Often when I sit down to write I have nothing to say. Yet I have few friends who I’d voluntarily engage in conversation then sit in silence with, from lack of stuff to talk about.
That’s because if it was a friend, I’d know them and we’d already have common ground to cover: work, family, friends, the GIGANTIC groundhog living in their backyard, etc.
Conversely, a lot of what you do as a writer is like a one-way conversation. Chances are you’ll never get to speak personally to many of the strangers who read a lot of your work (I don’t even talk daily to you kind, considerate folks who skim my blog to see if I mention you by name).
But if you disassociate your writing from your audience because “Why would I write to people who I’ll never meet,” everything you write becomes boring and robotic, much like a computer manual. It’s not appealing because it’s not personal or personable. People want to read things they can relate to.
For instance, embarrassing things.
Today I sat through a whole meeting with a big black mark on my face that I only saw after. I think it might have been dirt. No, I don’t know where it came from. Yes, I’m too old to have dirt on my face.
Earlier this week I walked half-way across the street in front of a line of traffic, realized my mistake, and turned around.
I trip at awkward times, sometimes laugh with food in my teeth, and frequently turn BEET red and splotchy. People have been telling me I’m loud since I was . . . well, I can’t remember when they haven’t. I’m about as subtle as a peacock.
But there’s danger in trying to be the kind of personal I would be with a friend. You’re tapping your fingers waiting for me to finish talking about myself. I’m not really all that interesting, and why should you care what dumb thing I did when what happened to you yesterday at the drinking fountain was oh-so-mortifying.
Good writing then becomes the balance of using your life experiences for your reader’s benefit. You’ve got (at least) two goals, to help your reader:
a) grow without experiencing the pain/pleasure/confusion you’ve had and they haven’t
b) cope with a circumstance they can’t escape
For example . . .
Our family dog died unexpectedly the day before my 13th birthday. We were on a business trip with my dad, and I didn’t get to say goodbye. The call came from our kind, dog-sitting neighbors. You know when the pit of your stomach becomes solid rock, and you want to turn your face toward a wall to hide your tears so no one thinks you’re a butter-hearted baby who can’t handle the facts? Me too. It feels awkward and uncomfortable.
But it’s okay to be that butter-hearted baby, sometimes. Some things are too sudden to prepare for, too complex to understand, and too hard to express with anything other than tears.
It’s okay to acknowledge that. It’s okay to cry, fume a little, not understand.
Years later (I’m long past 13, you see), I still think of our dog. She was a golden retriever, only nominally obedient, and staunchly defensive about her food bowl (our chocolate lab learned that the hard way—again and again. his learning curve was a pretty straight line). And while her dying certainly is not the hardest thing that’s happened in life around these parts (for Jesus knew what He meant, In this world you will have trouble . . .), it’s what I think of when something hard or sad or bad happens.
I still have fond memories of her. While I wish she hadn’t died the way she did, I no longer cringe at the memory of her death—I think of the happiness of her life.
And I remember one more thing: trouble isn’t where Jesus stopped.
In this world you will have trouble . . . But I will give you peace.
Sometimes, you just have to wait for the peace. Sometimes, it takes a long time. It’s okay to be sad in the waiting.