Own What You Know

Recently a new online friend and a member from one of the writing groups I joined posted a comment on the group Facebook page:

“I just read an ah-mazing article – simply SUPERB – and spent twenty minutes shedding tears because I can never get that good.”

Krithika, who gave me permission to use her name and the quote, went on to say she was doubting her ability to continue writing. Someone had suggested she just give up and perhaps now was the time to quit.

The group rallied in support of Krithika, writing comments of encouragement. Several shared inspirational quotes or told stories of  how they overcame similar feelings. I think it worked because she has posted about writing since then.

As this was happening, I received an email newsletter at work from a development coach. One of his articles was about the importance of crafting a compelling message for nonprofit fundraising. He titled it “Own What You Know.” While the message was geared towards the importance of a good story in a development pitch, I began to think about the message as it relates to my blog and writing dreams.

When you write memoir, you often hear how important it is to “write what you know.” This advice, while key, doesn’t go far enough for me. The “own what you know” advice resonated because in order to write my story, I have to embrace it fully. I have to honestly peel back layers to explore truths I may not like in order to own my personal story. It is my story after all – and there isn’t anyone else who can tell it from my point of view with the same authority as me. If I hide from things I find unpleasant but which define and shape me, I am not being authentic and readers will think, “Haven’t we heard this story before from someone else?” I need to own my story first. The wonderful Marion Roach Smith said this week after week last year in her memoir writing class so I don’t know why it has taken me this long to internalize it. Maybe I was just scared to do the difficult work required to own what I know.

I looked at the comments offered to Krithika and they were all variations on this theme of authenticity and originality. Only Krithika can tell her story. If she quits, we don’t get the benefit of her wisdom. Sure, I can write about her for you, but my view of her will be colored by my own experiences and the lens I use to view the world. She can not see things exactly as I do, and she needs to use her own voice to describe her story so I can see it as she does. I may not agree with her opinion or point of view, but if she owns what she knows and shares it in her unique manner as only she can, I can grow and learn in a way I never would if I heard the story told by someone else. It may not be the best writing we’ve ever read, and she might need to practice the mechanics of how to craft a story. But it will be Krithika’s original story, which nobody else can match.

It’s easy to get caught in the trap of “So-and-so already said this and she said it better than me.” We let fear of comparison prevent us from sharing our story with the world in a manner unique to us. Last week I read a post by Ryan Hanley which reminded me it is more important to be genuine and real than to be original. Sure, having a new and original thought will get you attention. Yet, aren’t we really more impressed with someone who speaks honestly about their flaws, who doesn’t hide behind perfection, who doesn’t try to project a false image? The people who motivate me the most are the ones who don’t try to be motivational. The authors who admit fear of sharing their work (whose work I view as amazing) are more inspiring than those who act as if writing is just as simple as putting your butt in a chair in front of a computer or notebook and producing words with no fear at all. My butt is regularly in a chair in front of a computer, producing words. If it were just that easy, I would have declared myself a writer long ago!

I lived in that fear of comparison until last year. I read well-written blogs and books, doubting my ability to “measure up.” Then, several events made me realize being a slave to fear was holding me back. I regularly encourage others to live without limits – shouldn’t I be practicing what I preach?

If we allow the fear to keep our voices silent, we rob ourselves of the chance to help someone else. However, when we are brave enough to own our stories and share them with others, we create potential opportunities for growth and assistance. I shared a post last week about living like a puppy. When I wrote it, I had no idea it would be so well received. After spending a week with my sister’s new puppy, I just thought we might be happier if we acted more like the puppy. Several people told me the post inspired them to simplify, or make time for play, or take a look at how they spend their time. It makes me feel good to help others, and if I had let fear keep me from sharing those words I would have missed the chance to make someone’s day a little brighter or happier.

Writing may not be the medium you use to share your voice with the world. You might grab your camera and seek to capture the perfect shot. Or you might spend hours in a practice room learning the passage which will impress everyone at your upcoming recital. Whatever way you decide to share your story, I encourage you to take the time to own it. Because we want to hear it and learn from it. And nobody can tell it the way you can.

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20 thoughts on “Own What You Know

  1. Your posts are not only informative but I can hear your story coming through the words. This is the kind of writing I like to read, and hope to be able to do myself. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

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  2. Thank you for this. Comparing ourselves to other people is never going to work. We each have something to offer, something to bring to the table.

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  3. I oftentimes have these same thoughts. They’re what always stopped me from writing and blogging before in the past. What was the point, when so many better writers before me had already written about the same subject?

    But with everything that has recently happened to me and the emotional ups and downs I’ve been through, I’ve somehow found a genuine voice to write in. For once, I feel completely unapologetic about my writing and am not comparing it to anyone else’s.

    🙂 Great post, Dee. Really loved it.

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  4. The world would be a very small place if there was only one perfect thing of any sort. How would we know what made it special? How could we appreciate it? Diversity is a human trait and we should embrace it in all aspects of our lives, as we change so do our tastes, our opinions and our expectations of what will fulfill us.
    Very thoughtful post Dee.

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  5. I can’t thank you enough for sharing this, Denise. I had a devotional website for many years long before blogging was popular. It was an outlet for me. I truly enjoyed writing there. But once blogging became popular and began reading so many others words I lost my words. Of course life’s bumps and bruises did nothing to help.
    Last year when I joined the 500 Words Group I didn’t think I’d even get the first 31 days in. Much to my surprise words came back to me. But the fear of sharing has grown instead of diminishing. So, now I must work to overcome that by doing as you’ve said. I need to own my experience and risk sharing it.

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    • Oh Melinda – please keep at it! I am glad I could reach you with my words. It’s scary to hit publish, each and every time. But when you do share your story, we all benefit. You can do it – and if you need a reminder, just let me know and I’ll be happy to be your cheerleader!

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  6. There is always someone out there who wants to read what you write. There is always someone out there that likes what you write. Have no fear is my message. Know there will always be some who wont like what you write and accept that that is okay.

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  7. Thanks for your comment. There are always people who are open to a message so it is important to keep writing. Perhaps even more so now that government legislators are incrementally adding bits and pieces to laws which ultimately have the potential to reduce our opportunities to write what we think. For example in Tasmania where I live, the state government is introducing a law which makes protesting against big business illegal. This draconian idea is being fiercely challenged, but it is an example of how rights might be eroded.

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      • The legislation has been developed to counter the public protests against the forestry industry but the legislation is broad enough so that it may catch all sorts of other situations and businesses and organisations. The Tasmanian government (regardless of which party has been in power) has continued to fund and subsidise the forestry industry for years and yet the industry and specific businesses have continued to make increasing losses. That’s all therefore at taxpayer expense. Many people believe the money given to keep the wood chippers and cutters going should be redirected to retraining those in the industry – would be much cheaper and more effective in the long term for the Tasmanian economy. Hmmm. I wonder if writing this down constitutes a non compliance with the legislation. Yes you should not worry about this only think about how wonderful your time in Tassie will be.

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