7 Things Honest Writers Don’t Do
A humorous listicle about the urgent political necessity of making words matter again
Although it brands itself as honest, ours is a culture as fake as the imposters it seeks to expose. In a digital landscape powered by algorithms in thrall to whatever keeps users on a site longest, it’s all about grabbing attention and keeping it.
But how can you tell if what you’re reading is a bona fide attempt at moving thinking forward or algorithm junk food dictated by greed and designed to cash in on whatever is trending?
Opinions are like nose hairs, everyone has them but it’s not always the best idea to tweeze them out in public.
Here are some pointers that will help you not waste your time with fluff:
#1 — honest writers don’t hold your eyeballs hostage
Long reads are an immersive reading experience that have the power to stay with you for a long time.
But bloated reads are so padded you have no idea what you’re reading. Even if curiosity demands you plow through it, you’ll get to the end none the wiser, having likely lost yourself along the way countless times.
In some cases, you may notice something a little odd: the same adjective keeps cropping up a dozen times throughout the text. Why is that?
#2 —honest writers don’t tell you what to think
Social media marketing of the self and personal brands have a lot to answer for.
Between dude bros who introduce themselves in vanity metrics and the eye-watering number of people claiming the title of top this or top that, we’re living in a culture of highly successful and fearless high achievers.
They make us feel terribly out of place while telling us they, too, were once as mediocre as we are. None of it is intellectual respectful.
#3 — honest writers don’t blame others for their shortcomings
Acknowledging our individual and collective imperfections in print is how we move thinking forward and level up.
The process requires accountability, intellectual effort, and the humility to accept we’re fallible, selfish, and not very nice a lot of the time. So we might, somehow, transcend.
We’re not dumb because our culture made us that way; we’re dumb because we repeatedly choose not to entertain ideas different from our own.
#4 — honest writers don’t aim to please
Copy that only concerns itself with leading readers to reflection doesn’t curry favor nor attempts to embellish, minimize, or fabricate the truth.
Disagreeing strongly with someone is what happens when words trigger our moral compass and self-inquiry kicks in. Enlightenment is unpleasant.
#5 — honest writers don’t sell themselves
The messenger is never the message, not even when it comes to the personal essay, perhaps one of journalism’s greatest misnomers.
Think of it as the universal essay instead then notice how what you read makes you feel. If our reaction is pity or schadenfreude, we’ve been duped.
If it’s compassion, a new sense of human connectedness is unfolding. Compassion is a group project, transaction is a personal one.
#6 —honest writers don’t tell you they are
Manhandling language got us words that are their own antonym now. Honesty is a matter of interpretation. Readers should be free to make up their own mind and also change it.
The more we know, the more we realize how little we know about ourselves and one another. Writing is an invitation to wander into the unknown and explore it.
#7 — honest writers don’t quote Billy Joel
Otherwise, they can find a lover, they can find a friend, they can have security until the bitter end. Anyone can comfort us with promises again, we know.
Even the word of deities makes brains sweat it out for meaning because parables in translation are as variable as their translator.
Same with honest writing: It doesn’t tell us what it is, it shows us.
Dystopia is one hell of a trip, isn’t it?
Documenting our writerly vanities during the most life-affirming period of our history when a pandemic reminded us we were an us rather than a collection of me, me, me is so self-referential one can’t help but wonder whether an internet might have misunderstood the purpose of writing altogether: human communication.
The human aspect matters.
We’re not writing to feed algorithms, we’re writing to feed our collective understanding of what it means to a person in a topsy-turvy world. Attention is a gift, not an entitlement.
So why do so many folks still waste people’s time?
George Orwell may offer a clue:
“And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.” (Why I Write, 1946)
So let us make words matter again, fellow humans, so our children and grandchildren may come to know 2020 as the year America achieved perfect vision.
Never underestimate the power of enthusiasm and imagination.
It can’t be faked and it endures.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.