I’ve started a new essay about a good friend of mine and a hard time in our lives. We happened to coincide on our hard times, it wasn’t a hard time with each other, but I’m wondering how much to include about her story.
There’s a lot of talk in nonfiction about how much leeway we should give ourselves to expose other peoples’ lives. I’m always shocked when writers (oftentimes students) say they feel they owe the most to the craft, that they’re writers above everything else. I counter by saying I’m a mom first, a friend first, a daughter first, and then a writer. Back in graduate school, when I was a student, I didn’t feel this way, and I’m thankful now that I was writing only fiction back then and not nonfiction, that I didn’t do irreparable damage to any important relationships in my life. It’s much in the same way I’m thankful they didn’t have Facebook and Twitter and YouTube back when I was in my twenties, all of my misguided turns caught on video or housed in the very large memory of the internet, where it most likely would have been posted by me.
I know I’ll show this essay to my friend before I do anything with it. In the meantime, I’m writing it without filters, including every awful detail I can remember about the two of us and our behavior. I’ll write the best essay I can with the knowledge there will be plenty of time to backtrack if I need to, and if she tells me to kill it, I’ll kill it. I thought about asking her about it beforehand, but obviously something is pushing me to write it so I will. There’s something kind of wonderful too about thinking I might just be writing it for its own sake, that it will never see the light of day. Too often I get caught up in what will happen to a story at the end, whether someone will want to publish it. This feels a little more honest somehow, like it’s about the essay not the end result. Maybe that’s part of what people mean by truth in nonfiction.