Tamára Lunardo

Author & Editor



May 2012



You Can’t Say That On TOL

Written by , Posted in writing

I think because TOL is a place to say what you often can’t elsewhere, a lot of the guest post submissions I get are either very vulnerable or very boundary-pushing. Posts like these can be wonderful because vulnerability allows for community and connection, and pushing boundaries can create more space to think and grow.

You can see that I do a lot of this in my own writing, but what you may not see is that I take a lot of care to walk an often thin and tremulous line between saying everything that I think and saying everything that I think is beneficial. When people call me “unfiltered,” I sometimes think, If you only knew…

So when I get submissions that go too far, I don’t use them, but I think it might be helpful for my fellow bloggers and writers to understand how I come to decide what can and can’t be said here, not necessarily so that you might have a successful guest post for me (though that would be lovely), but so that it might help you decide how to go about determining your own boundaries in blogging and writing.

When you consider using words, images, or stories that have clear potential to shock, you have to be really honest with yourself about not only your intentions but also the ramifications for your readers. You can have the deepest, most life-changing thought, but if you present it in a way that turns people off, they will have a hard time letting your good message sink in. So when you re-read what you’ve written, you need to see if you can comfortably square it with how you want to present your thoughts and yourself to your audience.

Try running these questions by your very most honest self:

  • Do you want to shake them up so they’ll really have to consider something differently, or do you just want to shake them up so that you can grab their attention?
  • Are you making them uncomfortable only out of necessity?
  • Is there a more gracious way to approach?
  • How will the shocking elements affect the trust/rapport you’ve built with your audience?

What advice would you add for determining boundaries in writing? Do you struggle more with letting your writing be a little risky or with reining it in?

  • http://randomlychad.com Chad Jones

    Time was, I would’ve said risk; lately, reining it in. But you already know that. 🙂

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      You’ve been wise to take guidance from people who are looking out for your best interests, though. That can be hard to do, to set aside your pride. But I think it’s good not only for you and your family but for your audience too.

      • http://randomlychad.com Chad Jones

        It’s a painful lesson–one which I’m sure I’ll be learning over and over again–but pride has never led me any anywhere good.

        I’m so thankful to be surrounded by a community that cares.

  • http://howtotalkevangelical.wordpress.com Addie Zierman

    I love this question, and I think that it could change our conversations if we consistently asked it of ourselves: “Is there a more gracious way to say this?”

    It’s not censorship to say it with grace. It’s not cowardice or pandering to try to be kind and to understand that people are at different places. You can’t make everyone happy, but you can stay away from generalized stereotypes of people and of careless generalities. Great post!

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Such great points. I love the idea of asking ourselves to find the most gracious way of making a point *everywhere* that we have conversations. One place that jumps out at me is Facebook– you see some really volatile threads that could be so much more beneficial if people were all asking themselves that question before they replied.

  • http://thatguykc.wordpress.com ThatGuyKC

    Great questions, Tamara. I think in my own writing I struggle to be risky because my internal dialogue is so unfiltered.

    Keep pushing the envelope!

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Do you mean that your inner unfilteredness (I think I just made up a word) is such that it makes you hold back in your writing out of fear that too much will come out? I think that you’re quite honest and frank in your writing without even getting close to pushing boundaries, and I think that works– but maybe you’re saying you’d like to push a little more?

      • http://thatguykc.wordpress.com ThatGuyKC

        Good question. I’m saying that I’d like to push a little more, but I’m not sure if I can pull it off. My inner voice is much more sarcastic and crass. Not sure it should be let out.

        Thank you for the encouragement.

  • http://talktodiana.wordpress.com dianasschwenk

    It used to be reining it in, now it is more letting it be more risky.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      I think the more you read writing that does a good job of taking risks without being reckless, the better you’ll get at doing it yourself. A lot of my friends blogging right now are doing a great job of it– if you haven’t yet, you should check out some like http://www.theveryworstmissionary.com/, http://sarahbessey.com/, and http://nishhappens.com/.

      • http://talktodiana.wordpress.com dianasschwenk

        Thanks Tamara!

