The Stories We Tell About The People We’ve Left Behind

Content Warning for non-specific discussions of trauma and abuse.

One of the many lessons I’ve learned about writing over the years is that, if I’m writing about something that happened, about real people, I need to focus on writing about only my experience of the event. I’ve had a few disastrous attempts in the past, where I’ve written about how I’ve noticed someone acting and tried to put to words the feel of what they told me. I don’t think I’ve ever done it in a way that didn’t feel immediately embarrassing. It can be a fine line, the space between the two concepts, but it is easy to write about how I felt listening to someone talk or the part I played in a difficult time in someone else’s life. It is much more difficult to write about what they went through from a first-person perspective. As I’ve slowly worked at writing outside my direct experience, at learning to portray events and feelings I never encountered (frequently with much input from people willing to share their experiences with me, knowing I’m trying to write about something similar), I’ve paid special attention to all the high-profile instances of people basically stealing the life stories of others.

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