Writers: Honor the Passion of Your Original Idea

“Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants. For most of history people just made things, and they didn’t make such a big freaking deal out of it.”

~Elizabeth Gilbert

Hedging, equivocating, and buffering

While peer-editing an article for a friend of mine, I highlighted a passage that read, “I really do love my kids, and it’s not always this difficult.”

My comment: “Get rid of this. You don’t need to equivocate your position.”

She was writing an article about the challenges of parenting and, like many of us, fell into the trap of wanting to make sure that no one would think less of her while speaking her truth.

Meanwhile, I was writing an article about marriage, in which I’d added similar sentiments, such as, “Sometimes we handle disagreements better than this, but this time…”

It’s easy to see it when other writers do it; not as easy to see it when we do it ourselves.

This is a natural human instinct, but it’s one we must resist if we wish to be a true creative.

When we sit down to write, most of us have an idea in mind. This idea has fire beneath it—a fire of passion, originality, or truth. We imagine what we want to say as our fingers itch to get started.

But then, our fears interrupt the process: “Is it too strong?” “Do I sound like a bitch?” “What will people think?”

So, we start adding qualifiers and buffer statements, such as:

“I think/believe that…”

“I could be wrong, but…”

“I’m generally more forgiving/patient/mindful…”

“This is only my perspective…”

“I wonder if…”

If we do manage to get the difficult and powerful statements down on the page, we often spray it with flowery language right before sending it on.

I’ve been in enough women’s and spiritual circles to know to brace for the inevitable, “This is my difficult truth, but here is something about me that makes it better.” This is a natural human instinct, but it’s one we must resist if we wish to be a true creative.

Between the moment the idea first comes in and the moment we press publish, an idea bumps against all our fears and conditioning. Each time it does, and we react by equivocating or hedging ourselves, our voice grows weaker. We slowly disempower the savoriness of our original message until it’s nothing but watery soup.

By adding qualifiers, we might mollify our fears. But, we are doing a disservice to both the original idea and to our readers.

Follow the loyalty

“Allow your passion to breathe through your writing.”

~ Bryan Hutchinson, author of Writer’s Doubt

Every time I’ve changed a sentence out of fear of what people might think, I’ve regretted it later when no one seemed moved by the altered statement. These statements have left me, and I assume the reader, less than satisfied.

On the other hand, every time I’ve let a sentence stand despite my fears, it’s often that sentence that people highlight and appreciate the most.

All the times I’ve worried what people might think, it’s never what I imagine.

If a reader thinks I’m a horrible parent because I’m talking about the challenges of raising children, well, let them. But in my experience, this doesn’t happen. More often, people are grateful for my candor.

It can’t be our job to try to qualify for every type of reader who comes to our work. We can’t anticipate every question or disposition and account for it. This is not what we, as writers, owe the readers. This is not what I owe any of you.

Readers deserve the wholeness of our work. They deserve to feel the piece as intensely as we did when we first received the idea.

What I, and thus we, do owe readers is honest and fair work. We should be succinct while allowing enough detail for a true picture to emerge. We should do our best to be grammatically and syntactically correct, and make our work visually appealing. We should deliver on the premise of the title.

But trying to ensure your, the reader’s, comfort, or trying to make sure you don’t think less of me—fears that I should not allow to constrain me from doing my job as a bestower and I urge my fellow creative artists to write with decisive courage of the heart and mind.

Collectively, readers aren’t looking for apologetic, buffered, tip-toeing voices. They are looking for strength and conviction. They want to read something raw, fresh, and brave. They are seeking writers who will offer and stand by a point of view.

Readers deserve the wholeness of our work. They deserve to feel the piece as intensely as we did when we first received the idea.

Get out of the way

Think again about that initial creative spark, and what it feels like when it first shows up. It’s pure light and energy, powerful enough to catalyze change, bring healing, or awaken a visceral response. The idea has chosen us to deliver it. Our job is nothing more, and nothing less, than allowing that creative energy to move right through us for receipt by those meant to feel it.

It’s like a game of pinball, only instead of trying to keep the ball alive by bouncing it off of everything, our goal is to shoot the ball up and get it to drop straight down and out without bumping against anything at all.

Let an idea come in through the top of your head and exit out your fingertips. Let us put our bodies in service to the work, not in obeisance to our fears, prejudices, or concerns over what someone might think.

The more we stand in our truth and let creativity move right through us without tempering or altering it, the more we will be entrusted with even bigger, fiercer, game-changing ideas.

Get out of our own way, is the advice that’s meant to keep us from self-sabotage. But it’s also good advice to keep the creativity flow as raw and authentic as possible.

Our job as writers is to be transparent. To be vulnerable, whole, and real on the page. To inspire change, or bring a story to life without softening its power.

To succeed at this, we must stand up for our ideas by telling our fears to stand down.

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