Thursday, September 15, 2016

Writing is a Risky Business by Clare McCarthy

“It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”

During my life, I have had to balance between this advice by Mark Twain and that of musician activist Pete Seeger, “If there’s something wrong, speak up!”

The resulting conflict between these two pieces of advice led me to conclude, “Writing is a risky business.” Sitting, musing about a situation, you run no risk.

By speaking up however, you run the risk of being wrong but you might then be able to weasel your way out of a statement by saying, “Are you sure that’s what I said?” 

If you express yourself, by writing, a critic can wave your written document in your face and say, “Here are your exact words. What utter nonsense! How can you be so stupid?” There will then be no weaseling out of what you really said, whether it’s a column such as this one, an editorial, a letter to the editor, or even a letter to your grandmother.

When writing, you run many risks. You might be misinterpreted, your facts might be incorrect, you might have made spelling errors or used lousy grammar or if handwritten, it might even be illegible. If you are expressing an opinion, it may not be a popular one. There will always be critics.

Another challenge in any writing is referred to as the ‘hook’. How do you begin a piece of writing to entice a reader to continued reading beyond the first few words? Following the ‘hook’, the contents of what you write must then be interesting enough to sustain the attention of your prospective audience.

In my writing, I do not always expect to be right or wrong. Hopefully what I write will make you think.  After reading what I’ve written, I’d be pleased if you commented, “I didn’t know that!” I try to include a hint of humour as well in what I write to make the experience more interesting.

Thus as you write out your thoughts, be aware of the fact that you are taking risks. Author Ted Sturgeon once said, “It doesn’t matter what you write, what you believe will show through.”

With the risks of writing, there can also be rewards. I expect that much of what I’ve written will be around much longer than I will.

To quote author Bud Gardner: “When you speak, your words echo only across the room and down the hall, but when you write, your words echo down  through the ages.”

When asked why he wrote, James Thurber said, “I don’t know what I think until I read what I have to say.”

I find writing relaxing and am constantly amazed where my ideas come from. 

Writing may be a risky business, but I feel that its benefits far outweigh its risks. 

One sage once wrote, “Risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.”

Written by Headwaters Writers' Guild member Clare McCarthy for the August 11, 2016, edition of The Orangeville Banner newspaper.