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Do you Own Your Memories? #writing

By 22/11/2014writing

Writing about family. Always a dangerous topic. Someone, I don’t remember who, said that writers should write like orphans, like they have no family– that the family they belong to isn’t theirs.

I’ve written about my family, once or twice, and the reaction of those who read it has been, “But that’s not what happened! She’s twisted it up! How dare she?”

What they don’t realize is writing is its own truth– each story has its truth, and it has no relationship to facts, and what are facts, after all. Things happen, and depending on who saw them happen, you have different perspectives.

History is littered with perspectives, mostly those of the winners. I write sometimes from the loser’s perspective, from the point of view of ‘wrong’ (what’s right or wrong, anyway? who decides what’s right?).

I read this post today, and I’m reblogging it because it gives a perspective different from mine — You own everything that happened to you.

To me, I own nothing, from the clothes on my back to the stories I write– one day all of this would be ashes and dust, and not even a memory of me would remain.

What do you think? Do You own your memories? Do you write about your family? Would you be hurt if your family members wrote about you?

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • tuhinmech says:

    Though I never got the chance to write about any of my family members, but I like this view. Never thought from this perspective.

  • “… each story has its truth, and it has no relationship to facts …” Indeed. Nice to discover your blog. Very inspiring. 🙂

  • Zambian Lady says:

    I do not write negative things about my family because I know the pain it would cause and I love them too much for that. Also, what would I gain if I wrote negative hurtful things about them, even if those things are true? My mother always said “do not fight with your siblings outside the house because others will egg you on to fight more since they do not care about you. They want the entertainment your fight will provide them with.” It is on that basis that I would not write about my loved ones/want to start a public feud with them.

  • I have written about my family, but don’t share. I don’t want anyone mad at me and my feelings. So many people, growing up, told me what to do and how to feel. Now writing about my experiences helps me sort what is mine and what I took on from others. What I experienced was my story, not theirs. I’m sure if they told their own story it would be completely different…and we’d both be right. Thanks for stopping by my blog and liking one of my posts. Be blessed today as you go forth into your adventure of a new day. Meghan

  • Writing about family is a tough one. It’s not “safe” as it were. If I ever do write about family, I think I’d probably change it up enough so no one would recognize it, and then it would be a work of fiction anyway.

  • sweta biswal says:

    When we write about our family, we do it from a personal perspective but the other person may be thinking from a different view point, so we might not be able to do justice to them….but I agree that it takes a lot of guts and some degree of aloofness to write about the grey stuff in one’s family…..but yes if we all can write like orphan’s, it would be great

  • Ah, beautiful enough they are, memories. Talking about the authentication of one’s memory, and the liable side to it, it has been a scientific fact that ‘each’ time you recall something, it depletes a part of your memories, thus explains why you can’t rely on a single side of truth. Then again, its mere perspective, that defines everything. Memories, I have an old friend in them.

  • sarusinghal says:

    I don’t write about my family. If I do, mostly good things. As you said – history is littered with the winner’s perspective. Guess, we all have an inkling towards reading good things. Sad stories are interesting only when written by others. However, that’s true writing when you write what you feel.

  • ekpreston says:

    I love discussions on writing about family and memories. Your post was a very interesting read, and it really reminded me of the work that Mary Clearman Blew has done on memory and how reliable (or unreliable) it can be.

  • D.G.Kaye says:

    We live our lives and perceive the memories as we remember them. Each member will undoubtedly recall their own version. 🙂

  • writing is its own truth– love that!

  • AlleyStories says:

    This is a good read. One of the few posts where I’ll actually read twice just to ponder and ask myself questions. You need not write stories according to the experiences. Stories are meant to be entertaining, dramatic, meaningful. Changing certain details of a story seems fine. After all, stories are created from your perspective. Your imaginations. Your memories are the inspirations.

