Essay, Reflections

The Ethics of Writing – A Personal Dilemma…

When should I write?  What should I write about?  What part of my writing “belongs” to the public who may read the words, and what part belongs solely to me?  Who decides when or what I should write?

These are some of the questions plaguing me today…

I know that I have not been consistent lately in keeping up with this blog.  Nor have I been able to keep up with other blogs I regularly follow.  I have my reasons, of course, and my excuses, but today I’m looking a little deeper into the why’s and wherefore’s…

It’s been said by many that a “real” writer (author) writes every day, inspired or not.  I don’t disagree with that sentiment on principle, but feel it applies more directly to those who wish to get/be published, than to those of us writing only for personal reasons.  Lately, though, I’ve received several gentle nudges from people questioning my silence.  Some were quite moving (a fellow blogger wrote a tribute poem for me).  Some were kind of wistful (“I miss reading your blog entries.”).  Some were suggestive (“you should write about that!”).  And others were damn straightforward (“I really wish you’d write more.  You should be writing, Lisa; it’s what you were born to do!”).

All of them share common characteristics – well intentioned, motivating, loving and honest.  All make me want to write more.  But the internal screen remains blank…

It’s not that I don’t have things to say, even, because I talk plenty in conversation.  I read voraciously.  I opine endlessly.  And I seek answers in words to questions not yet posed by my conscious mind; my journal is full of them. Yet I do not commit any to this forum, in spite of the many partial drafts in my draft folder, or the finished pieces. (NOTE: Even this entry has sat in my draft folder for about a week now.)  I couldn’t quite bring myself to publish.  Why?

No simple answers, I think, and yet not overly complicated, either.  I was warned late last year to keep my words to myself, to not attempt to influence people, as we had moved into a pivotal era of human evolution.  Each person needs to decide for themselves where they stand, and what matters most to them, and it was important for me to step back and let that happen.  Thinking about that now makes me wonder, because it assumes I have some influence, where perhaps I have none.  So is this whole silence thing merely an ego trip for me?

I’ve been warned that failure to maintain a regular publication schedule here will cost me followers, as people get bored and frustrated with waiting.  I counter that argument by reminding my friends that I got into blogging not for the followers, but because I wanted a forum to connect with like-minded Others.  But the truth is, I’m still picking up stray followers, even when I’m not publishing anything at all, which leads me to question the significance of followers at all…

I mean, no offense to anyone here, but the truth (I believe) is that most of my “followers” are not so much following me, as they are buying into that blogging rule that “to get followers, you have to be a follower.”  I recognized that early on, and since I didn’t come here to build up a huge site, I have been careful to only follow those blogs I am genuinely interested in reading.  And I am grateful for many I have met here at WordPress, even carrying some of those connections over to other social media platforms.  But the bottom line is, I don’t think any of my followers are truly harmed by my prolonged silence.  Or so I tell myself, at least…

I find myself remembering my ghostwriting days, when I would receive a small fee for writing someone else’s book, and I would get no credit or rights to the published work.  It worked as a source of occasional income, but it was fraught with its own ethical pitfalls.

In most cases, I never met the “actual” author, and I preferred it that way, really.  I would simply receive a packet of information, a synopsis of what the work should be about, and a deadline.  It was my job to sort, organize, draft and edit the manuscript, then later make whatever changes the author or publisher needed.  Not difficult, until I encountered (what to me seemed) glaring errors in data collection or conclusions.  Then I had to make a choice: write what the author wanted (even though I strongly disagreed), try to convince the publisher to convince the author to revisit the data, or simply alter it myself, and hope for the best.  I tried all three at different times, but it was the first and last that proved the most significant for me in terms of learning.

In the first scenario, I found I couldn’t live with myself comfortably after sending out knowingly flawed work, even though my name and reputation were nowhere near the published product.  Even now, that bitterness taints my tongue everytime I think of that particular book.  In the third scenario, I learned a lot about what I now call multi-dimensional writing – a situation where particular words and/or grammatical structure are used to convey different meanings depending upon the readers’ preconceived biases and expectations.  In other words, I would carefully construct the text (using connotative and denotative meanings, word order, idiom and specialized jargon) to present data that the author would recognize as their “own,” while allowing others, like me, to interpret differently.  It is a skill I still use today; anytime you encounter an oddly phrased bit that makes you want to reread it, you’ve likely found an example of this.

Why does any of this matter?

Because a dear friend of mine recently discovered “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, and brought it to my attention.  (NOTE: This title has now crossed my path three times since I wrote this, from three separate, unconnected in space, sources.)  I read this book back in the late 1990’s, though I didn’t remember much about it other than the first Agreement: Be impeccable with your Word.

