When I was a freshman in high school, one of our English assignments was to write a poem about whatever we wanted. So I wrote one about (as far as I can remember) how important it was to appreciate our teachers.
We read our poems aloud to the class. And when I read mine, my English teacher had a hard time composing himself for a second after I had finished.
It wasn’t at all my intention to make a grown man weep. I swear it wasn’t. I wasn’t thinking at all about how he would react to the words on that page. I just had an idea for a poem and wrote it and shared it with the room.
But maybe that was the problem — that I wrote something emotionally charged (in this case, in a positive way) and didn’t consider how my audience might respond to it.
Apparently I unintentionally wrote something that meant a lot to him that day. I don’t remember exactly what the poem said or the message it might have sent his way. But I do remember the very important lesson that experience taught me: Your words can affect people, whether you mean them to or not.
And yes, this applies in the negative sense as well. Words can hurt. We all know this, even if we don’t always consider it before speaking/tweeting/hitting send.
But right now I’m referring to the inspirational impact your words can have. The emotional connections they can make between people, or between your readers and yourself.
As writers, we spend a lot of time in our heads. And sometimes this means we don’t always see how the things we publish can influence the people around us in a positive way. But they can. I’ve been publishing a lot of stuff on Medium lately, and they’re literally just essays about my life, but it still surprises me when people highlight their favorite passages and thank me for being insightful and helping them see things in new ways.
I don’t ever really mean to do that. It just kind of happens, because I’m a human and humans are reading what I write and even though we don’t all experience the same things in the same ways, we all have the same emotions and we all understand certain feelings often portrayed in each others’ writing.
I’m not saying you should go out and try to make people cry. Like, why would you do that? But do keep in mind that your words really do matter. They have the potential to reach a lot farther and deeper than you often might expect them to. Be careful with them. But also don’t hesitate to, as much as you can, set them free.
When you actively choose to publish something, there is ALWAYS a chance that someone will resonate with it. You’re willingly taking that risk, willingly serving as a potential channel through which someone receives a message they’ve really been needing to hear.
Is that a responsibility you can handle? Are you ready? Then dive in.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.