In Telling True Stories, Donna Britt writes:
Writing a column is an intimate act—probably the most intimate one you can perform in a newspaper. It’s a conversation. I am never happier than when I’m having a conversation with someone and we are both fully engaged in it. I approach column writing the same way. People hunger for connection. Most of us are curious about the rest of the world, and about other people and their stories.
Every year, America’s most prominent journalists and nonfiction authors gather at Harvard’s Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism, and Telling True Stories is filled with their best advice—advice that has very recently landed well with me.
In what continues on as a beautiful little piece, Britt describes how there are no boring people, only undiscovered people.
For a while I was feeling undiscovered, and that’s why I dusted off my old brick of a laptop and began writing again.
I started writing personal essays when I was still in art school, but I wrote those so I could discover myself, a very different reason than the one that lead me to writing now: Apart from feeling undiscovered, I look around and see a world that I’m not sure I recognize anymore. I see extreme polarization in our politics. I see extreme waste and thoughtlessness. I want the world to be better, and I decided that getting to know other people and letting other people get to know me is the first place to start.
I’ve never been professionally trained in narrative writing, aside from the few classes I took in high school. It’s something I first gravitated to because I liked doing it and it helped me to understand myself better. I studied graphic design but instead of notebooks filled with sketches, I have piles of Moleskines filled with field notes and essays. Deep down, I am a writer and probably always have been.
I’m going to continue with another excerpt from Britt’s piece in Telling True Stories because it stopped me cold when I read it. She writes, I thought, for the exact same reasons as me.
I write intimate columns because I want people to know me. I still believe that if other people know one another, they won’t decide whether to like one another based on gender or race or religion…
I write about sexism, racism, and violence—issues that many people would rather not deal with but have strong opinions about. In each column I have a couple of paragraphs, at most, to convince my reader: You don’t already know everything you need to know about this.
I’ve written before about a proverbial onion—every situation, to me, is mostly surface posturing and if I want to develop a full understanding of what’s really motivating another I’ll need to use empathy and peel back a few layers.
That’s why I write. To reveal myself, and reveal what the world looks like through my eyes in a thoughtful way. In turn I hope it will inspire others to do the same, because real change starts with understanding, and often with oneself.
Writing is also one way for me to manage my emotional health. Part of the long-term management is becoming more self-aware, and letting others know me. There is absolutely nothing in this world like letting another know you, disagree with you, and to then achieve mutual acceptance after. Maybe the only feeling better is the one of courageousness that comes after sharing feelings and opinions that some may not understand and may instead judge.
I don’t know what comes next, but I do know that right now I’m continuing to develop myself as a writer, professionally. I’m taking creative writing and narrative journalism classes, and I’m more serious about writing than I’ve ever been. This isn’t easy for me because all I really want to be is locked away with my thoughts, writing—not in a class. But I think, even if a thing seems to come naturally to anyone, it’s important to seriously study the craft before committing to it. Still, I’ll leave you with this; because sometimes the only way to perfect really is 100% practice:
I remember reading about how one time Sinclair Lewis was invited to talk to a group of aspiring writers. He asked, "How many of you are really serious about being writers?" All of their hands went up. And he asked, "Then why aren't you all home writing?" And then he walked out of the room.