Why We Sometimes Shouldn’t Write

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by Bonnie

written in slumberI have a long history of offending people with my writing. I’ve often wondered about this, because I don’t necessarily have a long history of offending people in person. Still, I’m not terribly articulate in person, so I find myself preferring to interact in some situations through writing — a way of ensuring that my halting words are polished to reflect my intent — because I care that I not offend (which is why my first two statements are so ironic). In short, I really do get Moses. Heaven would be kind to send me some kind of spokesperson, even though my little stewardship obviously doesn’t warrant it.

I misstepped again recently, even after elucidating in a discussion with writer friends the principles of why writing some things is unwise. I pondered about it this morning, asking the Lord why I wasn’t restrained from pushing the send button when I had clearly asked and waited for an answer.

I needed to learn something in the distraught hours of silence after.

Nephi commented that he was not powerful as a writer.

And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.

Moroni mourned that he and other prophetic writers collectively, were not powerful in writing.

And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them;

And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them.

Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.


As someone who has loved to write since childhood, and who has gained a great deal of insight from what these two gentlemen have written, I’ve long scratched my head at these statements (not to mention developed an incredible curiosity to read the words of the Brother of Jared).


What is the difference between writing and hearing in person the same truth?

There was a recent flap over a local leader who shared a copy of his talk with a member of his congregation. A local paper antagonistic to the Church, which uses any example of poor judgment to make sweeping generalizations about our faith, picked up the story, which had by that time gone viral, and added its gleeful observations. The statements this Church leader made, written indelibly in binary, were being used by people from entirely different perspectives to justify their own positions. He wisely wasn’t returning any phone calls, poor guy.

We discussed the content of his talk in a group of writer friends, and agreed that it would be hard to know what issues he was addressing that were specific to the people in his stewardship, what the tone of his delivery communicated that we can’t confine to the written word, and what a listening congregant might have heard. We discussed the experience of Oliver, as he was corrected in how he should interact with those he led.

Behold, I say unto thee, Oliver, that it shall be given unto thee that thou shalt be heard by the church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the Comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given. …

And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it.

But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom;

We remembered the counsel recently reiterated that General Authority addresses to local areas should not be recorded or transcribed and circulated, and Elder Oaks’ locally given statement along the lines of “I’d like to know whether I’m speaking to the stake or the whole world,” and agreed that there are differing circumstances that require specific approaches, and those specifics will be spoken, not written. We are too given to extrapolating generalities from specifics to have such broad access to all these written words.

Even after that conversation, I acted on an inspiration to share a comforting insight with someone by writing it instead of going to her and sharing it personally. In the quiet, hand-wringing hours after, I thought of all the different ways that communication could have gone had it been in person. I might have spoken part of my words instead of all. I might have realized that some wounds must bleed out before they can be bandaged. I might have been inspired with additional comforts. I would have known how it was received. All sorts of other things could have been communicated: love, peace, solidarity, strength. It occurred to me that the Holy Spirit seldom delivers well-crafted letters to me, but instead gives them to me lines at a time, and waits for me to ask for more, tailoring the message to my reactions as it unfolded.

Why would I expect to engage in healthy communication differently than God does?

Now I realize that it is the function of the Holy Spirit to structure revelation in the mind of the receiver. I might struggle and refine, feeling the need to polish my thoughts so that they most perfectly represent what is in my mind, but committing them to writing restricts how they can be used by other people’s minds. The Holy Spirit will take words and combine with that person’s own experience, perceptions, and needs to create a magic bullet. It is not our business to restrict the workings of the Holy Spirit, which is laid out quite nicely by John:

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

When anyone speaks, people who listen by the Holy Spirit don’t just hear what they want to hear; they hear what God wants them to hear. They remember later, not from their notes but from their memory, what they need to know at that time. We are a culture that distrusts our gut, our memory, our changing perspectives. However, when we write, people must navigate our minds to find the truth for themselves, and it dances hazardously around priestcraft, where we set ourselves between that person and the Holy Spirit.

As an avid journaler, I am continually reminded of the changes in my perspective that occur over time as I reread old entries, and have tried to learn to write like Joseph — just the facts — and let myself interpret them at various times in my life according to the perspective of that time. It’s hard.

You can bet I sweat bullets writing this.

As a reader, you will have to navigate the shoals and undertows, rocks and open sea of my mind to find any kernel of meaning for yourself in these limited words. Still, I feel there is something there, some glimmer of an eternal truth, that perhaps you will see from your vantage point.

I’m exhausted. This morning’s thinking is certainly rewriting the way I use words.

About Bonnie

Living life determined to skid sideways into the grave and say, "MAN, what a ride!"

9 Responses to Why We Sometimes Shouldn’t Write

  1. Paul says:

    Hmm… Sorry for your discomfort. Grateful for the lesson you share.

