When I was in Denver in April, I read Dinty Moore’s wonderful new book, The Mindful Writer. No. 49 and Dinty’s comments on the quote made a big impression on me when I first read the book, and now as I pick it back up to re-read some my favorite pages:
“Writing is a struggle against silence.”—Carlos Fuentes
An excerpt from Dinty’s comments:
“It is wise to remind ourselves on occasion why we write and why it matters so much. There is too much left unsaid in the world, either because what needs to be said is deemed to be impolite, because it is deemed dangerous, or because it contradicts the accepted version put forth by family, government, religious leaders, or the society we live in….
… the very act of giving yourself permission to write, to speak, to share the truth no matter whether the truth you understand is the truth others want to acknowledge, is brave, powerful, and important.”
Why are these words so meaningful for me right now? In addition to being in the middle of final revisions on my novel (before querying agents) right now, I’m also starting a book tour for Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. My next reading/signing will be at Burke’s Books in Memphis on July 12. David Waters, Religion Editor for The Commercial Appeal (Memphis newspaper) has asked me to contribute a guest editorial for his regular column, “Faith Matters.” The column will appear sometime in late June, and he has offered to promote the Circling Faith event alongside my editorial. Generous offers, so I went to work right away.
I sent a copy of my first draft of the editorial to my two best friends last week. You know—the draft you write without any “watchers” censoring you? There were things that needed to be said, but not necessarily in a large city newspaper. As I take out my editor pen and begin to cut and shape the piece, I’m thinking about Dinty’s words with each slice and tweak:
Will my words be deemed to be impolite or dangerous?
Will they contradict the accepted version put forth by family members or religious leaders?
If I give myself permission to share truth that others may not acknowledge as truth, am I being brave?
The answer to all three of those questions would be “yes” if I were to submit the unabridged version of my editorial. But there’s another force at work here, and it’s coming at me through the wisdom of close friends as well as my own conscience when I step away from the writing long enough to tune in to that inner voice. (Which is different from the voice of “watchers,” by the way.) That inner voice tells me to ask some different questions as I edit the column:
Will my words convey anger or frustration, rather than compassion and peace?
Can they be written with respect to family member and religious leaders?
Can I still share “my truth” with honesty and integrity, knowing that some others may not acknowledge it as “their truth”?
One of the best pieces of wisdom a friend shared with me about my approach to this piece is to remember that I’m not writing a memoir that people can choose to buy or not to buy. This is not my book. I’m an invited guest of a newspaper (and specifically a religion editor) that is read by thousands of people in the greater Memphis area and beyond.
I’m thinking about mystery and manners now and wondering what would Flannery O’Connor do? Or Madeleine L’Engle? Or two of my favorite contemporary memoirists, Mary Karr and Anne Lamott? I know all of them would “tell it true,” (and with a masterful command of prose) but I also know that their words would be seasoned with grace.
And so I return to the work with all of these thoughts in mind, as well as Saint Paul’s words to the Ephesians about “speaking the truth in love….” (Ephesians 4:15.)
Watch for the results of all this posturing in about a month… I’ll link to the column here when it comes out. Thanks for reading!