It’s Not What You Write, but How You Write It

This blog post first appeared over at - you can read more about Allison there! 

Have you ever come across an article that made your skin crawl—with its unfair judgements, its black-and-white way of thinking, or its sweeping generalizations about a complex topic?

Have you ever realized, quite suddenly, that the author of the article was you?

I have.

Several months ago I was reading through some old articles on my site and I stumbled across something I wrote several years ago. I was only about three sentences in when I got that sinking feeling you get when you suddenly realize your dress is tucked into your tights, or your fly is open.

I was exposed.

The article was irritating, arrogant, unfair, and just plain lazily written.

Here’s the thing. What I was saying wasn’t necessarily wrong. I was engaged at the time and talking about how the transition from being single to being married can be really hard. I was listing all the ways it was hard: I was transitioning friendships, moving to a new place, combining finances with my husband, etc.

But rather than leading with vulnerability and telling my story, I did what many people do when they’re feeling afraid and want to gain a sense of safety:

I categorized, sorted, judged and made things black-and-white that are, for the most part, grey.

Rather than talking about my fear, I told people what they “should” do and what they “shouldn’t do”. I wrote about what the transition “should” look like. I made it sound like I had it all figured out. Meanwhile, I wasn’t even married yet.

Who did I think I was? Who made me the expert on the subject?

I can see now my feigned certainty was a coping mechanism, so I can have grace for myself in that.

But I can also learn from my immaturity and choose to write in a different way next time—not from a place of fear (which leads to control and manipulation) but from a place of love.

I can choose to write in a way that honors my own experience but that also honors experiences of others—some experiences I know or understand and others I’ve not been able to conceptualize yet.

I can be careful with generalizations, gentle with suggestions and gracious with grey-areas.

My words do a beautiful job of reflecting the uniqueness of my particular space in time, and at times they transcend, but never because I force them. Only when they are received as such.

Writing is, in many ways, like a relationship.

Speaking of which, one of the best pieces of advice I received when I was getting ready to get married came from one of my favorite people in the world—who rarely, if ever, uses the word “should”.

His advice was this: It’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Familiar, right?

As a writer, moving forward, I’m trying to think less about what I’m saying and more about how I’m saying it. In the end, honestly, it’s better for me, better for my readers, and cultivates a healthier relationship.