As Writers, Sometimes We Offend People, and That’s Alright

A few months ago, a friend of mine mentioned that I was posting a lot of things on Facebook to get people riled up.  While certainly the things I had shared there were not positions that everyone I know would share – particularly many of my Christian friends – I wasn’t sharing them for the purpose of riling people up; I was sharing them because they expressed my thoughts, and I was curious to hear other people’s thoughts on them.  It was that simple. 

Sure, I could post only safe things. I could avoid the risk of offending someone or having someone get upset by something I posted.  I could stick to posts about goats and rainbows and bacon (although even posting about bacon offended one of my friends once), but those posts – while fun sometimes – are also boring. They get trite and silly very quickly.

As a writer, my job isn’t to play it safe. It’s not to worry about offending people; it’s not to stick to the cautious middle road where no one on the curb will be challenged by what I say. My job as a writer is to speak truth as clearly as I can. 

When we, as artists, try to write things that aren’t offensive to people. When we try to avoid controversy because we somehow think that not challenging people to undergird or change their thinking with real thought and contemplation is best. When we put our own comfort or our own platform above our art, we need to stop writing.  I really believe that.  We have enough people in world saying the easy things.  Part of our jobs as artists is to lean our weight against the edges and push people to see fresh and new, to understand their experiences more deeply, to come to a new understanding of other people and situations in the world, to become better people.

Of course, our job is not to offend on purpose or to shock for the sake of spectacle. We have Howard Stern and those reality shows about strange addictions and those people who hoard 35 bottles of Maalox to do that.  Our job is to speak the truth, our truth as best we can. 

And if people are offended by our truth, if they want to get up in arms about our reading of the Bible or 50 Shades of Grey, if they want to write us off as negative or too political, well, then, honestly, that’s their problem.  We cannot cater to people.  We have to write what we know to write, and if people stop reading what we write because of that, then, we cannot own that choice on their part.

So write your truth, write what breaks your heart and what you can’t quite figure out. Write what makes your angry and what makes your heart sing with joy. Write with swear words if they express the deepest part of what you see. Write sex scenes that make us pant if they express the love and passion your story needs. Write your truth . . . even if it shocks people.

Because someone out there needs to hear your truth, not the safe, cautious, grou mind of the middle of the road folk. Your truth . . . because it will help them find theirs.

What do you not say for fear of offending? Why are you worried about offending people, truthfully? What scares you about that? 

  • Joan

    Great post, Andi. If we are to live a good life, honesty must be part of it. Sometimes, the only way to get people to use their minds is to give them something to think about.

  • Laura McHale Holland

    A thought-provoking post, Andi. I probably am too worried about posting something on Facebook or my blog or elsewhere on the ‘net that my employer might object to, even though I do it on my own time.

  • Cassandra Lane

    Excellent reminder, Andi.

    • Andi

      Thanks, Cassie.

  • Aaron

    “Part of our jobs as artists is to lean our weight against the edges and push people to see fresh and new, to understand their experiences more deeply, to come to a new understanding of other people and situations in the world, to become better people.”

    This. This so hard.

    I love this. Writing is offensive work, simply because we are playing with ideas, writing about the honesty of life, and because some people don’t think/agree like us.

    Plus, it’s fun to push at the edges. That’s where we find the real stuff.

  • Steve Thomas

    I’ve heard that a great preacher should comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. The truth can do that. And I’ve heard preachers that can consistently, week after week, comfort my afflictions and afflict me in my comfort zones.

    Psychotherapists do the same thing.

    But there’s a limit to how much truth people can take. Churches hire new preachers, and people seek new therapists. Nurses debride wounds repeatedly in order to get them to heal properly – but they debride less aggressively as time goes on, and eventually debride not at all. And that’s when it’s time for goats, and rainbows. Bacon? It’s always time for bacon. That’s why it comes packaged in those convenient 16-ounce single-serving packages. One should always speak the truth about bacon.

    • Andi

      I like this comparison, Steve. Except that I’m not a preacher, so no one has to listen to me every week. If people are worn a bit raw by what a writer says, they can take a break and come back later. I can’t worry about that . . . I have to speak my truth well.

      • Aaron

        I think this is a good point. We are not writing to keep (or get) a job/position/paycheck. Yes, we want our work to support us, but that’s different than choosing the words that won’t get us fired/hired.

  • Rachel Wagner

    I love this post. I sometimes rile people up on my blog and it’s nice to know other writers struggle with this too. It’s hard to know where the lines are to be crossed or left alone. I figure you do your best to be honest and let the chips fall where they may.