1. Never settle for the easy story. Reach for the hard one if that’s what’s real. Do this, however reluctant the world may be to hear what you have to say.
2. Avoid obvious, predictable choices. You may join the chorus, of course. You may even make a buck or two if you add your voice to those already singing the song we’ve all heard. (In my case, this would include accusations that I “exploited a great man who only wanted his privacy,” that I “sold love letters,” that I have made “a cottage industry” of hitching my little cart to Salinger’s freight train.)
But before you allow yourself these or any other easy assumptions: ask your own questions. In my case, here’s one: Is it the obligation of any human being to protect the embarrassing secrets of some other individual of greater power and influence, simply because he tells her so?
3. Do your research. Before you determine that a person is somehow choosing to promote herself and her work by her association with some vastly more significant individual, find out what she may have been doing for the last forty-one years. In my case, were you to do your research, you might discover that in addition to publishing thirteen books, I’ve worked with a few thousand writing students, lent my services to causes I believe in, raised some children, fought and helped to defeat a nuclear waste dump in my state, to name a few pastimes.
I’ve had the usual number of screw-ups and disasters too, mind you. About which I have written and spoken freely.
4. Break rules. Question authority. (Even—god forbid—the authority of a Famous Writer. )
If a person tells you “never talk about this,” consider why he or she might demand this of you. And whether in fact you owe that person your silence and protection. History is filled with rule-breakers. I call many of these individuals my heroes.
5. Be brave. Never allow yourself to consider, as you write, what people will say about you, or how unpopular your words may make you. Tell the truth, as you see it. This goes beyond reporting the facts with accuracy, by the way. This starts with choosing authentic language. But most of all, authentic ideas. As opposed to the old familiar recycled ones. You will be a better writer for this, I promise you. You will most certainly become a more powerful person.
—Joyce Maynard, via Medium