Don’t Try This At Home

Richard ArthurWriting

I took note of what tools and moments generated the biggest insights and excitement in life and in my writing…  
  


Until now, I’ve never revealed why I use these tools…

You might have noticed that several of my books begin with a disclaimer… 
This, I realized, is the same as the idea of “anticipating objections” when meeting people, getting interviewed for a job, or pitching a project to investors. 
  

A Disclaimer is the part at the beginning of a book that everyone ignores.  

It might note that names, places, and identifying details of characters have been changed to honor confidentiality.  
It might warn the audience about the risks and subject matter.

I even titled one of my books with a disclaimer: Don’t Try This at Home.  
  
Ideally, your disclaimer also adds creative color and intrigue for the reader. 
But most importantly, a disclaimer places a protective frame around the book that makes you feel safe to express yourself, and release your story into the world.  

A main reason we struggle to start and finish our work is a fear of being rejected, upsetting others, or being seen in a negative light by colleagues. Basically, we’re hiding. Often without realizing that’s the case.  
  

Especially when writing something highly vulnerable, it’s common to obsess over how readers will react.

Shame may cause you to feel like you need to remove some of your deepest truths and most shameful experiences.

If you do, then what’s the point of writing a book or telling your story?   

Remember that good writing casts a spell. It draws someone into your world. And withholding, hesitance, and vagueness undermine that world.  

To let go of fear, and allow the book to work, a one-paragraph disclaimer could be all you need, without even having to touch any other parts of the book. This was a huge light bulb moment for everyone at the workshop.  


In it, you might mention that you’re not a certified professional, and no one should believe a word you say. Or you could describe who the book is for, and who it’s not. Or why a taboo subject has to be addressed.  
  
Or explain that you have changed some elements of characters to protect reputations. After all, your stories are more important than people’s actual names and hair color.
   

After that, you’re free to tell your story, and say whatever you want to say, without making excuses.  
  

For example, in my disclaimer in The Truth, as well as on the back cover, I wrote:  
  
“I am not the hero in this tale. I am the villain.”
 

That one line gave me permission to be as ruthlessly honest as I wanted to be. Because people want the villain to be the villain. They expect them to fulfill their role—to be transgressive, controversial, and flawed.   

  

So, I had full permission to spill my guts, and the reader had permission to read without disagreeing or slipping into social judgment. 

As a friend of mine likes to say, I took the bullets out of the gun. Eminem is a good example of this. He addresses all of the possible criticisms against him within the song, so there’s nothing left for you to say. He’s already anticipated and defused all objections.

We can do this not just in writing, but in our lives. If you walk into a meeting, and you begin by saying, for example, “I know I’ve never done this before, but the same was also true of [insert famous success stories here], so I’m excited for you to give this a serious listen.”
   
You are not just anticipating the objection, but you are then reframing it into a positive. 
  

This is where the verbal jiu-jitsu occurs. 
  
Take a moment to think of places in your life where you could use this technique of anticipating and reframing objections.
  
I should add that it’s necessary, whether in writing or in business meetings, to be highly socially calibrated when doing this.
   
A good disclaimer will not excuse a book that has an intention of hurting others or a project that is not ready to be pitched.

We want to know that we are offering value to the world. And we don’t want the auto-pilot responses of others or ourselves to get in the way.
Ultimately, I think the highest reason to embark on any project is to heal yourself and help others.

I hope today’s email gives you the courage to express yourself authentically, to share your deepest truths, and to crush that next interview or pitch.
  

You have a contribution to make to the world. Don’t get in its way.