The Art of Making a Living out of Your Life
Intimate, squishy writing should promote human dignity, not auction it off
Mention confessional writing and different people will have a different definition of the genre.
Essentially, it depends on the kind of reading they favor and whether curiosity or voyeurism guides them. While one could argue they’re one and the same, they exist on a spectrum between self-respect and none, whose definitions are often reversed.
To have self-respect does not mean volunteering all the lurid details about how something ended up benefiting you against all odds. Instead, it is about showing why those details should matter to others, i.e. the readers. Our confessions have a purpose, an addressee, and a message hidden in plain sight: I am an alternate version of you. They do not scream look at me, spinning my secrets into gold dust and settling scores to enrich myself at your expense.
Your writing should command respect, not demand it; preserve and honor your privacy and that of those whom you write about.
Can our emotions turn into our livelihood? Yes but that’s not the whole story.
Those who come to the page with purpose always look beyond the financial aspect of writing; words are power. How we tackle societal issues in print through a personal lens is how we move forward as a society; writing is a radical act of communication. It is a statement of intent, permanent, recorded and distributed through social media channels. The moment we publish them, our words begin to gather meaning we didn’t necessarily assign to them, which it why we need to choose them carefully. The more exacting our prose, the least likely we are to be misconstrued or cause irreversible damage to others.
We have a duty of care toward those we write about, and it starts with our own self; we owe it to ourselves and to others to be fair, open, and honest. Misrepresenting anyone for personal gain can lead to slander or libel, something bloggers forget. Sometimes, it takes lawyers to remind us assassinating someone’s character on a public platform can cost far more than it pays.
We think we’re settling a score by spilling our secrets but we’re destroying someone’s reputation under the guise of free speech. It’s not unreasonable to envisage that they might want to defend themselves, should they come to find out about our betrayal.
Whether a litigious society such as ours cares more about enforcing common decency or getting paid is another matter.
As writers, our words are our bond(s) as we unpack some truths we were entrusted with while maintaining human dignity. We are the documentarians and the archivists of our shared humanness, those who guide history. By thinking how we can use our emotions to better promote understanding among society, we are transcending the limits of language. Others relate reflexively when we communicate an emotion, this is when empathy and compassion happen.
But when we dredge that emotion up without doing our due diligence and processing it into information that can benefit everyone, it rots. And the problem with rot is that it spreads fast because fear doesn’t call for intellectual effort. Fear makes us judge and define the unknown instead of beginning to discover it, experience by experience. Sharing our personal experience of what it means to be a human in the world is how we parse the human condition and begin to know ourselves and one another.
Copy that makes us afraid of our differences does exactly the opposite: it alienates us from one another and destroys society.
Whatever we write about, whatever our genre, we must always bear in mind the political power of words, toward which we have a duty of care. Much like the planet we live on, the language we speak is on loan and not ours to exploit for our personal gain. Even good marketers know that.
But Trump, for example, does not.
If you’re only in it for yourself then have the decency to do this in private because public greed is the rot we’re trying to write ourselves out of.
We’re using the internet to erase geography, sticking our hearts and minds together to find common solutions. While you don’t have to join us, please understand we will push back if you attempt to hijack our craft by selling off human dignity. And we will not let up until all human lives have equal value that can never be quantified in dollars because life is priceless.
Vocation is never self-serving, unless we’re planning to outlive language and truth.
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.