Rated C for Courtesy
“Okay, but is it R for violence or for sex?” my mom asked, frustrated. She wanted to take us to a movie – I can’t remember which one – because it was well over 100 degrees outside (38+ for my Celsius-reading peeps, and it was probably closer to 45) and the theater was air conditioned. I must have been around twelve then, which made my little sister nine. As any of y’all who’ve spent any time around kids know, there’s a huge difference between what a nine year old and a twelve year old can process. And my mom didn’t mind having a talk with us about “what grownups do to each other, with permission” but she didn’t feel like waking up ten times because my sister was having nightmares about people with holes blown in their heads.
So that’s a familiar example of both what a content warning is meant to do, and its limitations, right? Another one: back in the day, there was almost a running gag among the editors that when we really needed to get on a grid that week, the only thing we could think of was dead pets. It was funny right up until my dog died and someone entered a dead pet essay on nonfiction the next week. Ever hear the phrase “too soon?”
At YeahWrite, we don’t believe in limiting what you can write about, so long as you do it in a way that respects the dignity and diversity of our community. Sometimes that respect means that if you’re writing a difficult essay, you may want to consider adding a content warning so someone doesn’t accidentally read the story of your dog getting hit by a car, your sexual assault, or your child dying, while they’re trying to commute to work. But just writing “content warning” at the start of your story doesn’t really do that, because it doesn’t tell the reader if your story’s rated R for violence or sex, right?
The following few lines will be familiar to our super challenge folks: If you feel your work may merit a content warning, please feel free to add that on your title page. It will not be included in your word count. A good content warning will give a direct but not explicit description of what the reader may encounter: “CW: sexual assault” or “CW: child death” but not “CW: graphic.” (graphic what? violence? sex? design?)
Similarly, you should always feel free to add a simple, direct warning to the top of your essay. We won’t include it in your word count. It needn’t be a summary, but it should give the reader a heads-up that there’s potentially difficult content coming, and let them know what category it’s in. The majority of readers won’t be affected at all; the few who are will appreciate it.
Speaking of reading, we had some fantastic work on the grids this week, but especially on nonfiction. The editors all pointed out that we had a hard time figuring out where to cast our votes! Fortunately, it’s not all about the popular vote at YeahWrite, folks. We also have our editorial staff picks to hand out. See, while there’s a popular vote winner every week, we don’t always give out a staff pick. Our editors comb the grids to find, not just the best writing on our grid this week, but what we think is pretty darn great writing anywhere anytime. Picks are based on writing quality, how successful the author is in conveying information, and just plain style. If you got a staff pick this week, grab your badge from the sidebar and wear it with pride! The great part is that we don’t have a finite number of picks to hand out. That means that if two, three, five, or even all the works on one grid are fantastic, we can give them all kudos.
The other benefit of the editors’ pick, of course, is that unlike the popular vote we’ll tell you why we liked that post. So don’t just skip reading the blurb if it’s not about your post; you’ll pick up some handy pointers about what makes good writing great that you can apply to your own work. For more of that critical feedback, keep an eye on our Roundup for a quick rundown of trends we see each week. We try to highlight the good stuff and point out problems that more than one writer is struggling with. There’s probably a handy tip in there for you right now, so check it out!
Once you’re done reading through the Editorial Staff Picks and Roundup (and congratulating the winners in the comments), keep scrolling down to check out who won the popular vote on each grid. If you earned the highest number of votes in any challenge, you are this week’s Crowd Favorite! If you came in first, second or third, you get “Top Three” honors. Grab your badge from our sidebar!
Looking for your badge? All our grids have the same Winner, Editorial Staff Pick, and Top Three badges. It doesn’t clutter up our sidebar, and they’ll still look pretty on yours!
YeahWrite #325 Weekly Writing Challenge Staff Picks:
“Unflinching” and “powerful” the comments read on this one, and I agree. But there’s something else Amy does in this essay that really pushed it over the top for me as an editors’ pick. See, an account of the assault and aftermath would have read like a diary entry without the social context that it gains by juxtaposing the account of the coworker’s behavior. The title – Spaces with Men – lets the reader know how to link all three segments of the story, and shows how they’re similar even in their dissimilarity. By showing the reader “look, here are three symptoms, and they’re all interrelated, don’t ignore any of them in favor of the others” Amy goes beyond addressing an isolated incident to talk about an entire social structure, while remaining intensely personal the entire time.
I’ve often been accused of valuing construction over content. Fine. I value construction over content. I’d rather read a well-written essay about walking a dog than a poorly written one about saving that dog when it fell over a cliff and then later it went on to rescue five kids from a burning building. Of course, this essay has both solid construction and charming content, and they fit well together. You already know the content – right? you did read all three grids, right? – so I’m going to focus on the details of construction that made this a pick for me.
