Last week, I got a question from a reader, wanting to know how I work around concerns about offending others, or how I decide what lines I will or won’t cross when I’m writing:
I enjoy writing, and used to blog, but I’ve quit blogging for exactly the reasons you talk about. I was too afraid that I would be offending people I care about with what I said. So, I don’t blog anymore, because I found that if I edit my own thoughts and feelings to the extent that they wouldn’t potentially offend anyone…. I have nothing left to write. This is by far the biggest issue I face as a “writer” – in quotes because, again, it is why I don’t actually do it. Could you talk a little about how you find a work-around for that as a writer? Or what you decide you can put out there and what you can’t – what goes too far? Thanks!
(I hope you don’t mind me using your comment Susan!)
Honestly, the question comes at a really good time, because it’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Between family, friends and co-workers who all read my blog, not to mention my frustrations and opinions that bubble up at times, I’ve been thinking about where those lines fall for me.
First and foremost, this blog is my personal space. I write about me, my thoughts, my experiences. I’m not (usually) interested in getting into debating big world issues, or arguing my beliefs on XY or Z. So the biggest way I deal with it is…write stuff that rarely runs the risk of being offensive to people I care about. I mean, if someone wants to get offended that we went to the beach, well, I can’t really help that sort of thing. But beyond that…
From the very beginning of this blog, my personal credo has been:
If I wouldn’t say it in front of my grandmother, my boss, my mom, the CEO of my company, my uncle, my dad, etc., I DON’T WRITE IT.
That is my #1 line in the sand. Now, as someone who hates conflict and never wants to hurt or disappoint people, this means I’ve left a lot ( A LOT) of stuff off this blog that I wanted to write about. And in general, I don’t write about politics (except VERY rarely), religion, or sex for those very reasons. And that has been frustrating at times, as I use this place as part therapy and part “working out my thoughts on stuff” ad it would occasionally be nice to try and work through some of my thoughts on that stuff. But that is my hard and fast rule.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that I shy away from ALL potentially contentious topics though. And I guess that on that front where I’ve come down on this issue is twofold.
First, as I talked about in that followup post–I think you can discuss opinions and your beliefs and things that could be highly charged WITHOUT making it offensive. You can have discussions and debates about things that matter to you without resorting to name calling and ugliness. This is where using your empathy, your thoughtfulness and your words–your writing–make all the difference. Yes, in this case, you may still ruffle feathers, but you will have kept yourself in a place of, if not kindness then at least civility.
Second, though, for me is more important. Because the way I deal with most of this is…I write it from my perspective. This blog is primarily a place for me to talk about my thoughts, my challenges, my frustrations, not get into debates or arguments. So if I write about something that is affecting ME, as a personal story, then I worry less about offending. Now, I still may worry about over-sharing (!), but I guess I feel like if it’s my STORY and my EXPERIENCE, then it’s not some nameless/faceless “issue” that people get worked up over, instead it’s my life. Does that make any sense? For me, I wouldn’t be comfortable writing about some things if they didn’t come through the lens of my personal experience or personal thoughts.
But, honestly, at the end of the day, it really just comes down to: what do YOU feel comfortable with? I have to be able to stand behind my writing and say, even if it pisses someone off, “This was worth saying, no matter what anyone else thinks.” To me, arguments about politics, religion, sex, & certain personal/family issues usually just aren’t worth saying most of the time. Sometimes, but not often. That’s ME, and my comfort level with those topics.
I think writers who are willing to open up more, take bigger risks, push bigger buttons are amazing. I occasionally aspire to that. But for those of us who aren’t comfortable with the risks some of those topics carry, I think it often becomes a matter of write what you know, and what you know you’re comfortable with, and what you know you’re comfortable defending.
So what about the rest of the writers out there? How do you determine what you will & won’t put out there? Do you worry about offending other people, or do you just write whatever comes to you?