Writing Without Offending?

by Ginger on October 8, 2012

in Blogging & Social Media

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.

Easy, right? 😉

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?

Andi October 8, 2012 at 10:49 am

I travel and go out to a lot of restaurants. And of course while doing that I have bad experiences, but I rarely if ever blog about them. I only blog about the good/positive experiences I have. Particularly when it comes to restaurants – they can have a bad day from time to time and what if that is the day I visit? I want to use my forum for good, and not abuse the power whatever social klout I may have. I rarely talk about the people in my life. Also, because I run a social media program for a large enterprise company that has a social media policy I usually don’t blog about religion, politics or sex, which goes a long way in terms of not offending 😉

Katherine October 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm

More importantly, why does your blog have zero formatting on my mobile device? It looks like Craigslist.

Natalie the Singingfool October 8, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I’m struggling with this right now, too, after a “domestic dispute” about something I wrote. My rules have been 1. Be true to myself 2. Don’t write anything that could get you fired/expelled from the family 3. No current arguments with my spouse. Sometimes though, you can’t help what offends someone.

Charleen October 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm

I typically don’t touch the hot topics, but I do get a little snarky at times, and I guess it’s possible that someone might take offense at something I say. But I’m not a confrontational person; I certainly don’t go out of my way to rile people up. I just sort of take a “this is the way I see it” approach and don’t worry too much.

Of course, it helps that I have next to no readers. The more people are reading your words, the higher the probability that someone will get offended.

Single Mom in the South October 8, 2012 at 3:33 pm

My blog is anonymous. As far as I know, but for two people, one of whom lives very far away, no one in my real life knows I have a blog.

Ashley Austrew October 9, 2012 at 12:02 pm

When I’m worried about offending people, I usually take a step back and try to figure out what’s going on. Am I worried because of the way I worded things? Could I make my point in a way that is less judgmental/aggressive/etc? Am I telling a story that doesn’t really belong to me? I try to keep my writing genuine, but also avoid saying things I wouldn’t say to people in real life. It’s a really difficult balance to strike. I think the most important thing is being open to discussion and criticisms and always being respectful of people. It is one thing bash an idea. It’s quite another to respectfully disagree. And, honestly, if you’re being respectful, it’s really hard to deeply offend people.

Classic NYer October 9, 2012 at 3:35 pm

As far as I’m concerned, if people are offended by what I have to say then they don’t need to speak to me. Then again, that’s probably why I have no friends.

Paul Brinkley October 17, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Ginger, I took your phrase “my STORY and my EXPERIENCE” as meaning (among other things) you’re saying “this is how I see it”. Or to put it another way, you’re clear that what you’re saying is your opinion, except when it’s fact, and you know the difference.

If that’s what you meant – it speaks to what I see go wrong in a lot of other political posts. They don’t separate the two. “Romney and Obama participated in a townhall style debate on October 16.” That’s a fact; no problem. “Clearly, everyone in this party is insane.” …what? No, they’re insane in your opinion, and you wrote it on the internet in the same apparent tone as a fact.

It gets worse. Commenters respond with “so true” or “the insanity comes from having a short memory of history” or the like. Opinions are taken as fact by the believing, and are compounded upon by more opinion-as-fact (not to mention insults, some outright, some veiled). If I happen to disagree, I can either say so and start a flame war, or get tagged as unable to handle a little metaphor (obviously, *they* knew it was just an opinion! Why so serious?!), or pointing out something obvious and therefore being condescending, etc., etc…, or I can say nothing and wait for opinion-as-fact to get assumed as true in some later post, possibly by someone else, and I can wonder where else it’s spread to. I can’t win.

This isn’t really a long term solution, but there are times I wish there were simply a place to go where people understand this frustration, and are a lot more careful about how they write; where they’d rather risk losing an argument than risk losing viable friends. And then I wish they’d band together and smash everyone else. Heh…

j October 30, 2012 at 1:01 pm

We should be concerned about what others think. We should be interested in opinions and facts alike. But fearing offending others and refraining from expressing opinions will not bring us closer to learning how to live peacefully among differences. Without the expression of opinions how else would we learn to understand ‘peace and harmony’, especially with those who matter to us. We are created to be social creatures. We are created with differences. Blue eyes/ brown eyes, red hair/black hair, right handed/left handed, tall/short, thin/svelt, male/female, young/old, single/married, religious/non-religious, etc. But as you stated in your original post, it is how we handle our discussions and dialogues that makes all the difference. If something is important to you, then you should honor that importance and celebrate it and share it. If someone is offended by your sharings, then be thankful that they have taken the time to state their view. For in their view you may have learned something…something that may just help you and the other to understand another side of ‘peace amidst differences’. Taking the “don’t rock the boat” approach never solved any argument, nor did it help the teaching process. It just delayed it. But taking time to carefully consider our words and how those words may affect others while staying true to our position is the first step to honoring differences and bringing fairness to the peace process. The skill I see many fear or avoid is learning to sift through the rhetoric and empassioned emotions to understand what lies beneath it.

sarah September 29, 2016 at 9:45 am

I think this is sound advice, I started writing my blog because of personal experiences with fertility treatment, and I’ve found that it’s been a great means of therapy and hope that even if it helps one person experiencing something similar then that’s great.
I have also stopped myself publishing posts when I think it’s too obvious where the story might have originated from, as I certainly don’t want it to become a case of dumping my emotional laundry out there.

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