It takes courage to write in the digital age

Erma Bombeck was right when she said, “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.” I thought of this quote when my friend Gina Barreca recently asked on social media, “Writers: Why is it hard to hit ‘send’ even after all these years?”

Barreca has written or edited about 20 books, has written countless columns and she’s Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Connecticut. If clicking send was going to be easy for anyone, it would be easy for her. But when it comes to writing in the digital age, the courage Bombeck spoke of requires a double dose.

To write means to solidify one’s thoughts, insights and ideas and offer them to the world for contemplation. It’s not easy to bleed on the page with every draft, but that’s the job. We say the inside parts out loud, in writing, and the goal is to do so in a way that resonates with our readers.

The problem is this: Every reader brings their baggage to the page, and baggage has no grace. Baggage is raw, emotional and rarely has the wherewithal to take a deep breath before assigning ill intent and unloading on the writer.

My current job as an opinion editor is the only job I’ve ever had that listed “thick skin” as a required skill in the job description when I applied. But the job also requires an open mind and heart in order to observe and shine lights in dark corners of humanity. It all boils down to knowing who you are, understanding why you write and as Bombeck says, having courage.

We live in a divisive world where social media and smartphones are our weapons of choice. Instead of getting curious and asking questions, readers type contemptuous rants from behind a screen. This is why my TED talk is called “Contempt Versus Connection in Online Communication.” I truly believe there’s a better way. Productive discourse is at the core of the work I do, and I champion these principles as a human being.

In a column I wrote for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Barreca also brilliantly explained that the whole point of writing is to help others find their own voices. “You’re not there to have the last word or the best solution,” she said; “you’re there to open up the conversation.”

To start that conversation requires intentionality and purpose. Not every writer in the world holds to this ideal, but the ones I most admire do. Conscientious writers draft, ponder, rewrite and refine. We ask ourselves, “what is the purpose of my commentary?” We fall asleep at night turning words over in our heads, mentally picking through the turns of phrases in our drafts. We want to make sure our words match our intended message. But that doesn’t mean we always hit the mark, and the world is ready to tell us exactly how we’ve failed.

Writers not only stare down the proverbial blank page, but we also stand naked, stripped clean for public scrutiny in a digital world where backlash is immediate. Technology is not built to encourage readers to strike when the iron is cold. A smartphone is always ready when to fire off hateful comments with no pause to consider the humanity on the receiving end.

All of this is precisely why it takes even more courage than ever these days to show someone your dreams and why it is still so hard to click that send button on a draft intended for the masses. But we are writers. We have ink in our blood. We find courage in the coven, and camaraderie with our fellow dreamers. Trolls be damned.


Check out Bonnie’s weekly YouTube videos at https://www.youtube.com/bonniejeanfeldkamp. To find out more about Bonnie Jean Feldkamp and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


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