Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Telling the Truth in Your Writing

When I first started my homeschooling website, I was very cautious about what I wrote. After all, I was writing about myself and I had no intention of letting people know who I really was and how I really functioned. So I shared only the parts of homeschooling that worked and kept the dramatic failures out of sight. To read my website, you’d think I’d done everything right all the time.

One day I received an email from someone who said she couldn’t decide if my site was inspirational or discouraging. Everyone who wrote about homeschooling, in books and online, seemed to be entirely perfect, functioning to a level she herself could never hope to attain and that made things a bit hard for her.

I began remembering my first explorations into homeschooling. A crisis forced me into it, but I knew nothing about it. The library had two books, both apparently written by perfect people. I’m old enough that the Internet was not yet around. I didn’t know any actual homeschoolers, so I didn’t know homeschooling is normally done by less than perfect people. I began to wonder how my first traumatic experience in homeschooling would have been different if someone had told me the truth—that it was okay not to be perfect.

And so, I sat down to my computer and typed a new article, a true-confessions sort of thing in which I admitted I had been a terrible homeschooler when I started and that my articles were based on 20/20 hindsight and selective experiences. I began editing the currently existing articles to be more honest, and to include some failure stories.

One day a woman emailed me that she had decided to give up homeschooling because she couldn’t do it as well as everyone else, Heartbroken, she had gone online late that night in a last search for answers. She found that confession I’d written, and then sat up all night reading the rest of the site. By morning, she had realized it was okay, and she could do this.

I learned something important that day. When I showed people only the polished up side of my life, I could inform, but I couldn’t change lives. People learn best from someone who is like them, imperfect, with dustballs under the sofa. Since that time, I’ve written a book that is so honest no one in my ward ever asks me to cook for a ward activity or shows up at my house without warning. I’ve written about my homeschooling failures, my academic failures, and my rejection letters. I’ve written about being so klutzy I once tripped over a turkey.

So, now people know all about the real me, and you know what? I still have friends and people still read my writing and my world is still okay. It turns out, people don’t mind if you’re not perfect.

Take a chance and tell the truth in your writing. You get used to it after a while, and when someone says your honesty changed their life…it will be worth it.


Rebecca Talley said...

I suffer from the "perfection syndrome." Thank you for this post, it's making me think!

SillySlang said...

What a great post, thank you. I'm a homeschooler, too, and just starting blogging a few months ago. Made me laugh and made me think.