All loyalties, both in writing and elsewhere, are meaningful only when they’re tested. Being loyal to yourself as a writer is most difficult when you’re just starting out – when being a writer hasn’t yet given you enough of a public return to justify your loyalty to it. The benefits of being on good terms with your friends and family are obvious and concrete; the benefits of writing about them are still largely speculative. There comes a point, though, when the benefits begin to equalise. And the question then becomes: am I willing to risk alienating somebody I love in order to continue becoming the writer I need to be? For a long time, in my marriage, my answer to this was no. Even today there are relationships so important to me that I’m at pains to write around them, rather than through them. But what I’ve learned is that there’s potential value, not only for your writing but also for your relationships, in taking autobiographical risks: that you may, in fact, be doing your brother or your mother or your best friend a favour by giving them the opportunity to rise to the occasion of being written about – by trusting them to love the whole you, including the writer part. What turns out to matter most is that you write as truthfully as possible. If you really love the person whose material you’re writing about, the writing has to reflect that love. There’s still always a risk that the person won’t be able to see the love, and that your relationship may suffer, but you’ve done what all writers finally reach the point of having to do, which is to be loyal to themselves.
Jonathan Franzen on writing and loyalty.
This part about “doing your brother or your mother or your best friend a favor by giving them the opportunity to rise to the occasion of being written about” seems, on the one hand, like a self-serving delusion — an elegant, logical, beautifully expressed self-serving delusion. On the other hand, I want this all to be true so badly.