what it means. Necessarily this involves writing what some might consider to be harsh opinions or truths, but in reality what the paper says literally is merely an attempt to arrive at what I feel personally — they are not always the same thing.

    So… write for you, not to the exclusion of others, but in the way that is best for your needs. Guard your sensitive materials well, if nobody reads them — no one can be certain they were ever written at all.

  2. Change the Names and Write
    Change the Names and Write It!

    Don’t write down anything a member of organized crime tells you nor write about any ongoing or past criminal activities. Tell the cops if you wish.

    Your correspondent would advise you to write whatever you wish to write and don’t use the people’s names.

    Be authentic.

    Don’t live a lie nor write one. You have the license to write whatever you like. If this should push someone over the edge, get a restraining order. If it alienates someone, they’ll get over it. If they don’t, they are too sensitive or were never truly a friend.

    Even if someone told you something in confidence and you used it for a story line, the names are changed. There was no harm done!

    There’s a very long path from finishing a piece to getting it published and no one knows if it will sell. Good luck.

  3. …except, of course, that
    …except, of course, that sometimes, some people will know enough about the story to know, upon reading the material, that the names have been changed, so the subjects’ privacy won’t be respected.

    Personally, I don’t care what people share about me and my personal life, except… well, of course I wouldn’t want my employers or a member of legal authority to know a few things, but generally, i’m not ashamed of who I am or what I do. I readily admit all faults and shortcomings, regardless of the repercussions, unless they could cause me to be fired or arrested, wrongfully, in my opinion.

    Then again, I don’t write with the intent of being published. I write for my personal enjoyment and share it only when I think someone else might enjoy it. I don’t believe in placing a price tag on art. I don’t think people can be bought, and I certainly wouldn’t “push someone over the edge” to better myself in some way.

  4. The privacy is respected.This
    The privacy is respected.

    This disclaimer does it:
    “This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, plots, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”

  5. but:”Don’t live a lie nor

    “Don’t live a lie nor write one.”

    isn’t the disclaimer’s statement that the piece is a work of fiction similar to “writing a lie”? (I wasn’t attempting to quote you there. I used quotation marks to display the iffiness of the term.) I think this discussion is within the realm that the inspiration for the written material is true (and isn’t that where the issue lies?); therefore, isn’t the statement that the written material is fictitious essentially untrue?


    “You have the license to write whatever you like. If this should push someone over the edge, get a restraining order. If it alienates someone, they’ll get over it. If they don’t, they are too sensitive or were never truly a friend.”

    by this you state that, since the subject of the material could possibly be pushed over the edge or alienated, the subject’s privacy might not be respected. Did you state this with the possibility of a disclaimer in mind, or did the sudden idea of a disclaimer change your mind about your original argument in some way?

    I think that, essentially, the real argument comes down to determining who is fit to “own” experiences, shared or not. And if you observe someone else’s experience and choose to write about it (maybe without their permission), is it now your own, such that you can decide whether other parties are privy to the information?

  6. people as pieces of
    people as pieces of humanity

    Flipping back through my pages of writing, I suddenly realize that I’ve always written about other people and how I observe their relationships to me, but I’ve never had to consider the morality of sharing certain pieces of information when I make my writing public. All of my writing is so laden with metaphor that first of all, most people have shown me that they clearly didn’t understand it by giving me incredibly incorrect interpretations; and second of all, one grand effect of my use of metaphor has been the conversion of something purely subjective to something other people can relate to (and they have) much better than if i’d only made it literal and, therefore, too personal, in my opinion. That’s not to say that all of my writing isn’t gut-wrenchingly personal and as open a display of human emotion as I can offer; instead, what I do is illustrate the literal with metaphorical schemes that seem to affect other people in the same ways that my literal material affected me.

    Of course, I could, for example, tell the entire online planet that person x experienced happening y and the personal effect was z, and depending on what the variables represented, I’d have to consider the morality of my decision to share such a thing. However, I’ve never found myself in such a position, because not only are the people obscure, the subject matter itself is obscure. All you get from me is the reason I wrote: an image that communicates the emotional element(s) that inspired the piece.

