- Don’t overwhelm the reader. Nobody wants to read 140-pages of self-loathing—unless, of course, they are between the ages of 13 and 20.
- Have a sense of humor about it. In one of my favorite lines from “Bird by Bird,” Anne Lamott writes, “I started writing sophomoric articles for the college paper. Luckily, I was a sophomore.”
- “Air” on the side of caution when it comes to writing about family and friends. This might mean taking a little extra responsibility for mistakes that were made; it might mean truthfully showing—not telling—what happened.
- Lighten an intense theological or philosophical paragraph by poking fun at yourself for attempting it. In a particularly dense section of my book I quip, “Occasionally people will ask me what I think about truth. They ask me if I believe in it, what I think it is, and if I think it’s relative or absolute. These are pretty sophisticated questions to ask someone who once lost her contact lens in her eye … for two days.”
- Write honestly about sin. It’s one of the few things we all have in common.
- Write about those universal insecurities that we all share—our common dirty laundry, if you will. I loved Donald Miller’s poignant and funny thoughts in “Blue Like Jazz: “Everybody wants to be fancy and new. Nobody wants to be themselves. I mean, maybe people want to be themselves, but they want to be different, with different clothes or shorter hair or less fat. It’s a fact. If there was a guy who just liked being himself and didn’t want to be anybody else, that guy would be the most different guy in the world and everybody would want to be him.”
The beautiful thing is that there are perks to airing your dirty laundry. It frees you from the weight of carrying the load in secret. It gives you the chance to laugh some of it off. And when neighbors come by to add theirs to the heap, it reminds you that you’re not as alone as you might think.
Do you air your dirty laundry when you write?