Josey Rose Duncan

The Write Site

Tag Archives: social media

Write the uncomfortable story

bathroom selfie

I’m a big fan of memoir and personal essay, which are shooting-the-shit-over-a-couple-drinks’ (an activity I’m also a fan of) slightly-more polished cousins.

When writing (what I’ll term) “personal stuff,” we tend to mine for topics our tough times; the unhappy milestones most of us—all of us?— experience. Death and illness and abuse and heartbreak. Loss of all kinds. Maybe it’s a childhood. Maybe one indelible moment. On and on and on.

No matter your topic, the point is: to make an impact on your audience, write the uncomfortable story. Don’t assume you know what others will find profound. Don’t assume you know yourself where the heart of your story lies until you start digging and dig past—way past—where you expected you’d stop.

Throughout the painful process of separating from my husband I told myself, I should write something about this. I wrote (literally) 10s of 1,000s of words and all of it was trash. I wrote poems. I wrote personal essays. I wrote something I thought might become a memoir. I wrote non-fiction disguised very poorly as fiction. All of it was garbage. But I came to realize it’s because my approach was all wrong: I didn’t humble myself enough to write honestly about my role in the split, the ways I hurt him, the ways I embarrassed myself. I had to dive into the mess and the myriad grey areas, write about the parts I never wanted to reveal.

There are a million divorce stories out there and what makes the moving ones moving are the details, the writer’s personal and unique perspective. My divorce story (and poems and essays) sucked so hard because I wasn’t digging deep enough. In some vain and semi-subconscious attempt to protect my ego I was writing a story both boring and cliche. I had to write the uncomfortable story.

(A group I’ll term) grown-ups tend to be critical of today’s youths’ over-sharing, TMI culture—the personal details in their status updates, the endless selfies. As an early 30-something on the eldest edge of the millennial generation, I’m torn between critiquing this behavior and kinda-sorta-sometimes joining in the fun.

But maybe the kids are alright. Maybe if we look deeper at the public personal reveals, curated as they are, we can see this over-sharing—well, some of it at least—as inspirational. While admittedly the voyeuristic part of me (don’t judge) wants to read your day’s daily details, maybe there is something valuable here for even the non-creeps among us, amidst the party snaps and emojied vaguebooking. We all have friends and family who see nothing wrong with broadcasting their every emotion, including their darkest days, on Facebook (and Twitter and Instagram)—and you know what? Go, them. From them maybe we can learn something.

Write the uncomfortable story. Delve into the greyest areas, the places where right and wrong blur, bleeding into one another, the stories where there’s no obvious winner and loser. Dig deep. Write the thing you don’t want to write, the story you thought you’d never, ever write. Over-share. Give ’em TMI. Because that stuff’s powerful. That’s the kind of personal writing that moves people to feel things. And you know what? It’s good for you, too.

 

—Josey Rose Duncan



85,000 reasons

goldenhour

“That’s one of the great things about music. You can sing a song to 85,000 people and they’ll sing it back for 85,000 different reasons.”
—Dave Grohl

___

You can show a drawing to 85,000 and they’ll think about 85,000 different things. You can dance for 85,000 and they’ll feel 85,000 different emotions. You can cook pancakes for 85,000 people (ok this one doesn’t work as well since you can’t also do it literally. Not like, easily, anyways) and they’ll remember 85,000 different chilly mornings in 85,000 different kitchens where 85,000 people flipped pancakes for them driven by 85,000 of their own unique motivations, their own chilly-kitchen-memories.

You can recite a poem to 85,000 people and they’ll see 85,000 different scenes in their mind. You can share a story with 85,000 and they’ll have 85,000 reasons why they love it or they hate it; 85,000 different ways they connect (or don’t) with the protagonist.

Everyone’s process is different. But when I write for myself I often arrive at the page with no expectations, or only an abstract set of emotions, colors, and sounds I want to express. I decipher the (real) meaning only after—and learn this often, at least in part, from anyone I’m able to trick into reading my stuff.

When I write for work I have specific intentions; specific goals I want my writing to accomplish, driven by what my clients want to accomplish. Maybe I want my articles to teach people things; maybe I hope audiences will think deeply, laugh, or get misty-eyed at my copy. Maybe I want to make people feel a certain way about a brand, product, or idea. Or maybe there’s an action I hope they’ll make after reading a blog post or tweet.

That doesn’t mean people don’t experience this writing differently. That doesn’t mean it’s not conjuring a plethora of varied feelings and thoughts and emotions and impulses and ideas for a multitude of different people. Who come from different places and love different things. Who live totally different kinds of lives.

But so what? So we see creative stuff differently, so we experience and interpret art and ads and poems and pancakes differently based on our pasts; based on the grooves snaking through our different brains and the metaphorical blood beating through our symbolic hears—how can I, the creator of said-ads and poems and pancakes use this understanding to make something better and more resonant?

Being aware opens doors. When you think in terms of layers and symbols and double-meaning and depth—whether you’re writing your memoir or ad copy for cat food—you find ways to allow all of this into your work, find ways of cracking your skull open (figuratively!!) and letting the light shine down on that big, beautiful brain of yours in ways it never has before.

From 85,000 different angles.

 

—Josey Rose Duncan