    I often prefer to write, particularly “important” messages to my children. I can carefully weigh my words and measure my emotions. I can go back and edit and rework. And i can hope that my kids will refer to my letter more than once before ignoring my advice. 🙂

    But I get that the written word stays around. And it’s not always read in the spirit in which it is given. And certain communicative nuance is lost in writing that may be there in a face to face exchange.

    I suppose there’s a role for both in our lives.

  2. Liz C says:

    Just to contrast, the Spirit uses written communication to teach us, too. My mom gained her testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel as she read (unknowingly) virulently anti-LDS books (the only books in the local library at the time.)

    Sometimes people get offended because they want to be offended, regardless of the format of the message. If something is written with love and the Spirit, then it has to be released into the world with faith, if the prompting to release it is there.

  3. Regena says:

    Written communication is best with some people. My husband was somewhat lacking in right brain function and when he said things, he would sound very angry at times (whether he was or not), but if he wrote it out, I would read it with my own feelings in it. Almost always went better that way. I was a glass half full; many times he was a glass mostly empty. I have kept a lot of cards I got from him over the years and I love those. Great communication.

  4. Mie says:

    Bonnie , This is exactly what I have been thinking about lately ,nice you expressed it for me.

  5. Bonnie says:

    And you all perfectly make the point that inspiration is in God’s hands, not ours. Thanks for sharing your different perspectives. I was blessed that my dear friend understood. I will write with a different attitude and intent in the future, and I suppose in a way I will both write and speak with a bit more faith. And I will be grateful when people understand either.

  6. Becky L. Rose says:

    Love these thoughts, of the magic bullet and the priestcraft. The written word can be so mistaken on line, in facebook groups and on online dating.

    Yes- inspiration is in God’s hands, not ours! Releases some of the pressure.

  7. Jendoop says:

    I think we should always write. The tricky part is who we share the writing with. Most of the time my writing is for myself, and of course God sees it. There are times that I can’t hold my thoughts still enough to pray so I write my prayers. Then there are times I share my writing with others. Audience is hugely important, although as you said, in this age we have to assume that anything online is published to the world. I’m grateful not to be a leader whose every word is raked over and twisted. Even though we think the written word is hard and fast it can be twisted as easily as a piece of paper.

    In the past I’ve had disagreements with someone through writing and then we’ve talked and just hearing the sound of their voice softened the misunderstanding. Even if we eventually didn’t see eye to eye, I knew that I was more important to them than the argument. Writing is a hugely imperfect medium. It cannot be our sole or main means of communication with those who are valuable to us.

  8. Carin says:

    I too am a writer and avid journal writer. I get flustered sometimes in person to person communications, particularly when I disagree or feel threatened and then I can’t seem to stand up for myself until I am so upset that I act un-Christ-like. So I also prefer the written word.

    I have had a couple of experiences I would like to share. I had an unexpected pregnancy. With all of the others, I knew a baby was on the way even if I wasn’t ready or prepared. This one caught me off guard. Every time I went to write in my journal about my frustrations and process of working through the emotion (my ninth pregnancy….) the Spirit said, “Don’t write that.” Three or four times…. It was my journal, my experience, personal, and I had no plans on sharing it with anyone. Apparently some one, some day will be reading it and my feelings at the time, should not have been or be shared. Interesting.

    Another time, my words, shared with a brand-new member, were offensive. I was teaching a basic, basic, basic doctrine, in person, about the Atonement (a well understood and commonly discussed doctrine). It was so basic, I didn’t even think that it might be offensive. In the moment, it didn’t appear to be. Later, after several nasty messages on my answering machine, I learned that it was. As I pondered what I had done wrong in the situation, how I had mis-stepped, or what I had done (body language, incorrect doctrine, offensive tone…you know the drill), I was told through the Spirit, that my experience was for another situation. I was told not to teach AT ALL, in the other situation because the people I was going to were not prepared to hear even the basics. It would be offensive to them. And I was there to be supportive and loving, but not to teach. I had never been told to keep my mouth shut by the Spirit. But I learned that there are times when hearts that are not prepared for the message, will be offended, even if the message is one they at one time heard and believed.

    So I guess, whether written or verbal, our language, intent, meanings, can be twisted. Remember that it is the Spirit that carries the message from giver to receiver, regardless of medium. You can say anything with the Spirit, but if the receiver is also not in tune, the message can be distorted.

  9. Cheryl says:

    There have been many, many times when the Spirit has constrained me from writing something –especially if it would be seen publicly (blog, social media). It’s like that when speaking, too. Fortunately, I’ve gotten much better at the writing thing, but unfortunately, I have yet to learn constraint with the speaking thing. I quite often stumble around trying to explain why my foot is lodged in my mouth, and then realize in the aftermath what I should have said instead –or that I should have just kept silent.
    But I keep writing and I keep speaking. Gratefully, the Spirit is patient and kind.

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