Thursday, May 15, 2014

I Wish I Hadn't Written That

By Nola Passmore




Have you ever written something you came to regret?  If so, you’re in good company.

In her pre-Christian days, best-selling author Terri Blackstock wrote novels she later regretted.  When one of her readers asked which pseudonyms she had previously written under, Blackstock gave the following response: ‘I don’t like to give that information out, because I don’t want people looking for those books.  I’m ashamed that I wrote them, because they contain things that I have repented of.  I wish I could gather them all up and destroy them, but I can’t.’ 

Of course, regrets do not just afflict novelists.  Larry Norman, the father of Christian rock music, wrote a song called Reader’s Digest in which he attacked a number of people in the music industry.  Comedian Wendy Harmer wrote and performed a parody song entitled Everyone Knows It’s Lindy based on the false assumption that Lindy Chamberlain had killed her baby daughter Azaria.  Both of these artists were later sorry for things they had written and said.

By God’s grace, I was already a reasonably mature Christian before I started sending material off to publishers.  However, I’m sure there would have been regrets if I’d sent out some of my early work.  After all, I did once argue in a school debate that we couldn’t be sure the Bible was real.  Although I was a Christian, I reasoned that it was okay to say that in a public forum because you don’t have to agree with the points you argue in a debate.  D’oh!  And of course, being a more mature Christian doesn’t mean I won’t make mistakes in the future.  It’s scary to think how much damage even one misguided remark on a blog could do.  You can later delete it, but you have no control over how many people have already downloaded it or shared it on other sites.

So what do we do if we’ve written something we wish we hadn’t?

  • First, repent.  That not only means confessing your mistakes to God, but also determining to do things differently in the future.  None of us is perfect, but we can choose to follow God’s plan for our writing and ask Him to guide us.
  • Second, if your words have caused hurt, apologise to the person concerned.  Larry Norman apologised to John Lennon and Paul McCartney for words he had written about them and changed those lines in subsequent versions of the song.  When Lindy Chamberlain was finally exonerated in 2012, 32 years after baby Azaria’s death, Wendy Harmer wrote an open apology in her online column: ‘In pursuit of a laugh, I too carried a burning stick.  Such was the firestorm of hatred, all rationality was lost … Lindy, Michael, I am truly sorry for the hurt I caused you, your family and friends.  I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.’  Lindy Chamberlain’s response?  It takes ‘a huge amount of courage to admit that [you] were wrong … Good on her’.
  • Third, ask God to redeem the situation and any damage that has been done.  Terri Blackstock has had an incredible ministry since turning her writing over to the Lord.  She was even able to get the rights back to some of her books and rewrote them to include Christian themes.  Her Second Chances series was the result.
  • Fourth, pray, pray, pray.  Pray as you write.  Pray before shooting off that email or blog comment.  Pray before entering your work in a competition or sending it off to a publisher.  Pray when you make a make a mistake, then pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again with God’s help.

 Have you ever written anything you’ve regretted?  What did you do to deal with the situation?



Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 120 short pieces published in various magazines, journals and anthologies (including poetry, devotions, magazine articles, true stories and short fiction).  She and her husband Tim have just started their own freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish.  She loves writing about what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same.  (Some call it ‘nagging’, but she calls it encouragement).

17 comments:

  1. Such wise words, Nola--thanks so much! You can get away with more in writing novels (!) but I agonised long and hard over what to put in my memoir 'Soul Friend' and what to leave out. I did not want to hurt or judge anyone, but at the same time, I wanted to write with integrity. So I decided to give my manuscript to key people who knew the situations I was writing about and ask for their honest opinion as to whether I had overstepped the mark or misjudged anyone, which helped. But prayer was the best thing--and just knowing from God in my heart that what I had written was what he wanted out there in the book. I am walking the same road now with my second memoir and praying hard as I do, for sure.