Three techniques really stand out in this essay: the hook, the dream-memory feel of the writing, and the way it all ties neatly back to both of those things at the end. I often say that your readers will remember the first and last paragraph of your writing the most, and this essay is a perfect example of that. Today I will call my sister, and ask her if she remembers the soft giraffe toy we had. (For you grammar mavens out there, the comma is optional in that sentence but I think it functions well to create a little breathing room, like the comma in the opening paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House.) Throughout the essay there is dialogue, which is handled without resort to quotation. This is a careful and deliberate choice to make the dialogue as much part of the story-memory as it can possibly be. Another option would have been to italicise the dialogue as well, but here the parts of the story that someone is saying are clearly and precisely flagged with language, and there’s no need for it. The final lines wrap the story back to what you thought it was going to be when you read that hook: lost and found. That’s the nature of memories, and of little kindnesses that peek out between the lines.
Rowan’s Roundup: YeahWrite Weekly Writing Challenge #325
I want to reiterate what a fantastic, tight nonfiction grid we had this week. Any of the essays here could have topped the vote in a different week, so if you’re not in those top three, don’t be discouraged. We did notice that more than one writer was struggling a little to figure out how to handle their final few paragraphs – and that’s a trend on the nonfiction grid – so keep an eye on the nonfiction kickoff post for some tips and tricks from Michelle on that subject. You don’t want to go back over your entire essay in those paragraphs, but you do want to put a little bit of a bow on it. On the other hand, if you find yourself with a really catchy line? Go ahead and move that sucker right up to the opening paragraph and make it your hook instead!
When I was the age of the children in the story, I read Stephen King’s It. We’re gonna leave aside for a minute whether it was appropriate for my parents to let me do that (folks, read the books your kids are reading) and focus on the one thing that really struck me about the writing: this guy remembers what it’s like to be a kid. He wrote the way we thought and felt at that age. If you’re writing for or about kids, that’s an incredibly important detail. You know who really nailed down how kids think and act this week? Nancy, on the nonfiction grid. Danielle’s nonfic line: Mama! Can I make you a mermaid? Please! Please! Please! (the three pleases, no interrogation, really make this for me). If you’re writing kids into your work, and you’re not around kids of the right age, go find some kids. They’re on YouTube, y’all, being kids. Don’t focus on the parenting vids; look at the kid-created stuff. Kids are smarter and more articulate than we give them credit for being. It’s been a while since most writers were kids, and we could all use that refresher. It’ll make your stories a lot more authentic. After all, you never know what kid might be reading them and judging you.
When I sat down to write my micro this week, I really struggled. Not because 81 words was so short; because it was so long. It looks like I’m not the only one who had that problem. When your micro gets a little breathing room it’s tempting to fill that space with all the adverbs and adjectives you don’t have room for in a 50-word story, or a 30-word one. Don’t do it. Use the lessons you learned writing those shorter prose pieces to pack more story, more ideas, not just more words, into your longer ones.
That’s it for this week! Remember, we don’t always give out a pick on both grids; if we were impressed by several posts on one grid we’ll give them all picks, and if nothing really stood out for us we’ll hold off. If you didn’t get a pick this week, read back through the Roundup to see if you can use some of this week’s tips and tricks.
If you’re lost in the middle of the grid and wondering how you can get a little more feedback on your posts, check out our membership perks!
Everybody: before you go, please take some time to leave your favorites a little love in the comments, and don’t forget, the Weekend Writing Showcase opens tonight at 6pm Eastern US Time!
Congratulations to the Crowd Favorites at YeahWrite #325
The thumbnails are now sorted in order of most votes to fewest. Ties in the overall number of votes are broken by number of editor votes.
Congratulations if you’re at or near the top! Writing well is hard work, and we’re honored you’ve chosen us this week to showcase your entry.
If you’re at or near the bottom, don’t be discouraged. You’re in the right community for learning and growing as a writer, and we are always available with resources for those who ask nicely.
To our readers and voters: thank you! See you next week.
About the author:
Rowan submitted exactly one piece of microfiction to YeahWrite before being consumed by the editorial darkside. She spent some time working hard as our Submissions Editor before becoming YeahWrite’s Managing Editor in 2016. In real life she’s been at various times an attorney, aerialist, professional knitter, artist, graphic designer (yes, they’re different things), editor, secretary, tailor, and martial artist. It bothers her vaguely that the preceding list isn’t alphabetized, but the Oxford comma makes up for it. She lives in Portlandia with a menagerie which includes at least one other human. She blogs at textwall and CrossKnit.