  • http://twitter.com/SarahBostAskins Sarah Askins (@SarahBostAskins)

    Sadly, I have to filter EVERYTHING even if I say it with grace.

    My advice would always be–write, then wait. New day offers new perspective and new grace.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      “Write, then wait” is excellent advice, which I struggle with the patience to follow. 🙂 How does the waiting work for you? Do you leave the piece completely for some time, or do you try to mull it over/seek someone’s input?

      • http://twitter.com/SarahBostAskins Sarah Askins (@SarahBostAskins)

        No one benefits from angry writing. Sometimes, I ask for others to read the piece if I’m not sure. I usually find someone who has experience or knowledge in said topic. Sometimes, I just needed to write the anger out , and those pieces never see the internet.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com hopefulleigh

    Those are great things to consider. I’d add that if we’re sharing a story about our family or friends, it’s important to consider how it will affect them. Do they see the story differently? Will it be hurtful? It’s not that we shouldn’t tell those stories but we need to think through whether it’s the best way to make the point and how our loved ones will respond.

    Incidentally, I’m working on my guest post for you as we speak!

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Yes, this is SO important. It’s not that we necessarily can’t tell the story; it’s that we need to take care *how* we tell it. And sometimes, we really can’t tell the story. But I think a good writer can always find a story to carry her message– sometimes she just has to be patient til she finds it.

  • http://twitter.com/edcyzewski edcyzewski (@edcyzewski)

    Ah yes, blog vulnerability. Good stuff to think about. I wonder sometimes about those boundaries. My general trend that I’ve observed in myself is something like this, I should feel a little bit of doubt, but I shouldn’t have a sense of dread or a lot of uneasiness. If I’m really uneasy, then that’s a clue about my motivations. Also, it helps to know my wife is going to be reading my blog. Knowing that someone you care about is reading your blog can be a wonderful way to self-edit! I’m sure Mr. TOL is a huge help for you with that too.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Having a person to bounce your writing off is a huge help, especially if you tend toward the side of boundary-pushing, like I do. I do value Bryan’s help in this, but I’ve found that he and some of my most like-minded friends will tend to see things as I do, and that’s not the best system of checks and balances. So when I have something that I’m unsure about, boundary-wise, I often check with a couple of friends who I know will look out for my best interests but who also see things from a different vantage point.

  • Sarah H.

    This is a great insight into the reality of how my friend Tamara decides how to make TOL an effective, challenging, grace-full ministry. I love your thoughtfulness and I know first-hand that you really do consider those questions when you write and select posts.

    Ooh, and do I get some sort of prize for successfully guessing BOTH of the posts you linked back to just based on your descriptions “very vulnerable” and “very boundary-pushing”? Those were both very memorable posts.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Thanks, friend.

      And I think your encyclopedic memory of the TOL archives gives you a little advantage. 😉

  • kevinrhaggerty

    Good stuff.

    That reminds me. I’d like to do a guest post for you about the time I saw a baby seal drink a gallon of milk in less than an hour. The seal exploded, which taught me a valuable lesson about flipping off elderly homeless people. I’d like to start off the post with a meme of a nun on fire. Is this cool? I think it would be right up your alley.


    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Exactly what I’m looking for. 🙂

    • JT Adamson

      I am offended that you chose milk as your explosive liquid of excess. You are insensitive to dairy farmers. And cows.


  • http://shewritesandrights.wordpress.com writesandrights

    Lately I’ve been sharing a lot of personal stuff in my writing on my blog and for Prodigal Mag. Last night I finished a draft of a post that will share a lot of details relating to my struggle with being a newlywed, but also about a friend’s marriage that ended recently.
    I realized as I read it aloud to my husband that the way I wrote about our friend’s marriage would probably make him really self-conscious if he ever read it, or worse, really hurt his feelings. He normally doesn’t read my work, but if any of our other friends who do read it told him about and then he read it, I would have some explaining to do. For me the story and the point behind it had been crystal clear, but hearing my husband’s reactions in defense of his friend made me realize that I was taking ownership of a story that wasn’t mine to tell. I think that’s the biggest thing I’m learning in my writing lately – don’t tell a story that doesn’t belong to you. Start with you, what you’re learning, what God has been teaching you. I have to constantly ask myself whether I’m sharing a story to prove a point, or to be honest about my “real life and real faith.” One brings about pain, the other brings about healing.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      That’s a great example of checking yourself and putting people before story. And really, what’s the point of story, anyway? If it has nothing to do with the care of people– whether it’s to educate, inspire, or entertain– then it’s just to let the author hear her own voice. And if we really need to do that, we can certainly do it without hitting “Publish.” 🙂

