writer's responsibility

The Great Responsibility of Being a Writer

I’m not a politician. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a teacher. I’m not important. I’m not famous. I’m not cool. I’m just a writer.

Writing never used to be about responsibility. Writing was always my quiet rebellion.

Precious secrets spilled onto the chocolate-stained, tear-smudged pages of my tattered journal. I unleashed my thoughts, yet they were still protected from the rest of the world. They were safe from ridicule and reason, a stream of consciousness nobody needed to interpret.

About nine years ago I finally realized the impact of words. I attempted to become an Arts & Entertainment journalist for an alternative publication in a small city. I had no experience. I nearly begged to write for them, and for whatever reason, they let me.

On my first writing gig, I shook my interviewee’s sweaty hand with a firm grip. And, I wondered why his hand was so much sweatier than mine. His eyes darkened when I brought the dutiful little notebook and cheap BIC pen out of my bag.

When something negative slipped out of his mouth, he stopped in the hallway of the theater. His hand hovered over my pen as if he was about to take it and disappear through a trap door. “Wait, don’t write that. Please.”

I left my interview carrying this 50-pound weight where my heart used to be. The weight of the words yet to be written. The weight of responsibility.

This 400-500 word article took me forever to write. Inexperience was partially to blame. What really slowed me down was tenderness. The piece was a celebration of the theater on its 100th anniversary. I wrote slowly and carefully to honor its resilience, its memories, its soul.

When the article released, for the first time my name was publicly connected to my words—online and in print. Seeing my work published scared me…it still scares me to this day.

That article was also my first bad review. One reader hated the theater and left a thoughtful comment that began with: Ugh…what a joke of an “article.”

Since then, I’ve written about 1,000 blogs and articles, along with four novels. I’ve been a content marketer for the past five years. And the sense of responsibility takes on a whole new meaning when you become the voice of a brand, ghostwrite for managers, directors, and VPs, when you post on a CEO’s social media account.

My words have offended and inspired, educated and confused many people I will never meet. “The pen is mightier than the sword” adage is some of the truest words I will ever know.

I often turn back to my first published article. I see the nervous-wreck of a man I interviewed and I recite the opening line of my reader’s venomous comment: Ugh…what a joke of an “article.”

There are so many writers now. So many words filling pages and screens, created out of a mixed bouquet of bone-deep passions and revenue-driven agendas. Do these writers understand the great responsibility they carry? Or, do they write in blissful ignorance?

The more I write, the slower I write. I carefully construct. I agonize. I surrender to Hemingway, “sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I never used to miss deadlines.

Now I request extensions when I need them. Because I meditate on words for days—sometimes, weeks.

I never used to delete my work.

I’ve written several blog posts since the last one from three months ago. You’ll never read any of them, because they had a weak pulse and now they are gone.

As writers, we carry a great responsibility and our words should reflect care. No, we’re not saving lives when we write. But, we are impacting them. So…

Delete…or maybe, just maybe…Publish.

30 thoughts on “The Great Responsibility of Being a Writer

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