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You Can Write Mad, But Don't Turn That Draft In
Sit on your most passionate writing, come back to it, and, perhaps, show a wise friend
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her book, Team of Rivals talks about Abraham Lincoln’s habit of writing “hot letters.” Lincoln, after a particularly difficult session with a legislator or perhaps after a frustrating report from a general, would sit down and write an angry missive to the person with whom he had a disagreement. But instead of mailing that hot draft, he’d stick it in a drawer. This is good practice, for leaders, for writers, for, well, everyone.
Almost two decades ago I fired off an angry email to a coworker at the organization where I was working. I was frustrated by a meeting where I felt my ideas were not heard. I was super young and confident and, God forbid someone not think my light bulb moment wasn’t genius. So I sat at my desk and fired off a blistering several paragraphs and hit “send.” Fortunately, the object of my hot temper came to my office and was gracious. He also told me, wisely, never to settle disputes over email, because tone is very hard to judge. I’ve tried to hold to that rule whenever possible.
Often our best writing comes from a place of passion, whether we are joyful about some new insight or idea, or a book we’ve just read. Or it can come from a place of anger at some wrong or injustice. It’s okay to write hot. But, like Lincoln, we should keep that tucked away to revisit in a moment of calm. That draft might still have a lot of potential, but having let our words bake a bit, we can edit them and allow another set of eyes on them, before we publish.
Today, that discipline is harder, right? The friction between a thought and a published opinion is much quicker. There is less incentive to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” as James 1:9 encourages. Social media algorithms, media outlets, and not too few publishers want your unvarnished, unpolished takes. I’m here to tell you to be counter-cultural and resist this. The temporary rewards for being polarizing will be overwhelmed by the long-term damage you do to your reputation, to your friendships, to your future employment, and, if you care about the body of Christ, the. brothers and sisters whom Jesus commands you to love.
Yes, I know this sounds so lame, right? So old school. So . . . not knowing “what time it is.” But it is never time to not heed the wisdom from above (James 3:17-18). There is never a cultural moment or a season that justifies being unwise.
This doesn’t just apply to social media but to books as well. I was having a conversation lately with a couple of friends who are editors and we were remarking on a few books that have made the bestseller list. They were what you might call tell-all memoirs. About one in particular, a friend remarked, “The author wrote that one hot. Could have used an editor.” That happens. There’s a rush to get the book out. There’s a story to be told. And the author is really mad about something that happened to him or her. But I fear this kind of writing, while salacious and successful, ultimately hurts the author. This isn’t to say we need writing that is too measured and unclear and stilted. Still, writing hot may seem cathartic at the moment but can boomerang back in a negative way. Public bitterness is like an acid that only consumes the one who spews it.
I’ve not always done this well. I’ve fired off tweets, sent in articles, pushed out blog posts, etc that, in hindsight, I wish I could take back. Write hot, but keep it in the drawer.
Speaking of writing, if you want more help like this and personal coaching and instruction, you might consider my coaching cohort hosted by Thru-Line Cohort and my friend Chad Poe. Whether you would like to see your work get published someday or you are thinking about starting a newsletter or you’d just like to improve your craft, join us! We still have a few slots left.
Speaking of my writing, just a reminder you can get a copy of my new book, Agents of Grace: How to Bridge Divides and Love as Jesus Loves.
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