Last week, I set my momma up for the fall. Not on purpose, of course, but the end result was the same nonetheless. I took an assumption – my mother MIGHT vote for Trump – and couched it in two stories that without context (and for some people, even with context) painted my mother in a less than stellar light. Not to mention that the piece didn’t have an ask or create much in the way of conversation in the way I wanted it too. What started out, in my mind, as a discussion about family members with significant ideological differences, ended up being a personal statement about my mother where others filled in the blanks that I left wide open.
I pretty much said this: My mother is probably a Trump supporter and makes inappropriate statements at inappropriate times in a racial nature while attempting to prove a point full of blind spots about Black people. My mother is a ___________.
Folks here at VSB were super respectful and I appreciate that. From the heart. On Facebook, however, it was a different story. I can’t tell you how many people approached me offline to ask me why I wrote the piece, or more commonly, what was the piece’s point? Including family. To be fair, I got several other people who also said that they appreciated it because it raised questions for them in their own families, etc. We all have family and they’re not all perfect. The difference is that I put my mother on blast without any defense. I pretty much pulled the goalie then put the ball in front of the goal. Then scored an own-goal. Three times.
I know what I was trying to do; I failed at it. And because I’m evolved, I’m always looking for the lessons, and there are plenty to be taken away from that episode. Learning never stops and its important to pay it all forward. With that being said, and for you aspirational writers, and even those who submit pieces to us here at VSB, I’d like to talk about a few lessons that were learned here.
1. Writing is reading (and re-writing).
One of the most important things you can do when you write something is re-read it. Over and over. At this point, I’ve moved past the point where I re-read things I write four and five times. However, it bit me in the ass last week. Typically, I write something, do a quick scan for easy edits (I fail on copyediting many times, sue me…actually don’t) and then post it when I’m done. I trust myself as a writer (both a gift and a curse at times) to convey what I’m trying to get across. I’m a pretty stream of consciousness writer as it is, so most pieces I write work best when I just let them bitches breathe. It’s also why I spend a lot of time writing things less based on what’s in the news and more based on what I feel or matters to me at the moment. I provide that balance here to Damon’s immediate delivery on the day’s happenings. For instance, many of y’all were probably wondering where the hell a piece on Lena Dunham’s cry-baby Darth Becky ass was or is. Damon typically would have been on that like white on rice, which is all pun everything. Thing is…
…you know what? You see what I just did there. I did what I normally do. I just go where my mind takes me, which can be so far from where I started that I head in a totally different direction. For me, it usually works. But it isn’t a style that works for everybody. Basically I stray. And I stray and I stray. I will re-read that one day and cringe, by the way. Also, that rhymed.
Point here is, when you write something, re-read it to make sure that you get your point across. Hell, make sure you have a point. There’s a difference between having a voice and just plain ole talking. That piece last week? I was just talking. Don’t just talk unless its in your journal or to a stripper.
2. Context is everything.
We all know this. Many of us fail at this often. In fact, I’d bet most people think they’re great communicators when the truth is, most people are shitty at the art of communication. We often expect others to fill in the blanks or use all of the context clues or just be willing to give us the benefit of the doubt. And no diggety, I got a lot of that with what I wrote. Because we have the luxury of being many years in the game and lots of people feel like they know us, some of the things we write here are given significant benefit of the doubt and buttressed by the history that people have with us or know about us.
People have asked me, in a very personal fashion, about my mother, family, etc. based on from things posted on IG or Facebook. When somebody feels they know you and have some grounding in who you are they treat you differently than they do if they don’t know you. Here on VSB, I feel like I got the respect treatment because folks know me. On Facebook, when a post gets shared thousands of times and ends up on the timelines of people who still don’t know about VSB (the horror!), you get somebody coming at you sideways. And it’s not their fault. It’s my own fault for not providing enough context where context was definitely needed, especially in a piece ALREADY brimming with heat.
Even though context is everything…
3. Some shit is just unnecessary to put into a piece because it takes away more than it adds, context or not.
Look, I shared two stories that were pretty innocent on their face in the real world. They were nowhere near as bad as they came across. They were also two personal moments between my mother and I that really didn’t help matters at all or needed to be shared. I presented them as part of a piece that ALREADY had a super negative lean so it didn’t help matters at all. Had I really done a thorough reading of what I had written, I likely would have started to expand on them, or smartly, taken them both out. They’re funny stories to me because of how they happened. But y’all don’t know my mother. My friends do, and they remember those things.
But if you don’t know my mother OR me as well as you might need to in order to understand how that can happen, then it just sounds like my mother is ridiculous. And a racist. And I’m not here trying to change minds or hearts, I’m saying that the lesson for writers is to make sure that when you add a story to something you write, you make sure its relevant and gets across the right idea or point. And if you can’t do it right, just don’t do it. Less is more isn’t just a saying, it’s real.
Of course, if my piece had a point in the first place, then maybe those stories could have been legit jumping off points for discussion, but alas, they didn’t so most people did their best to dance around saying what they really wanted to say but because of the respect factor and laid off the button.
Nothing I’ve said here is ground-breaking. In fact, it’s all common sense. However, we can all stand to be reminded of that every so often. For those of us who write and are ultimately the last word on what goes up on an outlet, it’s an important reminder. Damon and I have the benefit of all of the freedom in the world to post what we want. Since there’s nobody yaying or naying things, there are times when things we put up, whether written by us or others, don’t go the way we want for various reasons. It’s important to revisit how the way something is framed dictates the entire tone of the conversation following. I didn’t forget that, but I got lazy with that. And I need to remind myself to do better.
So for those of you who write and enjoy the art of written word, just remember this: Write drunk; edit sober. And re-read your shit.
But most importantly, don’t set up your momma.
As always, thanks, Obama.