And I’ve been told that others do.
Like David W. Reed.
If you’ve never heard of him, don’t feel too badly. He only wrote the definitive historical account of the infamous Battle of Shiloh that occurred 150 years ago this last April. He headed up the efforts to create and preserve the battlefield memorials and markers that stand on that hallowed ground to this day. In fact, he wrote most of the words you’ll find on the markers.
One small thing about his book: It wasn’t entirely accurate.
It might be better to say that his account wasn’t entirely true to what actually happened. It was consistent with his own experience during the battle.
But his perspective was wrong.
Why the mistake?
As a soldier in the bloody and chaotic conflict, he had been wounded and left behind to endure a cold night of lonely agony along the “Sunken Road” near the “Hornet’s Nest.” He was starving. It was dark. To make it all worse, a vicious thunderstorm added to what had to have been a harrowing experience.
Years later, as he wrote the account of the battle, he managed to get the rest of the battle right. His story lines up with battlefield markers and research to this day – except for his account of the fighting that occurred near where he lay wounded during the night. There, his accounts say, the fighting was at its most ferocious.
But it wasn’t.
It couldn’t have been. The numbers – and even the battlefield markers he placed – don’t support his story.
It seems that in his passion to communicate the impact of that battle experience, he allowed his own perspective to warp reality. Only in the last few decades have we managed to uncover the truth through careful research. The “Sunken Road” and the “Hornet’s Nest”– though tragic as any scenes of war – were not the worst of the battle that his book portrayed them to be.
What about you?
Do you make the same writing mistake? It can be a tough one to avoid.
As writers, our unique experiences give us unique voices. But when we spend too much time absorbed in our own perspective, we risk repeating what I call the “Shiloh Shuffle.” We get things so mixed up that we no longer know whether our perspective lines up with life outside our keyboard and mouse.
Here are five ways to get and keep perspective — without losing your invaluable personal voice:
1. Don’t assume you’re always right. There’s a difference between being confident and being cocky. Sometimes the difference between the two can be razor-thin. For us writers, arrogance can kill our dreams just as fast as indolence. Don’t begin by assuming you can do no wrong.
2. Continually check your markers. Had David W. Reed taken the time to double check his accounts of those parts of the battle he experienced against the very markers he had placed on the field, he might have noticed the discrepancies. Writers must first have markers in place – family, friends, faith, a coach, peers, etc. – then listen to what they tell us.
3. Schedule time to step back. Maybe it’s weekly. It is for me. Each Sunday evening, I take time to step back and reconnect with my life plan. I’ve also engaged a life coach to help me grow and keep an accurate perspective. If you’re like me, there’s always more to write and do. Take time to reflect before you run off the cliff.
4. Keep your guard up. The ancient wisdom of Solomon says that there is safety in getting counsel — if there is wisdom in the counselors. Don’t get your advice from those who always tell you it can’t be done – but have never done anything themselves. Do get advice from those who have done something already and will help you keep your perspective grounded in reality.
5. “Be sure you are right, and then go ahead.” Don’t become paralyzed by the fear of getting it wrong. Follow the above steps, but at the end of the process, follow Davy Crockett’s famous advice and press forward. If you’ve checked to make sure you’re not crazy, go for it. Write. Dream. Live. Get out of the boat. The worst that could happen is that long after you’re gone, someone will write an annoying blog post about you that can help others get it right.
I can live with that.