Last Spring, in the early part of this project, I re-read Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, searching for some bit of advice that would give me courage and break through my writer’s block. I scribbled down her oft-quoted line, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
After this year of writing, blogging, pitching, and publishing as well as critiquing and commenting on other writers’ work, I can’t say I entirely agree with Lamott. Heck yes, you own everything that happened to you. And yes, tell your story. But regarding those who should have behaved better, I would say, proceed with empathy and the greatest care. Let loose in the first draft, of course. Draft many drafts. Explore. Don’t rush to publish. Allow some time to pass, and then look at the work with fresh eyes. Consider the reader.
Words can wound. Words can honor. I’ve bumped up against many boundaries during this writing year. Mining your material isn’t just about discovering the things you want to write, it’s also about discovering the many things you will not write. I am more careful now about the words I use, the ones I write and the ones I speak.
I have a writer/editor-friend who gave a generous and careful critique of a recent piece. One of the most important things she noted had to do with a main character. She said, “I think you need just one more brushstroke.” That note has stayed with me. I consider it whenever I’m editing my work. After all, one brushstroke can change everything.
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