I always tell my authors that they need to really be sure that they want to ‘say that‘ when speaking poorly of someone in their books. Once it’s done, it’s done. Regardless of future edits, anyone affected will have already bought that first edition.
It’s been reported that Prince Harry has requested an 11th-hour rewrite to soften his bombshell autobiography, after the UK’s outpouring of grief for the Queen following her death. I think it’s really sad that because of her passing he’s having second thoughts about his statements in his memoir. I’m sure the money that Penguin Random House is throwing at him is dazzling, but the idea that he might want to change some things tells me that his memoir is not ready for print. Unfortunately, his monetary affairs, rather than the subject matter of his book, seem to be driving the delivery date. A good lesson for us all.
I told one of my authors, “You don’t get a do-over. What you write lasts forever and their children and their grandchildren will read it. Make sure you’ll still feel the same years down the road that you feel now.” Sometimes memoirs need time to bake. Don’t rush to go to print or ‘get it done’ because you’ve been talking about it ‘forever’ and you’re sick of your friends asking about it.
Imagine being in a heated argument with your BFF and you huff away mad. Then imagine that you write how awful they were to you in your memoir to ‘get back’ at them, but later you kiss and make up (or you don’t). What you wrote in anger lives on. While your own heart has softened and your volatile emotions have mellowed with age, your words can’t be ‘taken back’. They continue to live on even as you’ve moved on.
Our take-away from Prince Harry’s predicament is twofold: we can’t be overly eager to publish before our story is ready; and, we can’t let spite drive our narrative.
A good story can contain anger and antagonists, but the story must ultimately make sense to the reader and not be an author’s way of hurting others. Revenge books are egocentric.
Remember, you’re a writer and you get to write your truth, but if you’re writing a memoir, most of the people you’re writing about aren’t writers and they have no voice. It’s a big responsibility to write authentically without lashing out.