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Can I Write About My Mom?

Written by: Cori Wamsley, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

As a leader, we are impacted by everyone around us and recognize that they have affected our journey in some way. They encouraged. They hindered. They challenged. They mentored. Whatever role they played in our lives, they made an impact, big or small.

And as leaders, it’s our jobs to parse this out, identify it, and talk about the impact and the roadmap so people who need our assistance can understand the journey, follow in our footsteps, and see why we “get” them.


That’s usually when I get some variation of one of the toughest questions a publisher, editor, or writing coach gets: Can I write about my mom?


Often, parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, and close family friends have a huge impact on us. They shape how we view the world at a time when we are incredibly malleable. And that can be a positive or negative thing.


So “Can I write about my mom?” can be a tough question based on several different factors. I’d like to break down the factors and talk about why you can or shouldn’t and how to address any sticky situations.


Are you going to say nice things? Typically, people are perfectly ok with you praising them or providing the world with fond memories of them. If you’re going to talk about that time that you enjoyed being at the carnival with your parents or a teacher who imparted essential wisdom or a friend you can always rely on, by all means do it. You might mention to them that they are in your book, and they will likely tell you that it’s fine to say something nice about them. This is a perfect scenario, so there is usually not a problem, unless the person is in witness protection or generally doesn’t like compliments. But really, who does that?


Are you going to talk about a psychological or physical harm that they did to you or someone you care about? This is where it might get sticky. In general, you should just avoid this if possible, but there are certain scenarios where you can talk about the person and get around any litigation (most likely, though I’m not a lawyer), arguments, or general issues with the person.

  1. Change their name. If the relationship was generic enough, you can just change the person’s name. For example, if you want to talk about a past boyfriend, you likely had a couple, so changing their name should be enough to protect their identity. In this case, you want to make sure that you aren’t providing any information that makes it obvious who the person is because someone might recognize who they are and mention it to them, which gets sticky. Avoid naming the school you attended or details about the house you were living in. Don’t name your supportive friends by name and then change the person-in-question’s name because people can still trace it back to them.

  2. Make the relationship vague. Sometimes, when it’s obvious what situation you were in or where you lived, attended school, etc., you can make the relationship vague by referring to the person as “an adult in my life” instead of your mom or your science teacher, “an administrator” instead of the head of the school board, “a professional in our community” instead of your pediatrician. This makes it less traceable and avoids throwing a certain person under the proverbial bus.

  3. Leave the person’s name and share info that is widely available. Were you involved in a court case? Was the person arrested for something that involved you? You’re allowed to talk openly about information that is widely available online and use the person’s name, though many people don’t like to even say the person’s name when they’ve been involved in something so painful. I worked with a client once who wrote about a person who was arrested and sentenced for assaulting her daughter, and we allowed her to mention the person’s name in her book. The key here is that the person was arrested and found guilty, so anything she said wouldn’t be considered demeaning to his character. If the person was found not guilty, then it would be a different story. Even for this situation, you have to weigh the pros and cons.

Something you have to watch for, regardless of the case, is if you have a relationship with the person that needs to remain cordial. For example, in some of the books that I’ve worked on, women have talked about reasons that their marriage ended. Because they have children with the person in question, it was essential that they not just give their side of the story and make the ex-husband look like a terrible person. I suggested that they provide a “looking back, I understand why he said that” or “because he was sick, I know that he was stressed” or whatever it is to make sure that the ex didn’t come across as an unfeeling arsehole. When the other person can’t defend themselves, I always recommend being cautious in how you speak about the relationship when you’re being that specific (most of us only have one or two ex-husbands, so it’s pretty easy to know who you’re talking about). You don’t want to cause additional hurt when there is no need. It’s always best to be considerate and respectful for multiple reasons, including the fact that turnabout is fair play.


When in doubt, always seek the advice of a professional in the writing realm or even a lawyer to ensure that what you want to share won’t be harmful to any party.


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Cori Wamsley, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Cori Wamsley, CEO of Aurora Corialis Publishing, works with business owners who have a transformational story to share. She helps them quickly and easily write and publish a book for their brand that helps them create a legacy and be seen as an expert while building a relationship with the reader. Cori has 17 years of experience as a professional writer and editor, including 10 years with the Departments of Energy and Justice and 4 years as the executive editor of Inspiring Lives Magazine. She also wrote eight fiction books and one nonfiction book, The SPARK Method: How to Write a Book for Your Business Fast, and contributed to two anthologies. Her newest book, Braving the Shore, was released in June 2022.

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