It’s been said that you shouldn’t sleep with a writer unless you accept that they will probably write about you.
I think this is true of having any kind of relationship with a creative person, but I think there’s more to it than simply taking inspiration from (or just recycling) what’s around us.
When I write about relationships that are inspired by, or based on, those in my life, it’s a way of discovering and rationalising the world around me. It allows me to work out feelings, emotions and ideas in a relatively safe environment. The story relationship might only be very loosely linked to something that really happened, and the emotion in the story might be much weaker or stronger than actually experienced. What I’m writing isn’t truth, but often as aspect of it that I feel the need to explore or excise.
Writing about them is like replicating an encounter under controlled conditions. It gives the writer a sense of power and security; they’re in charge of where the story goes, what the characters will do, and allows them to explore permutations that they may not be able to in real life. It also allows us to take a small seed of something that could have happened and explore the world that could have been, to mythologise emotional experience.
This has been on my mind a lot recently. Especially so since I read Lighthousekeeping, which was given to me by a friend, and a story has been rocketing around in my head. I also had a rather difficult conversation with a friend several months ago, who interpreted a story that I wrote as being explicitly about the two of us, when really I’d taken a passing idle thought and expanded and exaggerated. She was incredibly hurt by what she saw was a deliberate attack, when, not having that on my mind, I hadn’t realised how she would react.
This made me think a lot more clearly about how the people close to me might interpret what I write, and the dangers of drawing from your own emotional experience. It makes me wonder; is it ethical to write about close friends and family? Should I seek permission first?
I just don’t know.
What would you do, or have you done, in this situation?