  • http://janheath1234.wordpress.com Off the Wall

    I do have a tendency to write about things that have been buried in my deep dark soul as a catharsis of sorts. Maybe I shouldn’t.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      I don’t think the question is whether to write; it’s whether to publish. As I was saying in the comment above, there needs to be a reason for sharing our stories. But to write them? I think catharsis is plenty reason enough.

    • http://shewritesandrights.wordpress.com writesandrights

      Tamara is right, about the question of whether to publish, but I also think the deeper question that’s really at the heart of it is where? The advent of online self-publishing, whether it’s a blog or social media, has made it easy for us to write and go live with our words far sooner than we can process what the ramifications of our words might be. We have to be really careful about whether our content is appropriate for the medium. I always start by writing honest, dark, soul-catharsis stuff in my personal journal, and if anything relatable and true and positive comes out of it, then I can *begin* to think about publishing it for the world to see.

  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry The Deuce

    I can say shocking things, but it dependa on who I’m with or who my audience is. I offended almost my entire former church with my blog, to the point I had to leave. In the end, it was pointless.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Wow, Larry– I knew you’d left your church; I didn’t realize that was why. That sounds like a hard journey.

      • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry The Deuce

        It was. We were in that church for 17 years. I’m almost to point of saying we left for health reasons. They were sick of us and we were sick of them. Really, it was my own stupidity that brought the house of cards we had built crashing down.

  • http://communicatingacrossboundaries.wordpress.com Marilyn

    Great post. Agree it’s tricky. The vulnerability piece is what resonates with people but I agree with the need for grace. Always grace. I always check with my husband if he’s a part of it. Don’t always check with my kids but I’m pretty careful. I think you said it all with “Is there a more gracious way to approach”. Thank you.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Thanks, Marilyn. And I think that being gracious looks like different things in different situations, but it always matters to seek it.

  • http://goguiltypleasures.wordpress.com gojulesgo

    WONDERFUL advice! You’re so right that the real message can be lost if the approach isn’t right. For better or worse, I pretty much try to shy away from anything controversial (then again, I have a humor blog)! If I am going to write something serious, though, I just try to be as honest and genuine as possible, always keeping in mind that I DON’T want to offend anyone. And you know what? I can still get my point across (I think! LOL) 🙂

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Thanks, Julie! I’ve found that even when I try not to offend anyone, if I’m being honest and genuine, I’ll eventually offend someone anyway. But I think that’s where it comes back to checking my own motives– if I can answer those questions in a way that’s satisfactory to my very most honest self, then I’ve done my part; anyone who still finds offense needs to just deal with their own very most honest selves. 😉

  • http://www.journey-to-beauty.com Alex

    Wow! Great post, and something I honestly needed to hear.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Thanks, Alex– I’m so glad it helped you!

  • http://kathleencaron.wordpress.com kathleencaron

    Agree with Sarah Askins above—“write and then wait”–writing has the potential to hurt people so much, and what goes on the internet stays on the internet—-FOREVER. I once wrote a very angry “vent,” toyed with whether to publish and was looking at a friend’s blog on which he had posted “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (Proverbs 29:11) I took that as the voice of God and did not press “publish.”

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      “what goes on the internet stays on the internet—-FOREVER” This is such an important reminder, thanks. I’m so glad you heard the message you needed to and saved yourself from potential trouble.

  • http://joycannis.wordpress.com Joy

    I definitely struggle with reining it in. I have many drafts that while quite therapeutic for me, may never be posted. I always have to survey my motives behind a post. Readers do not want to hear venting. They do want to hear about struggle, but not complaining.
    That’s my 2 cents worth.
    Thanks for the post Dahling! As always it’s motivating as well as challenging.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      That’s a really good distinction. I think it’s important, too, to remember that friends are for venting to; readers are for sharing with.