  • LadyPinkRose says:

    I avoid writing about family. As my rule. There are so many other great things to write about and I do just that. Great post and I really thank you. I enjoyed it. Love, Amy

  • My husband, Daughter and I were talking about this just a few days ago. Some things I remember, they don’t. Same with each of them. Since there are only the three of us in the family you’d think there would be overlap but each of us has distinctive memories of things that happened while daughter was growing up that neither of the other two remember.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I appreciate it.

    • I found this to be very interesting. I am new to this blog and am quite unorganized but can recall things most of my family cannot. I intend to use it anyway since I am working on autobiography. One thing’s for sure, you can’t stop anyone from reading your work once you’ve put it out there. I absolutely love the fact that I own everything that has happened to me. I will write it as I please! Thank You.

  • I sometimes think that my novel will only get written once all my family are dead & gone! No one to offend then.?

  • Eivor B. says:

    In theory, we own our own stories and memories, but still… I’d feel bad about “outing” close, personal relationships and I know my family would be upset if I did, so I don’t write about that. I would probably be upset myself.

    But like similarly mentioned by others here, I use the emotions and experiences I know for all they’re worth in fictional and completely different settings. Actually, it feels like these emotions and experiences might be easier for others to relate to and thereby serve a better purpose if I use them in stories that aren’t “all about me”.

  • Thank you for liking “November Skies.” Interesting post! 🙂 I rarely write about my family, and I am careful about sharing family memories. I ask myself, “Will my family mind if other people will know about this experience?” If I think they will mind, I get uncomfortable about the thought of making them uncomfortable, and I will not write about it.

    I do not know if other family members are bloggers or writers, but I hope they will have the same consideration when they write about me.

  • hashbrownn says:

    Great post Damyanti, Keep up the great work!
    I’m pleased you visited my blog.

  • krissnp says:

    Well written post Damyanti. Your words survive you however. So say them well.

  • casblomberg says:

    Great post! I do write about my family sometimes. If I write about my past is a different story. My sister passed away recently and I haven’t written much at all since I received the news. My last two posts skimmed the surface of our past. I probably will write more. One day.

    I keep telling my husband that the problem is my story (past), belongs to other people, too. It’s not mine alone to tell. My version might be mine, but the story belongs to more than one person. It’s like trying to say my novels belong to one character, when they really belong to a cast of characters.

  • macjam47 says:

    I definitely agree with you and David J. Delaney. Writers who are considerate will always protect those dear to them. Also when writing about true events, real people, it is funny that each person sees it a different way.

  • Peter Nena says:

    In 2005, one of my aunts read my story and announced that she hoped I would never write about the family. “I hope you never write about us,” she said.
    Family members are wary of writers in the family. Especially when they make you angry and you go to your study and start writing. Later, you can see how they wish to know if you were writing about them. One day I had to tell somebody that if she did not stop bothering me I’d make her a miserable victim in a horror story. Fortunately, she stopped.

  • Every memoirist worries about how their family will react – myself included. My siblings and I remember many details of our lives together differently, and even when we agree, we react differently as events sometimes affected us in our own ways.
    J. Barrington wrote: ” As I started to write I understood that to speak honestly about family is to step out of line, to risk accusations of betrayal, and should the burden of being the one who blows the whistle on the myths.”
    I just posted Rita Gardner’s memoir about an extremely difficult expat childhood – she told me she had to wait until the family members died. Sad, but often true.

  • says:

    Yes, I have my own memory.. as long as I am still alive, I have my own memories. When I die, the memory will be gone but someone will inherit the memory, especially if we write it in our blogs. It will show some of our memory. In the past, a history is owned by the winner but not at this age, everybody can write and have their own history. It’s like what you do now. This will be your owned memory, no one can take it from you.

  • publishfree says:

    Oftentimes the writing is not as much for the reader as it is for the writer. I’ve watched my wife write throughout our 26 years of marriage and as a result she found her voice. Much of the writing is public, published in her books and blog, but much of it is private and remains in her journals. My wife grew up in a dysfunctional family and although the events were shared by all of her brothers and sisters, each had his or her own memory of the events and those memories tended to be as different as were the siblings. Regardless of whether you choose to write or not to write about family, just keep on writing.

