Writing on Wednesday: The Right to Write

John-Geddes-Quotes-Authority-670x426Last night I met with my writing critique group. In addition to “workshopping” manuscripts, we discuss all sorts of related (and unrelated) topics that swirl around our writing lives. One that came up last night was blogging. Why it’s a good thing for some writers and not for others. There are four people in our writing group who blog. There are lots of reasons for not blogging (time-consuming; can eat up your creative energies) and plenty of successful authors don’t have blogs. But for me it’s a way to be connected with others while pursuing the lonely work of writing. Not only connected with my readers—although that’s the number one benefit to me—but also connected to other writers through their blogs.

Nancy Nordenson
Nancy Nordenson

I can’t remember how I discovered Nancy Nordenson’s blog. Maybe on Twitter. Nordenson is a freelance medical writer by day, and by night she blogs and writes books. One has been published so far: Just Think. A second book, Finding Livelihood, will be out in April. One of her recent posts addresses the issue of authority—the author’s “right to write” about a certain topic. I think the writer’s authority comes into question more often with nonfiction than with fiction, but it’s also important that the fiction writer either writes from personal experience or observation of the events she describes, or that she does lots of excellent research. In my novel, Cherry Bomb, both are true, and I’m pleased that the editor I’m working with recognizes this, as she comments in the feedback she sent me:

The novel seems well-researched, and there’s a sense of authorial confidence in writing about these subjects.

Some of what the editor references is the result of my research, especially into the worlds of graffiti and Abstract Expressionism. But some of it comes from my own life experience. I was sexually abused. I was part of a cult-like group. I did go to icon workshops at monasteries and learn to write (paint) icons. I have seen weeping icons. And Saint Mary of Egypt is my patron saint. Although it’s certainly not necessary to creating a good book, we often do “write what we know.” But if we don’t “know” everything, do we have the “right to write?” Nordenson addresses this:

Writers who write from the position of expert, those who make promises of new and improved lives for their readers, do have a high burden of proof to meet. Evidence must support claims. Writers who write from the position of being shoulder-to-shoulder with readers have a different kind of burden of proof to meet, but perhaps just as high: that they’ve thought deeply about their subject and written honestly and with eyes open.

indexI love this. The expert does have more at risk—a reputation to protect. Something to prove. But the writer without the PhD at the end of her name also has the burden of sharing her story (especially with fiction) or her memoir or her plan for self-improvement or enlightenment (more so with nonfiction) with her readers. She has the burden, but she also has the right. As Nordenson (who has a Master of Fine Arts degree in nonfiction writing) says:

I hope that gives you readers of this blog encouragement or permission, if you had any doubt and need that, to write about whatever topic is calling to you, whether or not you have a PhD – or MDiv or BA – at the end of your name.


4 thoughts on “Writing on Wednesday: The Right to Write”

  1. Thanks for this. I have long known that blogging was not calling to me. It is enough for me to be able read those who do.
    And I applaud the take on authority you present here. There is already too much out there without any genuine authority. (Think Fox News or Brian Williams). So writers have the right to write but they also have a responsibility to demonstrate their authority.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Joe. But I can’t let your comment about Brian Williams go without a gentle response…. let him who is without sin throw the first stone. (For more on this, read Anne Lamott’s comments on Facebook, which I think are excellent.)

      1. Thanks for steering me to the post by Anne Lamott. Splendid stuff. I meant to affirm your take on the responsibilities of authors & not to attack Brian Williams. See the fine piece on the workings of memory in the Science Times section of this Tuesday’s New York Times

        1. Thanks for clarifying, Joe. I don’t take the Times any more but I’ll see if there’s a link I can get to without a subscription. Thanks.

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