But she had the audio version, and really wanted to share it with me, so we went for a long drive and listened to it.  (We actually were going somewhere, not just driving around to listen to the CD.  Lol!)  Once I heard the words again, I realized how deeply I had been impacted by them originally, as everytime we paused to discuss, we would find our words repeated in the next section.  It was uncanny how much of what I practice and believe, especially about language and writing, is reflected in the words of that book!  It is a source I highly recommend to any writers out there who wonder about the impact of their work…

And suddenly I better understood my recent restrictions on writing anything at all; if our words truly do influence our environment, as I believe they do, then using them carefully and sparingly in times of great conflict makes sense.  And maybe it’s not even about whether or not I reach or influence you, but rather about how I influence my self!  Because I am not immune to my own influence, you know; the more frequent and convicted my words, the more likely I am to believe them, and act accordingly.  It’s a self-determining path, and I have strong convictions these days…

But I “needed” to remain open to possibilities that had not yet occurred to me.  And I could not do that if I was busy convincing myself of what I already believed.  So silence called to me…  And I listened.

Of course, it didn’t help that my usual “channels” for gathering information were clogged with unwanted information.  Every time I tried to meditate, or lately sleep, I was assaulted with disturbing and/or terrifying imagery; “lost” strangers, animals suffering and dying, the Earth moaning under inconceivable destructive pressures, snipers taking aim at people, and most recently, babies being tortured.  I couldn’t concentrate enough to get beyond the images, so the “source” of my creativity dried up…

But that is finally shifting, as more positive images begin to take root in my subconscious mind and heart.  I am emerging from my long silence with more detachment, less need for meeting expectations, and a greater desire to write sparingly about what matters most to me.

Consider yourselves warned… 😉

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15 thoughts on “The Ethics of Writing – A Personal Dilemma…

    • I suppose that’s a question each writer must tackle themselves. I know it’s useful in terms of gaining discipline, but I hadn’t considered how it could be counterproductive. Now that you mention it, though, I can see how that might be. There are many pieces in my draft folder I wrote because I didn’t want to forget the theme, even though I wasn’t feeling very inspired. The end result is a draft so uncomfortable for me to read that I can’t begin to consider how to fix it; that seems to me to be textbook counterproductivity…

      Thanks for the insight, K.L.! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I do other creative things, like play the violin and viola, and there’s a lot of advice out there to practice every day, that I usually ignore. I practice (and write) regularly, but there is something about having to do it every day that turns it into a chore that some rebellious part of me will delight in not doing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Quote: “the more frequent and convicted my words, the more likely I am to believe them, and act accordingly. It’s a self-determining path” Indeed it is. We exist as complex “superimposed” beings (I simplify it as trinitarian creatures made up of spirit, mind and body) so we can put ourselves in any of these three positions in order to assess, guide and correct any of the other two, or use two to correct the one… it’s a fun game though serious.

    I treat my draft folder with high discipline. Any “draft” sitting in there that doesn’t inspire me to continue with it, say on a monthly basis, gets axed. I won’t allow more than a half dozen drafts to inhabit that limbo. The way I figure it is, I need to nurture something alive, not something still-born. Fresh ideas are more likely to produce fruit if there is nothing in the pantry to draw from. Yeah, bad analogy…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know, I kind of like the analogy. It makes sense. But I’m something of a hoarder I suppose, especially when it relates to words. I figure if I was inspired enough to write something down, it might come in handy later. And there have been those rare occasions when I go through the draft folder and find something actually publishable that I forgot about. I think there was one last year like that which got a tremendously positive response once I dusted it off and actually published it. Lol!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s good! BTW, I quoted a line from your article above in one of mine today. I tried to insert a hyperlink to your blog but no matter what I did, the link wouldn’t take. Mentioned your name, and your blog name anyway. If you chance to wander over there and comment on my article, you could try to insert your blog hyperlink in the comment? Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “… to remain open to possibilities…” If shakespeare only wrote drama and very subtle ways of satire, but he didn’t, so to speak writers then and now must always have “o’pen'” to see where they can find new ways to write. I applaud you milady Palmer, that writers “grace” and never be ashamed of that which is “impeccable” way of writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is important, as a writer, to allow fresh ideas to circulate through, if only to avoid boredom, right? And nothing hurts my creative soul more than writing myself into a corner from which I cannot escape… So options matter… lol!

      Thanks, Ohmz, for being here, my friend. You are ever a voice of fresh air flying through… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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