  • Sonia Lal says:

    I don’t usually write about family. Never really wanted to. And I am not sure how I would feel if someone wrote about me.

  • Haven’t really written about family. I agree one should cut the ties and disconnect while writing. I intend to write but fictionalize the whole thing:)

  • Susan Scott says:

    Thanks Damyanti great post and comments …it’s true that each sees the same event differently and how could it be otherwise? We have our own lens, own perspective, own reactions and so on … each is true if that is the person’s experience..

  • “each story has its truth.” So profoundly true. One of the first things learned in creative writing classes.

  • Ipuna Black says:

    I agree with you that this is a touchy subject! I believe that it is hard to not write about what just comes out. I’m realizing that with writing, it’s best to be honest with what comes out of your fingers :). In fiction writing, I believe you can get away with a little more, but we usually write about what we know, which often involves family.

  • Dave says:

    I don’t think any two people can ever remember the same event in exactly the same way. 🙂

  • Birgit says:

    People, especially family, get hurt over the slightest thing. Many do now want it known, either, that their behaviour was anything less than perfect, whatever perfect is. People do not want to be shown in what they feel is a non positive light. A writer does have to be responsible when writing to not let their negative views of a person cloud their judgement because that can be classified as fact. I give a note to Esther Williams (Hollywood star who was a swimming champion) who “wrote” her autobiography. She claimed Jeff Chandler (an actor) was a cross dresser and his family was outraged. Only years later did she confess it was untrue-it was just written to sell more books. On that note, I also believe that it is your own writing and one should take another’s memories and give it a chance before being offended. If someone wrote that I was stubborn and said NO too often, I would not be offended but if they outright lied and claimed I was a husband stealing wrench who had control issues…I would not be happy

  • Julia Manuel says:

    Hahahaha great finish. Mmmm I love your voice I’m so pleased you visited my blog for it led me to you ☺
    “History is littered with perspectives, mostly those of the winners.” Well said. Those close to us in written form only want to be portrayed as winners too. Or maybe they wish it.

  • That goes back to the only thing that can’t be taken from you is your brain. I do feel ownership in that part of me. Not much else, though.

  • Andrew says:

    The stuff in your head is yours because it’s not anyone else’s. No one else can look in there and claim any of it. So, even though one day it might be gone (maybe), for now, that stuff is yours as much as anything can be.

  • I have written about people and stuff that happened in my life before, but it’s on those rare occasions, as I prefer to focus more on fiction.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti .. memories are yours – and the way you want to put them down … I’d write about others … but not specifically I think .. and it’s something that I’ll do in due course … I know what I’d do .. but we’re each specific to our time, family and friends … we react differently …

    Interesting thoughts here .. cheers Hilary

  • lexacain says:

    I think I “own” things, both in the way you mean and in my acceptance of my actions. I like to think there’s an objective historical truth out there for people willing to seek it. (Am I channeling X-Files? “The Truth is Out There.” lol) I definitely never write family or friends into anything though. I prefer imaginary characters! 🙂

  • Sammy D. says:

    I like the commenter RJ Nelli’s term “social history”. I wish my whole nuclear family was writing their memories of our years together. First, i’d love to hear how we saw events and relationships differently (or similarly), and second, i belive that would give me a greater sense of freedom to explore my own perspective. Now I tread lightly and write about good memories.

    I agree with Damyanti about not owning anything tangible and being turned to ashes, ultimately leaving no trace of my existence. But i will always own my thoughts, memories, emotions and my soul.

  • It’s like a traffic accident account – we all see something different.
    I don’t think we own anything in this world – it’s all God’s.
    I don’t write much about my family. I try to keep my private life private.

  • æren (И~N) says:

    I think the approach depends mostly on what the author wants to do. If you want to put down in words an experience, I find it all right to stick to the facts and reality, as much as possible, of course. Personally, I prefer this kind of writing; probably because I find it hard to imagine faces and situations I haven’t been through. Of course, I have heard many authors saying that they take examples of their own life in creating the images of their characters and story plots, but again, it depends on the approach and the idea of what kind of writing it would be – a record of an event or creating a somewhat new one.

