"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
As featured on: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Write to Done, Tiny Buddha, LifeHack, Technorati, Date My Pet, South 85 Literary Journal and other award-winning sites.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How to Handle Controversial Topics Tastefully and Tactfully (and still earn money)...

A few months ago, a young lovely woman sought my services to edit and publish her book.
In addition to having me to make sure that all her "T's" were crossed and her "i's" were dotted, there was one more personal request.

She wanted me to let her know if I thought that anything she wrote would be considered potentially offensive to loved ones mentioned in her memoir. If so, she would edit it out. It was a tall order.

Yet, it's a fear that plagues many of us as we pen our pieces and share our personal lives in a public forum: how to be honest and authentic without being hurtful, controversial, or sacrificing important relationships.

But, here's where "the plot thickens," folks...

Effective writing,
Powerful writing,
Passionate writing,
Life-impacting writing,
Writing worth reading and remembering,

Often exposes some personal "truth," which leads to a universal message being shared, which leads to important discoveries for the reader. It's how "ah-ha" moments are born. It's how connections are made in the mind, heart and soul.
It's also why autobiographies and "tell-alls" top the New York Times Best Sellers' list.

Your "internal conflict," imperfections, family issues, or inner demons battled can provide resolution, inspiration, hope, forgiveness, (or even comic relief) to those in need.
There may be a MESSage in your "mess!"

With this being the case, here are a few guidelines to telling your personal stories tastefully and tactfully, and still have others respect you in the morning. :-)
  1. Consider using a pen name (pseudonym). Many famous writers write under different names to protect their anonymity and to dabble in different genres, (like erotica or fiction) without having to deal with any pre-conceived expectations or even consequences. A few famous writers that have opted to write under pen names, (according to  reports) are: J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Dr. Seuss, Nora Roberts and Michael Crichton. Another common application for pen names is in writing controversial commentary.
  2. If you must air "dirty laundry," use proper discretion, "aliases" and respectful boundaries. People are more important than profit. Especially those we cherish, (who have a right to a certain degree of privacy).
  3. Consider that you could be legally sued for libel or defamation of character. When in doubt, consult a qualified attorney and proceed with caution.  
  4. Look at the big picture. What is your goal? Is there a lesson to be learned in what you're sharing? Is now a good time to tell your story? For example, I was a huge fan of Princess Diana. Like many, when she died, I was devastated. Which is why it boggles my brain, that years later, former "friends," servants, and those who knew her well, are STILL "digging up" secrets and sharing intimate details about her life. Why now? What's the point? Controversy sells; but that doesn't mean we have to be a "sell-out."
  5. When applicable, add humor to heal. On a some-what related side note here, I love to watch stand up comedy. I think there are many techniques and approaches that can be incorporated to make writing more "entertaining." And one of those techniques is to find humor and poke fun at the idiosyncrasies and traditions of families. As creative artists, it's only natural that we would sometimes draw material from what we observe in our immediate environments, right? But be careful; don't be mean spirited or spiteful in what you share. You may even want to run your project or piece by your friends and family members before you "go public."
  6. Recognize that no matter how careful or painstaking you are-- sometimes, somebody, somewhere will be offended, or take issue with something you've written. There's not much you can do. It happens to the best of us. 
For more information, here's another forum that tastefully addresses this topic. It collectively features "16 Brilliant Bloggers" talking about Controversy. It's published through Blog World; I'm featured as number 11 on the list---published last year.

Remember that even though "the truth may set you free," it may also "liberate" long-term friendships and cherished relationships, so proceed with caution. The life you save may be your own. :-)
Have a wonderful Wednesday. Until next time...

How do you deal with controversial topics in your writing? Would you ever use a "pen" name?
Would love to hear from you on this... 

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net


  1. This is such an important topic, one I've been thinking about myself to some degree. I totally agree that we should not be afraid of honesty, especially since it's possible to be honest AND tactful. Love the "message in the mess" btw.

  2. Welcome back, Sarah. :-) It is indeed important. Though it's good for writers to be cognizant and conscientious about the feelings of others, it's crucial that we remain true to the integrity of our own individual messages. Thanks so much for stopping by and starting the conversation. Hope all is well in your corner of the world.

  3. Love your line, "There may be a message in your mess." That is the #1 thing, connecting with the the reader and giving them that take away message. I am doing a presentaion on Life Writing Saturday.

    1. How cool. Seems you've been really making the rounds lately. Congrats! By the way, I couldn't find submission info for "Well Versed" that you mentioned in one of your blog posts. Great to connect with you today.

  4. Jen, Well, how timely is this? I just finished a personal story that really hurt to write. I kept from identifying a few parties I thought in the wrong and wrote it from my gut. It tells more about myself than I generally want known, but I think there are many who can relate, so probably I'm going for it. It's got to simmer a bit more but I honestly think there's a "message in my mess." How DO you get into my head like this??? =0)

    1. Sue,

      You always make me think, relate or laugh. :-) Would love to read your story. Hope it has a "happy ending." XoXo