I can’t breathe.
These were some of the last words spoken by George Floyd. Sadly, he’s not the only black man to have said them.
My feelings about the incident are clear. Black lives matter. Institutional racism is a serious problem that must be addressed. Together, we can end these senseless deaths.
When I heard about Floyd’s death, I wanted to say something that honors the pain of my black and brown friends and family members while also admitting a hard truth: my privilege is part of the problem.
Actually, admitting my white privilege is easy for me.
What’s difficult to admit is how the shame behind my privilege sometimes makes it difficult to do the work required to end racism.
In her podcast, “How to Write a Kickass Essay,” Ann Hood says we should not just write about what keeps us up at night, but “Always say the hardest thing—the thing you don’t even know you feel.”
Expressing the thing you don’t even know you feel is the essence of any great piece of writing.
These deep truths are often discovered through the body. We write them and our throats tighten, our chests ache, or tears form in our eyes.
Hard truths resonate with readers. To write them takes courage.
Here’s your first voice lesson: To cultivate truth in your voice, you need to find the courage to:
- Dig a little deeper
- Let go of being likable
- Develop a willingness to be vulnerable
- Make friends with your fears
- Say your truth your way
Here’s your inner work.
Courage comes from the Latin word for heart. To write with courage is to write from the heart.
Feedback can help you dive below the superficial points in a writing project. Insights that sting or raise your hackles can signal there’s more to explore. If you get uncomfortable feedback, take a break and practice self-care. When you’re feeling better, return to the work and journal about whether the reader has a point and why you might be struggling to hear their message.
As you do this, let go of likeability. Attempting to writing for everyone leads to bland work that’s likely to be ignored. Instead, have the courage to speak your truth.
Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” The deepest truths fit this definition. Treat them with the utmost respect and refuse to give them away for cheap reasons like platform building or going viral. Instead of overexposing yourself by letting it all hang out on the page, make sure your vulnerability has a clear purpose.
If you plan to publish a vulnerable piece, ask yourself the following questions:
How does publishing this work serve my audience?
Does it enlighten, connect, or comfort readers?
Does it add to an important conversation?
Writer Dorothy Bernard says, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” The most courageous people are not fearless, they are people who walk with their fears. If you want to create a strong, powerful voice, befriend your fears.
As you do this inner work, connect with other writers who can support your growth.
Once you’ve articulated that hardest thing, find your way of saying it. Your way comes from a place of authenticity, which is lesson number two.
Here’s your outer work:
Re-read something by an author you admire. Identify the hard truths in their stories. Ask yourself what it might take for you to share something similar.
Here’s your writing work:
Set a timer for ten minutes. Write about a topic related to your work in progress.
Pause and then write if I were to go a little deeper.
Set a timer for five minutes and keep going.
When the bell rings, write I don’t want to write about . . .
Write for ten more minutes. Then practice self-care.
And, if you’re looking for ways to become a better ally to the black community, here are a few educational resources:
- The Talking about Race page for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
- For Our White Friends Desiring to be Allies by Courtney Ariel
- Mindful of Race by Ruth King (order from your favorite local bookstore)
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
Here are some additional things you can do:
- Read works by authors of color and sharing them on social media.
- Support black businesses in your area
- Donate money to charities that support the interests and wellbeing of people of color.
If we use our voices courageously, we can become the change we want to see in this world.
What helps you have courage? Send me an email. I’d really like to know.