Permission To Speak Up (June Theme by Naomi Kinsman)

I'm a rule follower, a peace-maker, a problem-solver kind of person. I have a number of friends who get  angry on my behalf, and for many years, that used to be enough. When others were outraged for me, I didn't have to feel that unsettling, uncomfortable feeling. Anger. Not the most enjoyable emotion, but an essential one. And authentic. The fact is, even when one understands the other point of view, the authentic reaction to injustice (be it situational or intended) is anger. Anger has a bad rap. Anger isn't polite. But anger is powerful fuel, fuel that inspires action, fuel that inspires risktaking and leads to change. When I started thinking this month about permissions, this topic is what came up for me. Giving oneself permission to feel anger when circumstances, as so often is the case, aren't fair.

Honestly, many moments in a writer's life are unjust. Unlike many jobs, where you clock in and clock out and for the majority are paid for the hours spent working, for writers, the hours you spend may never pay off. Not even if you do your very best work for your entire life. Rational thinking can reason away the injustice; there's the crowded marketplace, people's busy lives, the fact that writing books is hardly an economically sound way to make a grown-up living. Still, when a friend of mine puts her heart on the page and sends that heart out to the world, be it to a reader, an agent, an editor or critic and the response is less than loving, I want to protect her, to be her avenging angel.

Not every book is meant for an audience of millions. Some stories are small and quiet, or doorways to future work. When we look back over a lifetime of creations, the meaning of each piece, or group of similar pieces is easier to see. But for the writer starting out, when a project flops it may feel as though the only meaning is a year lost, two years lost, sometimes more. How is one to react to this kind of failure?

Not by giving up, I say to my broken-hearted friend. Speak up for yourself, if even to one or two close friends. Writing is meant to be read, and if not by the world, then maybe by a small circle of supporters who can see where you're growing and where you might be heading next. Not every small step forward artistically ought to be a commercial success or even end up on a bookstore's shelves. But, art should be acknowledged and seen. Too often, efforts that don't end in visible success are written off as losses. What if, by becoming just the tiniest bit angry, we could find ways to value those efforts, to insist that they matter, if only to us?

I'm starting to let myself feel the anger that flares up when one of my own projects is neglected or ignored. I'm learning how to stand up for those projects, even in small ways, letting my anger be fuel for risktaking. Maybe my risk is to ask a friend to read the book and in exchange I'll read hers. Each small action on behalf of our creative selves builds our courage, our belief in our unique voices. I, for one, believe that every voice ought to be heard even in small ways, be it experienced or not, be it commercial or not. People need to be seen and heard.

One very important benefit of learning how to stand up for myself is simultaneously finding ways to help safeguard friends who take creative risks. Suddenly, I'm discovering ways I can invest in seeing and hearing the creative steps taken by friends and colleagues. It's a healthy cycle, a cycle that builds community and empathy. It all started with the improbable: Anger. No one can expect (or should expect) that the public at large will want to read something just because they wrote it. Still, I'd love to live in a world where every story, fledgling or not, was seen and heard even in small ways. For now, for me, this means listening more closely, offering to read more often, and remembering that even the people in my life who seem the strongest need some encouragement every now and then.


  1. This post really resonated with me, Naomi...I've been trying to help a discouraged writing friend of mine get back on track. Hard to know how to balance being helpful with being encouraging (sometimes "help" with writing feels like unasked-for criticism)...

  2. I know what you mean, Holly. Discouragement is so hard to witness, as we all know how dehabilitating it is. Often, we just want the shortest road to "fixed," and helping in this way sometimes makes the discouragement worse. I read an excellent blog post yesterday on feedback, which I think had some really sound tips.

  3. Thanks for this great post, Naomi. It took me a long time to discover that writing isn't a solitary journey. Nurturing other writers and letting down my guard to allow others to nurture me, has been such a benefit personally and professionally.


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