      • http://joycannis.wordpress.com Joy


  • http://reconcilingviewpoints.wordpress.com reconciling viewpoints

    What was it Paul said? “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.”

    You’ve always done a great job at making that distinction in what you put out there for everyone to see, and I think it’s obvious that you take the task seriously. Really, the same principle should apply whether it’s written or spoken communication, right? I guess that’d be my advice to other bloggers — if you wouldn’t have the guts to say it to someone’s face, and you aren’t trying to benefit someone in the process, you probably shouldn’t be saying it.

    For me, I’m definitely tentative and struggle with taking risks in my writing…. it’s really an extension of my overall personality.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Dan, that verse was in my mind as I wrote this. 🙂

      • http://reconcilingviewpoints.wordpress.com reconciling viewpoints

        “great minds…. yada yada….” 🙂

  • JT Adamson

    Reining in is often an application of “consider others better than yourself”

    I have trouble reining in …puns. I pun-tificate.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Oh yes. You are quite punny. 🙂

      • JT Adamson

        Thanks. It’s what I do.

  • Tim Snyder

    In college, I wrote this non-fiction short story about a time a friend of mine almost got me and him killed while driving. He was speeding on a gravel road and decided to hit the breaks and throw a hard right whilst going 70. Right before he did this he yelled “F**k it!”

    In the initial draft, I censored it (I went to a Christian college), but most everyone who critiqued it said that censored the word kind of ruined it’s impact (after all, this was the climax of the story).

    It was really difficult because on one hand, it’s what he actually said and there is no word that would contain as much poignancy. On the other hand, it’s the mother of all swears. I plan on eventually working this story into a semi-fictional book about high school, and I’m still not sure what I’m going to do about that line.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      That definitely sounds to me like a case of using the best word even when it’s not a “good” word. I’m glad your class could appreciate that. I hope that whenever it’s time to weave this story into your book, you’ll have the discernment you need.

  • http://sheddfullofthoughts.wordpress.com Matt Shedd

    I have really been working through how to share with a little more vulnerability. The difficult thing about being a youth minister is that I must not only think about whether it would be beneficial for listeners, but must also consider my church. How will they view me? How will this change my relationship with them? Will it put my job in jeopardy?

    Altogether, I still love the concept of “best words” for the message, but I have to be careful to wield that concept honestly.

  • http://sweetandweak.wordpress.com Simon

    This was really interesting to read. I started a blog a few months ago and intentionally put it into a family friendly format and even set some other structure about hat my posts will look like. At the time I thought nothing of it and really approached it more like a business question of what I would like if I was a reader.
    Now that I have been writing for the first time some creativity has been awakened I guess and I feel bound by the original format and tone that I laid out at the start. I may be different because I think it would be fun to write outside of those boundaries and see what turns up. I do, however, know better than posting any of that as I am sure the soccer mom segment of my readers would flinch. Thanks for writing this and making me think.

  • http://www.staceysmotheringmoments.com Stacey

    Great suggestions. I have always erred on the side of reining it in, but without losing the honesty that is so important to the message. I think there is a lot of TMI out there and often times we get the point without needing the shock part.

  • http://scream911.wordpress.com youhavemyword

    This is incredible! I had the same tricky task this week of deciding to let a guest post run with an f-bomb in it (in the image it had, Jesus was saying it – eek!) or pulling it. I let it run eventually for the reason that I’d told writers for this particular series I wouldn’t edit, and I had to trust that that particular writer had heard from God in what he wrote and how he presented his revelation. Tricky though. The first f-bomb on the site. Eek. No fuss was kicked up about it but a respected writer friend of mine did question me to caution. It came down to: have I built rapport and trust with the readers? Again, was it to shock? Was it necessary? Could it have been approached differently? Many of the same questions you ask.

    You inspire me, f-bombs and all. Maybe one day I’ll get to be tremulously inappropriate on here too 🙂 For now, I’ll take your caution and tuck it into my pocket instead of throwing it to writing wind. Thanks.

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