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    1. Thanks for that Jo. I can imagine that would have been a tight line to walk at times. I've had a number of short autobiographical pieces published, but have a number of things I'm sitting on at the moment. For some of them, I know the timing's not right or I'm still thinking about the best avenue, but I may need to rewrite some of the others. It's tricky when your story overlaps with the stories of others. Definitely a lot of prayer needed. But I guess there comes a time when God says 'this is want I want you to write", and we just have to trust that He'll use it and take care of the rest. Still a bit scary though. I'll look forward to your next memoir. Thanks for sharing :)

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  2. Great post, Nola, with some good points to consider and put into action.

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    1. Thanks Penny. I imagine it can be an even bigger responsibility when writing for children. Thanks for your thoughts.

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  3. Experience demonstrates that haste with the 'send' button can cause many a regret for writers and non-writers alike! Great to be reminded of that through your words of wisdom.

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    1. Thanks Cathie. There would have been some advantages of being a writer in the days of snail mail. But I guess even though mistakes can happen more quickly in the Internet age, apologies and corrections can also happen more quickly :)

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  4. Oh to be wise with our words - always! You're right, Nola, words can have such a ripple effect, especially in our writing, including personal and professional communications. I'm a big believer in the "get it out in draft, sit on it for a while, then re-read after adequate reflection" approach! (Needless to say, learned by experience...)

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    1. I agree Adele. Always good to sit on it, and as Jo mentioned, get the opinion of trusted others if it's a tricky one. Am counting on you to pick up all my lapses in judgement before they go to press ;)

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  5. Great words Nola. I don't think I have written anything I've regretted so far - well not my creative writing that is. I did write an email to a friend once which I'd accidentally copied to my boss! Uh oh......! That was a pickle indeed. And I had many interesting repercussions from it! :) Thankfully God did redeem the situation. And a lot of good came out of it too!

    But thank you for your wise words - it's a good thing to think about BEFORE we write and publish - if one day we wish we'd not said what we did. So thank you for the reminder! I know you will glorify God in all you write. Yes, you will! :)

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    1. Thanks Anusha. I appreciate your confidence, but I'm sure I'll make plenty of mistakes. Also, I guess it's only natural that we will sometimes change our views on certain issues and it's also hard to predict how others will react to our words even if we have been careful. I guess it's good to not go too far the other way and drive ourselves nuts about what we write, but just to be seeking God and aware of his nudging and checks. Emails and letters can certainly be tricky too. I try to be careful before I hit the send button, but it's hard to judge sometimes. I'm glad that situation with your friend turned out okay. Thanks for sharing Anusha. Your writing is such a blessing :)

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  6. I sometimes wonder if down the track I'll want to rewrite some of the things I've written because my understanding of God and his ways has increased. I know whenever my husband decides to re-preach a sermon, he virtually rewrites it because he has grown spiritually since he first wrote it. However mostly this is minor adjustments, more explanation, change of emphasis etc.

    I like to remember that when Peter cut off the servant's ear, Jesus just stuck it back on. Likewise he can redeem my mistakes too!

    Thanks for sharing Nola.

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  7. Thanks Susan. That's a good example of Peter. I think I have some things that are similar, As our understanding grows, we may want to revise some of the things we've written. Thanks for your thoughts.

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  8. Fantastic post, Nola. You're right, we're NOT perfect, but we can choose to follow His plan for our writing and our lives. I especially love the fourth reason. I want to fight every battle on my knees. That ensures the victory, doesn't it, Nola? I do pray before I send queries off and while writing. I just want to live for Him. Why then do I mess up all the time? I guess it's the human in me. Ha.

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    1. Thanks for that Robyn. I appreciate your honesty too. I know I mess up plenty of times, so it's important to remember to pray, but also good to remember that God can redeem our mistakes. Good luck with all those queries. Take care :)

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  9. Thankfully, I don't think I have. In my days as Footprints editor however, there was definitely the odd piece that I regretted publishing ... but you live and you learn ...

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  10. So true, Nola. Good, sound sanctifigumption!

    Spoken words hopefully are lost on the air (but after they've done their damage) but written words are there forever.

    That's why we're advised to be careful on F/book.

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  11. Wise words indeed, Nola. Even more important than ever with the internet. Once those words are out there in cyber space they are out there forever. Reason indeed to be careful and pause and think before pressing that send button.

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