If there are many things you feel you cannot say because you are not prepared to offend people, or because you don’t want to expose yourself and make yourself vulnerable, then in my view it is not worth writing this particular work.
I even portrayed myself with constantly dishevelled hair even though in reality I sometimes do brush it.
I wasn’t faking, but rather working along the lines of advice from Robin Hemley who in his book about creative non-fiction, ‘Immersion’, wrote: “It’s possible to be completely honest about yourself and at the same time selective and manipulative in the details you choose, for the sake of keeping the prose focused.” To reveal the emotional truth of our stories without boring our readers silly we are ‘allowed’ to reveal about ourselves just the stuff that is relevant to the particular story we are telling.
Helen Garner’s investigative journalism is a fine example of such writing.
In her true crime book, ‘Joe Cinque’s Consolation’, for example, some of my favourite parts are where Garner questions her own motives for following the murder story and her biases in how she interprets the case, because these passages illuminate the complexity of human psyche and make us, the readers, question ourselves too.
After all, what your readers are really after is a good story and thoughtful reflection, not tedious mumbling.
Ethical concerns, such as this question of memory’s accuracy, proliferate in creative non-fiction, which is what makes this genre so risky to work in and therefore exciting too.
Showing your personal essay to a novelist would be like asking a news reporter for advice on a poem.
Finally, I think it’s important to be vigilant about how emotionally honest you are prepared to be in your creative non-fiction project.
Make your work reflect life’s complexity; don’t look for neat resolutions where there are none.
One of the things that can kill a work of creative non-fiction is an imposed simplification of the reality being explored.