“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Mark Twain

A Risky Business: Lessons from FW Conference 2009

As soon as I saw the workshop description months ago, I knew I had to sign up for it.

You see, I'm an optimist. Some may say annoyingly so. I'm also an open book (no - the name of my blog is NOT a coincidence). And, I almost always assume the best.

Of course, these are good thing. Yet, even I know they can be dangerous. I've been taken advantage of before. I've lost because I've assumed the best and got the worst. So I knew I needed to be knowledgeable.
So, it was a no-brainer when I signed myself up for "It’s a Risky Business – Or How Not to End Up in a Thai Jail," presented by the amazing and EXTREMELY knowledgeable Deb Porter.

Here's the workshop description.
The pen may be mightier than the sword, but as with any weapon, it needs to be handled with care. In this session, Deb Porter will not only look at the responsibilities of the writer in this modern world of instant communication, but also highlight some of the risks and pitfalls writers may face if they let enthusiasm and passion run rampant over caution and wisdom.
This one had my name on it - and it lived up to its title and description. It ended up being the most important, eye-opening, usable, needed session I attended during the two-day FaithWriters conference. It has already caused me to see my WIP with new eyes, and to consider every incident I describe in it in a different way.

I, like many, had assumed that if I just change folks' names, I can write just about anything I want. And who would go after little old me anyway? But it really isn't true. If someone can recognize themselves in your book, and you say something that is offensive, etc. about them, there can be legal consequences.

OH - and don't assume that just because something has been out there forever, and/or that everyone and their dog can recite it from memory, that you can put it in your book.

Deb summed up her session with two mantras:
If in doubt, leave it out.
If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.
She reminded us that once a book is out there, it's out there forever. There is NO statute of limitations on what you say and/or write. So be very careful about what you discuss, whether it be about your family (if, of course, you want to be welcomed at family reunions), or, in my case, doctors or other professionals. You may think they'll never read it, never recognize themselves, or never try to sue, but don't count on it. Either get their permission, or cut it out.

And it's not just others' legal rights. As Christians, we also need to take their moral rights into account. We certainly do not need our character questioned, or to tarnish Christ's name through what we write.

As I read through my work in progress this time, I am looking for statements that could be taken the wrong way--and for anything that might make me an unwelcome guest at family reunions. I may not leave them all out - but I'll definitely be weighing my willingness to "do the time" as I contemplate whether to "do the crime."
I'll be back with more thoughts and recaps on the conference later. Praying this post was a benefit and blessing to you as well!


  1. Thanks for sharing this workshop, Jo. Very good lessons to be learned here and hopefully not the hard way.

  2. thanks for sharing your path to writing your book with us. You must be excited :)

    Thanks also for commenting on exemplify...it really is hard to stop and listen but knowing that's what we need to get deeper with God we have to learn how to control the muzzel :) lol take care

  3. Great lessons, Joanne. Thanks for sharing this. I've been reading through James and Proverbs--all about taming the tongue. Guess the pen needs a good harness too.

  4. It's true. We think if we cleverly (or not so cleverly) disguise a true event, or a real person, we won't get into trouble. Looks like that's not true.

    There's a fine line at times between telling the truth and telling the truth in love.

    Thanks for the timely advice.

  5. This is where my "writer's block" has come from for the last year or so. At Little Lessons from my Loving Lord, I write about every day lessons (like parables) based on my real life events. So many of my 'lessons' in the last year came from other people's experiences and I don't ever want to shine a poor light on anyone else through Lessons.

  6. That was one of my favorite workshops, too, Jo. What a lot of info and very practical, too. I learned so much from that workshop. Made me think twice, too, about real events and real names.

  7. Yes, this was a big one for me too as we work on my honey's project. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Sounds like a great workshop, and very practical advise. My eyes were glued to the screen as you shared what you learnt. Catchy title too, about the guy who wrote that book about Thai royalty, self published and sold only a few copies, yet ended up in jail.

  9. Jo, you summed that part of the session up really well. Like I said at the time, I really congratulate those who chose that particular workshop. Given the content, there are other things far more appealing, but it was information every writer should be aware of--and I only touched the tip of the iceberg as far as copyright goes. LOL. I think the bottom line is to always remember who it is we're writing for (and do unto others as we would have them do unto us). Love you!

  10. I didn't attend this one so thanks for the recap! Good stuff!

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  12. Good thoughts... I'm writing a book about myself and all that the Lord has brought me through in the last two years, but it involves family and some friends. Without "them", the story would not be complete and wouldn't have much meaning, but I know they would not like my "take" on the things that happened so I can't ask them for permission to use it. So I'm in a quandary because I know my story could help others, but permission to use situations (even without names and places and using a pen name) is going to be a problem. Any suggestions???


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