They say a writer’s life can be a solitary one, and it’s no wonder. Any honest writer is going to tick off or hurt friends and family eventually. I mean, our lives are peopled with priceless characters — are we not supposed to share them with the world? A writer-friend of mine has a sweatshirt emblazoned with the warning:

Be nice; you might end up in my novel.

Authors tell me that their friends always think they recognize themselves in books, regardless of whether the character or story is actually based on them. This would be especially true if, like me, you write nonfiction using real names. Hard to miss that.

The first time this issue came up for me was in one of my earliest blog posts. I wrote about my friend John, saying that his wife didn’t care much for me. I got a call from John a few days later, saying he was enjoying my blog. Crap. It hadn’t even occurred to me that he would read it.

“How did you come across my blog?” I asked.

“You sent an email about it,” he said.

“Oh, right.” What could I say?

I thought that “sorry” was a good place to start. I tried to explain that I sort of thought these things went out into the ether and only strangers read them. I hadn’t thought about our mutual friends reading them, or that my blog might affect him. John was gracious and fine with it, saying it was hardly a secret. (He and I have a long history.)

I’m more thoughtful about what I write now. For instance, I just got back from visiting my sister, who is a fascinating woman with unusual beliefs. I’d love to write about our conversations and her newest theories and interests, but she’s very private, keeps to herself, and wouldn’t appreciate it. So that’s out.

I have a friend who has essentially been brainwashed by a religious cult, but I can’t write about that, even though it’s highly unlikely she would read it because they don’t allow their converts to mess around on the web for fear that they’ll find stories from those who have escaped. But I don’t want to jeopardize our relationship or any leverage I might have to help her get back inside her real self, so that story’s out, too.

Stories about old beaus could certainly provide a lot of material, but most are now married and I wouldn’t want to upset any matrimonial apple carts. I can’t say that I care about protecting the privacy of the guys at the CIA who stuck their married hands down my blouse or up my skirt. They’re probably all divorced by now anyway. That’s why I allowed Rubber Ducky to tell all (except names).

Since my plan is to write a memoirish nonfiction book, I don’t know how I’ll navigate all this. I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do you deal with it? Do you have criteria or a guiding philosophy, or is it a case-by-case thing? Have you ever damaged a relationship with your writing? Have you been burned by a writer? Did your relationship survive? Should I just assume I’m going to blow up all my relationships eventually, and just get it over with?

Rear View Of Group Of Friends...

We were friends, and the warmest of friends, he and I,

Each glance was a language that broke from the heart,

No cloudlet swept over the realm of the sky,

And beneath it we swore that we never would part.”

Lennox Amott