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

  1. I’ve followed your work since that first writing gig, and I can sincerely say that your gut deep honesty about the perils and joys of writing should encourage and inspire writers everywhere. Yes, everyone has their own routine, fits of inspiration, and dry spells—yet you keep on keeping on. I love your novels! Much like teaching, you never know how your words will impact someone else, especially writers! Thanks always for sharing. Hugs!

        1. I agree wholeheartedly! We live in a world that offer many possibilities, but the best of all possibilities is to meet creative and kindred spirits that support, sustain, inspire. There is a feeling that we can endure much because we are not alone. We cannot be underestimated. Hugs coming your way!

    1. Oh, man. I was on a deleting streak for a while there, Eden. Several ideas bounced around in my head that never made it to the page, then I wrote half of two other blogs and deleted them. I thought I was losing it, but I realized I was sorting through my creative process. Anyway, here we are…victory! 🙂

  2. I love these sentences: “Now I request extensions when I need them. Because I meditate on words for days—sometimes, weeks.”

    So powerful.

    I used to write witty ‘readers thoughts’ for an online publication years ago and a few times got someone’s back up or received a snarky comment back. Once an annoyed reply that was long enough for an article they published. I never set out to offend or upset but it was a heavy realization to the weight that words carry and knowing there is a responsibility attached.

    1. Thank you for the writing compliment.

      Yes, you know firsthand about the responsibility we carry when sharing our words.

      It’s pretty crazy how unforgiving and brash people can be when they voice their opinions from the anonymous protection of their screens.

      I suspect that very few of these commentators (if any of them) are writers or creative types who put themselves out there. Personally, I’ve never heckled anyone online. I think there’s something to that.

  3. Britt, you are so important to me because of the truths you speak and the kindnesses you unveil when I’m trying not to get lost. Yes, words are important but it take skill to use them so single-minded people will see the grey on the edges of their beliefs. Wonderful post!

    1. Thank you, Dannie. I’m glad speaking my truth is helpful in some way. I’ve certainly offended plenty of people with my observations in the past.

      We can’t win them all, nor should we try to win them all.

    1. Thank you! So glad my words are hitting their target…score! It was SO fun having you on the podcast and I can’t wait to publish your interview. I loved everything you said. Your stories and outlook are beautiful and courageous!

      1. Thank you so much for having me over! I’m sure once again you’ll hit your target and score on this new project of yours! You’re an inspiring woman who also knows how to empower others around her.
        I don’t think I said anything new or original but I’m happy to hear your feedback and realize I may be a little too harsh on myself sometimes…
        Thank you! 😙😙😙
        Take care, enjoy it alla and make it happen!

  4. I remember writing my first restaurant review. I was a nervous wreck, though I had nothing but great things to say about my meal and the ambiance there. Still, I worried that my opinion wasn’t the same as other people’s. I worried that the newspaper’s readers would decide I didn’t know what I was talking about. But I loved it, and the restaurant manager loved it, and my confidence grew from that.

    The pen really IS mightier than the sword, and for that, I’m grateful. When we use our pens and words wisely, people read what we have to say and let our words settle in their minds. It can be powerful. And it can be beautiful. I’m not sure I’d ever say the same about the results from wielding a sword.

    1. Totally agree on the sword-wielding comment. Much happier with my “pen”…er, mostly keyboard these days!

      I’m sure every writer’s first article is a huge deal, especially when you get into a journalistic situation that involves interviews or reviews. No pressure…ha!

    1. Writers do have a responsibility. I think writers have always taken their work seriously, but things have changed so much now that everyone is creating content. It’s a good reminder for all of us!

  5. I’ve recently started to do a little freelance writing work – for private clients rather than business/commercial. It certainly carries a new responsibility in accurately reflecting the wishes of the client, rather than recklessly going off on tangents of one’s own making.

    Keep up the great work Britt, and Happy Christmas 🙂

    1. Happy New Year, Roy!

      Very cool that you’re getting into freelance work. There are so many opportunities for writers now…it’s pretty crazy.

      However, with the freelance writing life comes multiple personality disorder as you take on the voices of other people/brands. I’ve gotten somewhat used to it. Which is why it’s so refreshing to write a personal blog with my own voice from time to time. Good luck out there!

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