• Writing About Your Family

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Strategies     Comments 9 comments

    Reopening old woundsNot too long ago, I got an email from a WriteByNighter who was struggling to write about her children. The memories are painful, she told me, so much so that when she tried to write she would just sit and cry.

    “The words are there,” she wrote. “I’m just scared. I don’t want to hurt them again, but it’s very important to tell.”

    This is a real issue for many of us, especially around the holidays when family presence is strong. How do you handle writing about your family without reopening old wounds, both yours and theirs?

    Emotional issues that lie close to the heart are among the most difficult to write about. It’s because the strong feelings attached to the issue blur our insight into it so that we’re unable to see clearly. It’s also because, as this WriteByNighter aptly pointed out, there’s fear of betrayal in the process, as if by writing about our loved ones we’re exposing them without their permission.

    Green Means Go

    Permission, in fact, is the key concept here. You need to give yourself permission to feel the painful feelings. You need to give yourself permission to sit there and cry. Give yourself permission to not know how to write it down. You don’t need to know; you need to feel and try and accept that it’s okay to fail.

    If you fail, you’ll just try again, and one day soon you’ll succeed.

    And there’s even more permission to be granted: give yourself permission to write about your family. It’s not harmful; it’s healing. It’s not about them; it’s about you working through the past in order to better your present. Through your writing, you’re soothing yourself and you have every right to do so.

    You can remind yourself too that no one ever has to see these pages unless you want them to. You are in complete control.

    [Tweet “”Give yourself permission to write about your family. It’s not harmful; it’s healing.””]

    Get Up the Nerve

    At this point, you might be thinking, “Easier said than done.” Yes, it is easier said than done, but it is also doable. I know you can do it.

    Is this a magic pill solution to the problem of writing about your family? Nope. The writing process–and life, for that matter–doesn’t work that way.

    The hope is, though, that this post will give you the courage to sit down with your writing and try again with the newfound permission to do what you need to do for you.

    Discussion & Further Reading

    Writers: What are some strategies you’ve used in the past for writing about your family? Have they succeeded? Is reopening old wounds key to the process, or is it best to leave them stitched shut? Let us hear from you in the comments section below.

    And if you’re in need of a weekly (and tasty!) writing treat, subscribe to our email list, either in your right-hand sidebar or by ticking the “Join” box beneath your comment.

    For some related reading, try “Write Who You Know,” a piece about liability when writing fiction based on real-life folks.


    Justine Tal Goldberg, ownerWriteByNight owner Justine Duhr is an award-winning writer and editor of both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Anomalous Press, Whiskey Island, Fringe Magazine, The Review Review, and other publications. She holds an MFA in creative writing and has provided writing instruction at Vassar College and Emerson College.


    0 0 votes
    Article Rating
    Notify of

    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments

    We are not islands, Donne said, but we are alone inside. There is an outside and an inside. Inside: our experience is felt, our thoughts are generated through this desire to feel good, happy, but we know the world isn’t always going to deliver. Our family, much of the time is the conduit of this truth. Some people are lucky to be able to have a healthy relationship with their families and others not, or others feel fortunate to separate so they may see the truth of that, of being apart. To write is to objectify that which is subjective.… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    “Where our imaginations can be free to say or do anything” . . . I like that. I agree that creative expression is a right, but don’t we need to give ourselves permission to arrive at the realization that we don’t need permission? It seems to me that we’re only free if we *feel* free.

    Torria Stevens

    Greetings Justine; This is such a crucial topic and one that I’m glad your exploring. My process begins as a three-part event and revelation. First when I was part of a church, I was asked to join a writing group embracing the LGTB community. The coming out stories were amazing! Many created cathartic and sensitive discussion and I, from this experience though hetero, penned and exposed for the first time my abusive past. Second, I shared with my therapist my desire to purge further through writing; and as it turns out a lot of what I’ve written about with reference… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    Thanks so much for sharing, Torria. It’s wonderful that you’re able to use writing therapeutically and that you’ve discovered ways to make it feel safe for you to do so. The healing power of writing never ceases to amaze me. Keep it up!


    [Comment deleted]

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    You’re very brave to share your story. Thank you. Maybe you’re comfortable opening up here because a blog’s audience is removed. It’s not like handing your writing to someone and asking that person to read it; it’s posting your writing for faceless readers to imbibe at another time and place. In short, it feels less personal and thus, safer. It’s clear that you’re in a lot of pain, and I’m sorry to hear that, of course. But it’s also clear that you have the ability to self-reflect, which is so necessary to healing. I can see that you’ve already come… Read more »


    [Comment deleted]


    [Comment deleted]

    […] many writers this is touchy stuff. In December 2014, Justine wrote this post titled “Writing About Your Family.” In the comments section, a reader left some remarks and questions about a family project he […]

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x