October 2, 2013

And What’s So Wrong with Being Personal Anyway?

By Rose Johnson

Remember that line from “You’ve Got Mail?”  Kathleen Kelly, played by Meg Ryan, is responding to Joe Fox’s (Tom Hanks) assertion that it’s not personal, it’s business.

What is that supposed to mean?” said Kathleen Kelly. “I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn't personal to you. But it was personal to me.  It's “personal” to a lot of people. And what's so wrong with being personal, anyway?

“Uh, nothing,” said Joe Fox.

“Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”

I thought about that statement, and how it might apply to writing, when the first two reviews for my devotional journal, God,Me, & Sweet Iced Tea, noted that my writing was “personal” and “relevant.” After some reflection, I decided that perhaps those are qualities which draw us into any story.  Someone puts into words a story which breaks into our lives, grips our imaginations, touches our hearts, and thus, resonates in our souls.

I know I love those moments of clarity and courage when the written word perfectly communicates something inside of me that I’ve felt but been unable to articulate. I think everyone loves those “yes, yes, I know what you mean” moments.  When a message connects with that common thread in us, in reality it is a universal theme which ties us all together.  We can take what we need from it, draw strength, find peace, encouragement, and, most of all, validation. By making my writing personal, I make it uniquely mine, yet universally human.

In fiction writing, part of the “personal” is through word choice and voice.  As I perfect my style, I learn to be true to myself.  I must let my words be my words.  I must string them together like I would string them together in real life. 

Eva Marie Everson commented on a novel I’m writing.  “I love your voice,” she said.  But as she got further into the novel, she halted at a scene and said, “What have you done here?  You’ve lost your voice.”  And she didn’t mean laryngitis. I had to rewrite and find my voice again. The personal needs to ring true in order for the reader to connect.

As a Southern girl, when I read something authentically southern, like Eva Marie Everson’s Waiting for Sunrise, or Rick Bragg’s All Over But the Shoutin, I feel like I’m home.  For me, it’s like hearing the sound of a train’s whistle.  Growing up by the railroad tracks, that sound is indelibly impressed upon my soul.  Even now, when I hear the train, I close my eyes and I’m back on the screened porch, sipping sweet iced tea with Mama and Daddy, sitting in the front porch swing.  That sound has the power to conjure up my childhood, to transport me to a different time and place.  Words have that power too when they are personal to us.

And what’s so wrong with that anyway?

Uh, nothing at all. 
Rose Chandler Johnson’s devotional journal, God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea:Finding God in the Midst of Everyday Moments was released in June 2013.  Her devotions, poems, and articles have appeared in numerous Christian publications. She enjoys writing for her popular blog, Write Moments with God, and engaging with its readers.  Rose enjoys baking, gardening, French, and spending time with her large family.  She is the mother of six children. Blog: 

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