One thing that I do not look forward to as a writer is when I have to write about a traumatic event that will inevitably stir up the emotions in people in a negative way. If I could only write about the adorable things puppies and bunnies do, I absolutely would, but unfortunately, there is more to life than the adorable things than the things that the adorable creatures around us do.
Please note that due to the serious nature of this blog, there will be memes to keep the tone light.
Despite the nervousness and anxiety that comes with writing about tough subjects, I am not one to shy away from controversy. I look at it this way, someone has to write about these subjects, and if I have something that I feel needs said, holding it in will only affect me negatively. So, if you have something to say, but you're afraid how it will impact other people, keep reading so you can handle what's to come with grace.
The first step to writing about a traumatic event is to put yourself in the victim's shoes, whether it is a natural disaster or a crime of some kind, whatever you're writing about will likely have a victim. Now, if you were this victim, how would you want to read about yourself in the news? Unfortunately, I don't know any victims of traumatic events that would want to read about themselves in the news, so this is where you have to realize that if you're not going to write about it, someone else will. In fact, they're not just going to write blogs and articles about it, they're going to make memes about it and tell disgusting jokes about it. So, your job is to empathize with the victim and tell the story as best as you can without trying to ruffle any of their feathers.
Now here's the hard part - no matter what you say, how vague you are, and how empathetic you are to the victims and their families, you're going to ruffle feathers. Heck, you're even going to draw the attention of those that had traumatic things happen to them that are just similar to the story you're writing about. Now, you might ask, but Tara, if you're going to draw attention anyway, why don't you just come out and say whatever you want? And the answer is because when it comes to these types of situations, you want to have grace and handle the story with care so when these people contact you (and they will!) to tell you that you shouldn't have written about this, or you should have been even more vague than you already were, or you should have left out such-and-such detail, you don't have to lay awake agonizing at night and wondering if they were right and if you should just ask your editor to shut it down or if you should just take down the post.
Unfortunately, writing about traumatic events is tough. When doing so, I always reach out to the person I'm aiming to write about to give them a heads up that this is going to happen, especially if they follow me on social media, because I repost everything that has my name listed in the byline. Even if I'm not planning to use their name, I want to make sure they're okay with it. This also gives you a chance to confirm any details that are within the scope of the piece you are writing. Of course, this isn't always foolproof, especially when you're vague and you leave out their name, because whatever you wrote may ring true for someone else in your network as well and then they may be asking you questions as to why you're writing about them. Or even worse, people you network with might even get phone calls because instead of calling or emailing you to ask directly, someone out there decides that he or she is going to gossip and make trouble for the people you care about. Seriously, if you have beef with a writer, go to the writer - not the writer's family or friends! Their family and friends cannot stop them from writing whatever they write about! Jay-Z wasn't kidding when he said it's a hard-knock life!
And of course, there will always be damage control. I typically like to confront it head-on instead of allowing it to pile up, so that I can minimize the damages as quickly as possible, both to me and the other party. Of course, you also have to realize that there will also be messages with an extreme amount of profanity which will give you directions on how to go do some pretty interesting things with yourself, but you'll get those no matter what you write these days, and those messages typically get trashed as quickly as possible because I refuse to allow hatred from other people into my bubble. But, when a legitimate concern is voiced to me, I've learned to do my best to address it without provoking that person or making them feel badly about it. My actions from there depend on the situation and I have to trust my personal instincts and do what I feel comfortable with as a writer and a person to make it right. Sometimes I take action, and sometimes I don't, it just depends on the situation.