Ten Principles: An Idiot’s Revision

In my post last week, I suggested that, when we write about ourselves at an earlier age, we’re wise to do so from a position in the here-and-now that allows us to look at those idiots we surely were with humor while at the same time respecting that idiocy. A few people objected to the term, “idiot,” and rightly so. I’m inclined, then, this week to elaborate.

The intention of last week’s post was to make some points about good writing in general:

  1. Don’t be afraid to write about the painful and the confusing, but do so in a way that doesn’t require you getting lost in that pain and confusion.
  1. We shouldn’t wallow in despair any more than we should pretend that joy is everlasting.
  1. Let there be light and darkness in your writing. Both are necessary to the texture of the lived life.
  1. Be generous of spirit. Be particularly forgiving of yourself, but don’t fail to look at that self with completely open and honest eyes.
  1. Celebrate the wisdom the years have brought to you.
  1. Generous writing is honest writing.
  1. Honest writing is genuine writing.
  1. Set no agenda for your portraits of yourself or of others; otherwise, you’ll never be able to move from the generous, to the honest, to the genuine.
  1. Write with respect: respect for the craft, respect for yourself, respect for others and the situations we all find ourselves in.
  1. Accept the fact that we’re all imperfect. Our job is never to judge, but instead to attempt to understand what brings people to do the things they do.

My own imperfections led me last week to use a word I shouldn’t have used. When I said what I did about the idiots we all once were, I didn’t mean to use that word in a pejorative sense, but instead to point out the imperfections we all have, particularly when we’re young, and to suggest a way of portraying our flaws in a piece of memoir from the greater perspective that time grants us. When I look back at my younger years, I shake my head over some of the things I did, but at the same time, I feel a great affection for the young person who did those things. In my post last week, I never intended to suggest that I might look at your own imperfect experiences with judgment or condescension, and I would certainly never suggest that you not respect and love those younger versions of yourself. I hope this post will help. My apologies for my lack of precision with language. Writing is a lifelong apprenticeship, and we fail so much of the time. The work can humble us in good ways. Then we pick up pen or face the blank screen again, and we do our best to get it right this time, and like that, we go on.




  1. Bill Lowry on November 2, 2015 at 9:52 am

    Lee —
    Is No. 1 (writing about the painful & confusing without getting lost) the hardest to do? Is No. 8 (setting no agenda) the hardest to keep to?
    Thanks for the list.

    • Lee Martin on November 3, 2015 at 8:31 pm

      Bill, they’re all hard at times, but number 8 is the one I really pay attention to. I try really hard not to make up my mind about anything until the writing takes me there.

  2. cinnamonb on November 4, 2015 at 1:51 am

    Hi Lee –

    Very nice follow-up post, especially “When I look back at my younger years, I shake my head over some of the things I did, but at the same time, I feel a great affection for the young person who did those things.” Yes, I think that sums it up pretty well.

    I like your ten principles, too. Probably that #8 is the one I have the most trouble with 🙂

    • Lee Martin on November 5, 2015 at 11:23 am

      Thank you! I try to go into each thing I write, not knowing very much at all, outside of the basic facts and details. I try to let the writing show my why I’m paying attention to those things.

  3. Joanne Lozar Glenn on November 4, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    Lee, another great post with heart and good advice! I’d love to use this as a handout in my retreat…may I? Naturally, full attribution to you and your website. Please let me know…thanks!

    • Lee Martin on November 5, 2015 at 11:22 am

      Thank you, Joanne! Of course, feel free to use this as you will.

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