When you’re a writer, the people you have relationships with soon realize they could very well end up in your writing. If you write fiction, then there is always “I swear it isn’t based on you!” Funny thing, most fiction writers I know say that reactions are never what they prepare for. They could write something based on their mother and their mother has no idea or at least pretends to have no idea. Meanwhile their BFF from high school will call them in a rage, “How could you write THAT about me?”
When you write nonfiction however, it’s clear who you’re writing about – for better or for worse. What’s more, you can’t actually avoid it – ever. When I’m working on my memoir I’m telling my life’s story or at least part of it. And since I wasn’t isolated in a dark room without human contact for years, that is bound to include relatives, beaus past and present etc. It’s the same when writing a personal essay. Personal essays are just snapshots of an experience or collection of related experiences, but it’s bound to include others. You can’t not include someone central to your story because then you’re lying. You can’t portray them exactly how they’d like because this isn’t a press release about how wonderful they are. You have to be fair and truthful, but being the person holding a mirror saying, “look at how I honestly see you/your actions” is not going to make you the belle of the ball.
While I’ve been a writer all my life (it’s a calling more than a profession), I’ve only started submitting pieces in the last year, so instead of having decades of experiences, I have less than a year of dealing with hurt feelings, passive-aggressive actions and at times, ultimatums. And ironically, the pieces that have elicited reactions are the tamer “how did you manage to make this about you” projections. It’s not like an abusive ex has stumbled upon my writing. Or my mother. Now that would be it’s own kind of awful.