thinking about writing

I wrote a short while ago about how I started ‘being’ and writing online way back when – when it were all fields round here, dear. Not quite before there were people, but before there was everybody – and more importantly before I really had a clue what that explosion really meant (and before I spent years musing on the non-divide between public and private in Roman politics!) – and before I had to think about setting myself some guidelines.  But then things grow up and change, and you find you have to starting thinking about such things or start the fire at the tips of your toes and wait for it to consume you.

I love this from Sarah Bessey:

I used to be more bold because obscurity is its own protection.

The more people show up to read my stuff, the more care I feel about my words. The more I know that people are listening – actually listening – the less I want to run off my mouth. I would never write something like my old Letter to Women’s Ministry – that girl was way more bold than I feel most days. I want to offer disclaimers and nuance for everything from my views on hell to how I like to use too much butter on my bread.

I am a kind person, I know this about myself. I am an artist and a writer, not a preacher or a teacher or an activist, and I don’t know yet how to walk the line between kindness and truth-telling sometimes.

It pretty much expresses the majority of the things I’ve been learning about writing and blogging this year, as I’ve been trying to work out what this new, potentially grown-up, version of a ten-year old blog might be and what my voice is in it.  Sometimes I find myself being terribly cautious – and sometimes I really just want to throw all of that up in the air and offend someone horribly, just because.  

Sometimes I’m willing to work at my sense of judgement, and sometimes I’m. just. not. Because sometimes I just fail at being an adult.

The voice question feels a little bit easier – because it’s evolution, not daily decision-making. You just keep going at it, writing more and more, and come to a tone that feels like you – or like you want to sound – and because I can’t actually think clearly without writing, I get plenty of practice.

Two weekends ago I was at a writers’ conference in Normandy, which was an amazing space for thinking and talking through the voice part of the question from a faith perspective. Because actually, over the last year or so, as I’ve got more and more comfortable with the voice, the content’s been evolving as well.  So what I really loved about my weekend, as well as the chance to share thoughts and ideas about a wolfingly wide number of things, and clear my mind from London-busy-ness, was the chance to think about what I want to write about and how. Not so much in terms of topic, but in my take on it – like, there’s a thing about tone that is voice and perspective, and that’s what I’m trying to think about.

Because I think, if I can get a bit better at knowing that, then the judgement thing becomes less hard work – or at least has some kind of a standard to work with. Hopefully?

Yesterday I read this, from Joss Whedon, who writes stories I love in a voice I adore, about his ‘standard’ – and I think it’s brilliant:

My stories do have hope because that is one of the things that is part of the solution—if there can be one. We use stories to connect, to care about people, to care about a situation. To turn the mundane heroic, to make people really think about who they are. They’re useful. And they’re also useful to me. Because if I wrote what I really think, I would be so sad all the time. We create to fill a gap—not just to avoid the idea of dying, it’s to fill some particular gap in ourselves.

So yeah, I write things where people will lay down their lives for each other. And on a personal level, I know many wonderful people who are spending their lives trying to help others, or who are just decent and kind. I have friends who are extraordinary, I love my family. But on a macro level, I don’t see that in the world. So I have a need to create it. Hopefully, that need gets translated into somebody relating to it and feeling hope. Because if we take that away, then I’m definitely right. I want to be wrong, more than anything. I hate to say it, it’s that line from The Lord of the Rings—“I give hope to men; I keep none for myself.” They say it in Elvish, so it sounds super cool.

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