  7. Yes, what you say is true. I
    Yes, what you say is true. I suppose I could just write everything down quite literally in my journal and call it a day, yet, the ideas that I’ve been turning over and over in my head seem to ask for something more than that (which may just be me being dramatic, I don’t know). Anyway, thanks for your thoughts on this.

  8. I know where you’re coming
    I know where you’re coming from, and typically, when I write something, I come at it from an angle so different from the original that the events and/or people that inspired the writing are basically unrecognizable, because I tend to let things ferment in my memory for so long that by the time I get around to them, very little of their original forms remain. As such, I’ve never really worried about this before. Yet, I’ve been wondering lately about the things that manage to stick around in my head long enough for me to write them, and whether I’m cheating myself out of good material because the gestation period for my ideas is so long. The danger in taking something early, as opposed to waiting for it, is that it becomes harder to come at it from a fresh perspective because everything is still so close. So I end up questioning my loyalties — to others, to my writing, to my own nearly obsessive need for privacy when it comes to things that matter — and wondering which things deserve me more. Because I’m not sure if I can divide everything equally, and I don’t know if there is a right answer in the first place.

  9. In this case, all parties are
    In this case, all parties are already alienated, so it really comes down to whether or not I feel like making things worse. In any case, getting published doesn’t really seem to be one of my problems, so maybe it’s not even an issue in the first place.

  10. amalgamBeen looking for an

    Been looking for an excuse to use that word, “amalgam.”

    Almost everything I write is based on reality in some way. Many of my characters are based on real people – the way they talk, their personality traits, things they have done. But I mix it up a lot. I put one person’s true personality into another person’s true event. My wife’s big, ex-football playing gay cousin is quite pleased that I based my “Mark” character on him, but he was never actually bitten by a baboon, as far as I know. But I do know someone whose neighbor kept a baboon in a cage on their porch, and their parents warned them not to mess with the animal, but they did, and it got out of the cage and chased them. That’s a true story. Of course, I took that little story and embellished it and threw in other weird stuff. So it’s an amalgam of events, conversations, personalities, variations on themes.

    I don’t think I’ve smeared anyone who would recognize they were being smeared. I really don’t worry about it much, either.

  11. LiteratureWhat is real-real?

    What is real-real? What I experience as real and also what others tell they experience as real?

    I write always in context but sometimes not explicitly about my context as I “real” experienced it. And the fact that discourse is context … and who owns it?

    (Maybe I probably hate that someone that I think I know makes a character from what he/she experience that I am but sometimes is inevitable.)

  12. yes, the idea that we have of
    yes, the idea that we have of the others is discurssive yet. so, we must have secure of what we say of the others whithout any fear of going beyond “the limits” because we move inside literature.
    you must be proud of you, because you made me think!!!

  13. Writers understand writersI
    Writers understand writers

    I think everyone writes the people they know, and you’re almost expected to. As far as other people’s experiences are concerned in terms of our writing, I think you can break people down into two groups. One, the friends who really know you and would understand why you write and what your trying to do. I think recognize as a search for something rather than a personal attack. Other people, who know you less well, would begin to understand this, but then, they probably wouldn’t see what you wrote, so who cares.

    The big problem for me is that I basically determine who sees my writing. If at some future date I am fortunate to have large numbers of people see my writing, and people who don’t know me as a writer read me because they know me, then things would get difficult I imagine. Odds are I’ll never have to deal with that, but it’s interesting to consider all the same.

  14. should and proud are not my
    should and proud are not my favourite words denis, but thanks!

  15. You have a good point. Most
    You have a good point. Most of the people who wouldn’t like what you wrote about them would never see it anyway.

  16. I agree with the concept of
    I agree with the concept of amalgamation and I use it in my own writing. My alter ego- Alex-in a couple of stories that I have written is a combination of my own traits and experiences and those of others. As for my other characters- they may not be as thinly disguised as Kerouac’s- but there is still no doubt who they are. Does this make sense?

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