During my time spent teaching College English, I began each semester by writing on the board some wise words from Peter Elbow, best known for his influential work in writing theory, practice, and pedagogy.
In Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience, he writes…
Even when we write, alone in a room to an absent audience, there are occasions when we are struggling to figure something out and need to push aside awareness of those absent readers.
I wanted each of my students to read those words as they began the semester…I wanted them to write without worry.
Twice in recent months, I’ve heard friends speak of the role their readership plays in what they write.
Twice, I’ve been saddened to think that what is inside of them…what needs to come out…is being silenced by what they worry their readers will think.
Tonya, who writes over at Letters for Lucas, broke my heart this week with her words in her post That Girl…
For those of you that have stuck in there with me, thank you! I appreciate all of the support, virtual hugs and kind comments. I pour my heart and soul into my posts and they are very therapeutic. I know in my case, the way my parents died is very unusual and part of the way I grieve is by writing. It has helped me survive something that could have dropped me to my knees for the rest of my life.
Loss is a part of life and while for my parents it was too instant and too soon, there will never be anything I can do to change it, so I write about and remember and heal a little bit each day.
Sherri, another dear friend, who writes Old Tweener, a beautiful and heartfelt blog, wrote about her son leaving for college last year in Family Tree. She expressed to me, after writing that piece, that she was concerned that her readers might stay away if she wrote too often about working through her emotions. Then, like an echo of that concern, several months ago she received some feedback from a reader that she just couldn’t read her words anymore because they made her too emotional.
Both of these women write from a place of honesty.
They write to process, to heal, to express themselves.
And what do I say to the fact that they lost readers based on what they write about? I say let those readers go…they weren’t meant for you. Write from your heart and new readers will come…readers who want to hear your authentic voice, not a voice you’ve altered to please others.
I was told last year that I should talk about my father less, that I shouldn’t share so much of my grief with others because by doing so, I’m defining myself by my loss.
I cannot pretend that his death isn’t a huge part of who I am today. I cannot pretend that I’m not still grieving his loss through each and every stage of my life.
So, when I feel words tumbling around in my brain, needing to be expressed, that is what I will do.
That is what I encourage each of you to do.
Because once we’ve lost the honesty and authenticity in our words, we may as well close our laptops and call it a day.
A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. –Maya Angelou