You probably got some form of the following advice from a parent, grandparent, guardian, friend or other loved one: Don’t write angry.
If you were angry at someone and wanted to write a strongly-worded letter, they may have told you it was a good idea to go ahead and write it, but then put in a desk drawer for 24 or 48 hours. Then pull it out and reconsider it. Are you still that mad? Or have you calmed down a bit?
We all get worked up about this or that in our lives. That cooling off period was often meant to provide some perspective on the situation that had you so upset. Your ire was up at the time and you were ready to list in detail every indignity and slight you felt you’d been subjected to. Now you’ve calmed down and realize it wasn’t that big a deal. Not only that but you might now see the damage that could have been done to a personal relationship if you’d sent the letter.
Technology has changed the algebra of the situation. If you were writing a letter you had to put it in an envelope, find a stamp, make sure you had the right address and finally walk/drive to the mailbox. It would be a day or two before the letter arrived, at which point you might be at the point of rethinking your moral highground. But it’s too late to do anything about it. Maybe you could call and explain you wrote it when you were mad, but the recipient could still read your diatribe.
Now, an email is much easier to send. A blog post, Tweet or other form of social communication can all be published instantaneously, while you’re still in high dudgeon. There are technological equivalents to the desk drawer — the “Drafts” folder of the various platforms — but the “Publish” or “Send” button is right there and so easy to click.
Putting personal communications like email aside to focus on the public publishing, the question is this: Is it ever alright to write angry?
Write? Yes. Publish? Maybe Not.
Over the last two years I’ve written plenty that I’ve never published, and published a few things I wish I hadn’t. Those posts or pieces written because I was angry for some reason. It might be the lack of full-time work that’s been offered to me. It might be frustrations of relying on inconsistent freelance income. It might be about our current presidential administration and the society it’s part of.
Writing, for me, is how I process the world. It’s how I collect my thoughts and express my viewpoint. It’s much easier for me to write something than it is for me to talk and explain my feelings or thoughts outloud. So when something is weighing heavy on my mind I will open up a Google Doc and get to venting. It’s cathartic, allowing me to close that particular circuit in my thoughts.
Not everything needs to be published, though. As I said, I’ve made the wrong call on a few previous occasions, posting pieces that are obviously the rantings of an angry old man. I say “wrong” because, for me, what I’m writing is part of my professional portfolio, meant to achieve some specific goal, usually related to “getting more work of some kind. Coming off as a miserable jerk doesn’t help that.
Your mileage will necessarily vary here. If you’ve been writing about political and social issues from a strong progressive viewpoint for 10 years, your diatribe about the current tax bill moving through Congress will fit in nicely on your personal blog. If you’ve been focused on other things, less so. Adjust your barometer for outrage as appropriate.
Remember, though, that writing angry is fine. It’s useful, even, allowing you to blow off steam that would otherwise build up and boil over. Just keep in mind that writing and publishing are two very different situations to consider. That was true in the age of the angry letter and it’s still true in the age of instant self-publishing.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.