  • jeanryan1 says:

    This puts me in mind of a Kurt Vonnegut quote: “Sound like yourself. Say what you mean to say. Pity the readers.”

  • I don’t believe there is any right or wrong with memories. They are solely yours and are formed with where you were in this journey called life when they occurred. That is why our memories are different. Because we were in different places.

  • Dan Antion says:

    People are free to write the truth about me. If I’ve inspired a character in someone’s writing, I’d be honored. I do own my memories, but I tread lightly on writing about family – and I don’t write about current coworkers – at – all. Most people don’t understand the way a writer uses his/her experience. To be honest, I’m just trying to figure that out myself. I do own my memories though, 100% mine.

  • Great post! Thank you for sharing your own views. Writing about family is just the same as talking about family. Both are the same, and someone will get hurt. You may hurt your family in your writing, and if they write about you, they may hurt you too. It is an aspect of story-telling I feel strongly/emotional about. As a blogger and friend Alex from Notes from An Alien commented, it is a fine line between compassion and justice, and it is a matter of finding that balance.
    I had blogged about this same subject because I am writing a memoir and often get all kinds of questions in from my creative writing group member during feedback. I know if I publish, I will change lives, break relationships and shatter hearts. Sadly, that is my life story I am writing. But I also hope, the positives in the memoir will also be acknowledged.
    Some people write their stories about their hurts, abuses and painful experiences. The experiences their families may not even know. It is important for writers of such stories to get that story out. Here are two links, one to my post and the other to a very interesting article in the Monthly about the subject if anyone is interested.
    Once again – thank you Damyanti.

  • rod says:

    If you don’t own your own memories you’re flirting with non-existence, but making some of then public will not always be a good idea. As you say, would we like certain memories of us to be made public? On occasion, though, the memories of others can be demonstrably wrong. Sometimes even willfully wrong.

  • davidprosser says:


  • R. J. Nello says:

    Family happenings are, in their ways, history: social history. So it’s worth preserving. I think fiction is a superb way to do it – and even when what’s written doesn’t always show everything and everyone involved in the “best light.”

    Some of what I have seen and heard over the years I came to feel deserved being “immortalized” in some tiny corner of literature somewhere – comments, humor, travels, loves, lifestyles, happenings, and people who have themselves since left us forever. So I try to do so in my novels. Even though “fictionalized,” those tales that were “real,” as well as any “fictionalized” living (or once living) people, are therefore preserved “forever.”

    Obviously, writing about family and friends whose “names have been changed to protect the innocent” doesn’t always work perfectly for you as the writer. Those closest to you, if they know of whom and what you write, may recognize “fictionalized” characters and the “fiction.” And if the “fictionalized” themselves ever see your stories, they will almost certainly recognize themselves! In the latter case, perhaps… uh, brace for impact! 😉

  • Best cartoon I ever saw: was a picture of a library. One sign pointing said to the “Non-Fiction” section. The sign in the opposite pointing direction said “Autobiography”.

  • Recently I wrote a story about a painful family Christmas. I had “unearthed” this truth during meditation and needed to process it through writing. Neither my brother or sister remembered this but they have their own stories and experiences which are different to mine even though we lived together under the one roof. Once, long ago, I would have tried hard to convince them of the truth of what I wrote. Now, its enough for me to know what happened and to write about it. They think it was a fictional story but that’s ok.
    An excellent topic!

  • I’d never want to hurt anybody with my writing but I do feel you should use your memories and experiences to create stories. Names and locations can be changed without losing the heart of that story… maybe (o:

    • Damyanti says:

      David, not just the names and the locations, but also the characters can be changed. I think a story begins from an impulse, but takes on a life of its own. My fiction has very little resemblance with my history– I admit I use characters and situations and even snippets of dialogue I hear, but a lot of the time, when those who feature in my stories read it, they can’t recognize themselves.

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