Considering legal matters.
When we set out to write our memoirs we may find ourself considering legal matters. In summary, these are not as complex as people sometimes assume.
We do not need to do exhaustive research, we do not even need to get all our facts right – there are times when our recollection of events is less painful than what actually happened – and in general, we are given considerable leeway in what we write about, providing we remember:
~ To write our own life stories, not the stories of other people
~ To write honestly, willingly and even-handedly. I like to think, and I say often, that if someone thinks I have been unkind in my portrayal of them, that I have been at least as unkind about myself.
~ We write clearly, showing the facts of what happened, rather than relating mythic family stories that have been handed down.
~ We avoid inflammatory language wherever possible.
~ We are careful in levelling accusations against others. If a parental figure was obviously unkind, or ill, or had it in for us, we may say so; if we are using the opportunity of writing our memoirs to get revenge or indulge in a “pity party” that’s probably not the best strategy. It can be a close call, sometimes, which is why I would always advocate writing less, rather than more.
The main lesson of writing memoir, for me, has been that it has taught me to have more empathy for others, including all those who have challenged me. As I have come to see those challenges as gifts, I have gained a great deal.
So in the processes of writing, in reflecting on the benefits of memoir, I like to think that what I have gained has been achieved without compromising the integrity or dignity of others, even my detractors. While others may, occasionally, have harsh or unflattering things to say about me, I don’t see it as part of my job to reciprocate in kind. The public benefits of memoir are concerned with sharing experiences, so that others may feel less alone with their experiences.
Thank you for reading this series on memoir. Please bear in mind that all my suggestions are based around my own experiences, taking into account feedback from readers, reviewers and family members. I do not claim to be an up-to-date expert, nor to speak about the laws in multiple jurisdiction. Each case must be considered on its own unique merits.