Writers aren’t great people. I mean, look at the personal lives of the greats and you will come to the conclusion that all writers are bastards. And while a large portion of us are irredeemable, I still believe in doing the right thing. That’s why I’m writing this post on what stories are mine to tell.

A closeup shot of a hand holding a pen and writing in a notebook. The text on the image says "What Stories Are Mine to Tell" and there's a watermark for MarisaMohi.com

There’s this pithy saying in the writer community that you can write about the people you know because if they wanted to be written about in a positive light, they would’ve been nicer to you.

That’s fucking stupid.

If you want to be vindictive, go for it. Who am I to stop you?

Not to quote all 64,973 Spider-Man movies that have come out in the past 25 years, but with great power comes great responsibility, especially when it comes to what stories are mine to tell. And if you’re going to write about something–especially in a way that evokes emotions or sticks with people for years to come–you need to quit being a jackass about it.

A Note on Who Decides What Stories Are Mine to Tell

Look. I’m not an authority on much. Ask my dog. She’ll tell you how much she ignores my every command.

I’m simply sharing what I believe to be true. My name is on this here website, and I am the sole authority on what gets attributed to my name. Ergo, these are my thoughts.

So, please don’t read this and get all bent out of shape. When you take the initiative to put your name on a website, write enough content that your domain authority rises, and continue paying for domain hosting, then you can write whatever you want about how shit works.

For what it’s worth, I’m not talking about the grand scheme of things here. I’m talking exclusively about personal experience and what events of your life you get to write about as a life writer.

I know what I believe regarding who can share stories that deal with race, class, disability, and gender. And I’m sure you’ll be able to glean those beliefs just from reading this post.

But this post is exclusively about what writers share about their personal life, which definitely includes the above elements. I am only addressing interpersonal relationships here. This post is about the minutiae of personal relationships and telling those stories.

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A Note on the Word “Can”

Look. You can technically do anything in that you have the ability to do it.

But would you feel good doing it? Will those actions have long-lasting consequences? Are you going to ruin someone else’s life/livelihood/day if you do it?

That’s what I’m talking about when I use the word can. If you want to be a child and use the word can to simply mean having the ability to do it, be my guest. But I suggest you also talk to a trusted friend and have them put parental locks on your computer and phone since you don’t have the necessary maturity to engage with the world around you.

Having the ability to do something doesn’t mean doing it is the right thing. So yeah. You can tell whatever story you want. And you can also be labeled a fucking asshole who isn’t worth anyone’s time.

Your choice, buddy.

What Stories Are Mine to Tell?

If you’re going to write about your life, do it. But remember, your life intertwines with the lives of so many people. So there are places where your story is also someone else’s.

How do you determine what parts of those stories you can tell?

There are no hard and fast rules, and part of being a writer is writing it all. But when it comes to sharing, I have a few things I know for sure I can put into the world.

001: Your experience.

My experience is mine to share or not share. Writers are always writing from experience. So if I write about a family event or a simple trip to the doctor’s office, it’s mine to share with the world.

Sure, the family event will include information about family members since they were part of the event. But I’m focused on my experience. Not theirs.

It’s my job to focus on how I experienced this event. Not what I think other people experienced. I can’t assume Aunt Mavis was having a particularly rough time since Aunt Nadine brought the green bean casserole to Thanksgiving that year. That would be me implanting a story where perhaps there isn’t one.

Now, if Aunt Mavis tells me that information, then it does become a part of my experience. But do I want to start shit between Aunt Mavis and Aunt Nadine? Absolutely not, especially since they’re hypothetical aunts and up until very recently, their relationship was great.

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The key here is to focus on what you actually experienced, not what you assume someone else experienced.

002: Your perception of what happened.

Okay. This one is going to feel like it’s contradicting the last point. Stick with me.

Your experience is one thing, but it’s going to be shaped by what you perceived to have happened. So, your perception is also something you get to share.

Now, we’re not sharing our perception of someone else’s feelings or motives or whatever. We’re just sharing what we perceived to have happened.

Because when you share what you perceive to be someone’s motives, you are, in effect, making up a story about a real person that may or may not be true. Maybe you’re super empathetic and can sense these things. But maybe, you’re full of shit.

In my experience, people who think they’re empaths are often the worst at picking up on how someone actually feels. This is because being an empath isn’t a spiritual thing. It’s a trauma thing.

Empaths are people who had incredibly rocky childhoods where they learned to survive by perceiving the emotions of others around them so they could react accordingly. And sometimes, yes. They can sense an emotion in the room. Other times, they’ve gone into fight/flight/fawn/freeze mode, and are using past experiences as a template for what they perceive is going on simply because a tone of voice or verbal exchange set them off.

So, while I’m not discounting that sometimes empaths can feel things in the room that others can’t, their feelings are often based on how their nervous system is in that moment. And that is usually shaped by how much healing they’ve done from their past or how good their mental health is in that particular moment.

Regardless, your perception of others is flawed at best.

003: Your details.

When I think of what stories are mine to tell, this is the part I think about the most. Because if you’re a writer, you’ve likely been collecting little bits and pieces from others your whole life.

If you could, you’d turn your friends, loved ones, acquaintances, and nemeses upside down so you could shake out their pockets and get all the little juicy details about their lives to use later in writing.

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For what it’s worth, social media has basically given us the ability to do this. So, post to Facebook at your discretion.

When you’re sharing about your personal experience, it can be tempting to share little details that have been given to you. Maybe it’s something funny someone said. Maybe it’s something someone said to you in confidence.

Yes, technically that secret became yours when someone gave it to you. But do you really want to share that shit far and wide?

Some people do. And they suck.

As a writer, you are opening your veins and sharing with the world. Your friends never signed up to make that deal. So their details aren’t there for consumption by readers.

Plus, the more details of someone else you share, the more likely you are to share your perception of their motivations and their experiences as a way to explain those details. So, basically, you’re doing them dirty times three.

If you’re writing about your personal life, stick to your personal life, friendo.

When in Doubt, STFU

If you really believe you need to share something about someone, ask for permission first. And be ready for them to say no.

As writers, we’re always finding the story, even in places where maybe there isn’t one. It’s easy to see plot and conspiracy in places when you spend your hours making that shit up for the benefit of story worlds. But in real life? Shit can be very boring.

So even if you want to share something, think about how you’re sensationalizing it. Think about how this will affect someone else. If you have to get it out, can you anonymize it so that no one can go back through and find the truth?

In the end, you can always write about whatever you want in a journal. If you want more on this idea, check out this post on how to tell an autobiographical story.

But if you want to share with the world, it’s important to know when to shut the fuck up.

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