One wounds you, the other saves you

Writing is summoning the courage to walk naked down the street, and this man pointed at my belly fat and said: “This doesn’t belong here.”

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

It doesn’t take much to make me doubt myself as a writer. I suppose we’re all built that way. A single comment stopped me dead in my tracks, since I last wrote to you.

The man said the feelings in my last newsletter ought not to have been published. Not that he disagreed with me exactly, not that it was poorly written, no – only that it ought not to exist. The man thought my feelings too shameful to be shared with an audience. Short of a bullet to the head, I can’t think of a more effective way to make a writer shut up.

Shame stops most of us writing anything that is true. It stops even good writers most days. To be universal a writer must be specific. Only when she shares the very details or her life – the emotional truth, if not always the factual one – can she hope to write anything that will meet the reader’s truth. Writing is summoning the courage to walk naked down the street, and this man pointed at my belly fat and said: “This doesn’t belong here.” Only pretty thoughts allowed in public view.

Dozens might watch in appreciation and say “how brave.” Thousands might politely avert their eyes and think “not my cuppa tea.” But guess whom the writer remembers as she rushes home to put her clothes on?

Yes, readers are allowed every opinion and to express them, even at me. No, I’ve never been good with the critics. I wish Amazon delivered thicker skins. Perhaps, this intro ought not to exist either. I just thought I’d share how things feel sometimes on this side of the keyboard. Here’s me naked again.

I’m coming back soon with an actual essay, I swear, but I didn’t want to leave you too long without an update.

What I’ve been working on

🚨The number of layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts in the news media is alarming. Just look at this map.

I wrote an op-ed for the Ethical Journalism Network looking at the pandemic-related economic collapse of the news business. Thanks to Hannah Storm for the commission. If you take away one thing: journalists are essential workers. They should not be furloughed any more than carers, teachers or logistics professionals. News businesses need financial support that doesn’t force journalists to stop working. Tell your representatives and subscribe to local news outlets if you can.

📢 As in all industries, the little guys are hurting extra bad. The UK government launched a public health advertising campaign with the stated goal of financially supporting the press – but only in large national and regional titles. Independent publishers, their 14.9 million readers and their communities were excluded. As a trustee of the Public Interest News Foundation, I signed an open letter to the minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, urging him to reverse this decision. Please check out and share our #SaveIndependentNews campaign.

🎭 The arts are saving us right now. It’s our turn to save the arts. I took part in a marathon reading of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets on LinkedIn Live (I’m around 2:25), in support of 154 arts organizations. It’s online for a couple more days then goes away. Thanks to Lila Smith for the invitation and masterful stage management. If you’ve got 20 quid to spare, please support my London theatre community, Tower Theatre. And check and share #OurWorldWithout.

🏝 Is your career break broken? Look, no one’s going to complain about being on sabbatical right now. But maybe, like me, you had planned on a pause in 2020 and now that the whole world is on pause, it’s… different? Or maybe you had your foot on the gas pedal, raring to go… and now you can’t. There’s something odd about being in this personal moment during this global moment, and I’m trying to put my finger on it. Help please. Join the chat on LinkedIn or email me.

What keeps me writing shitty first drafts

“You can’t fix a blank piece of paper.”

- Neil Gaiman

Isabelle Roughol Twitter

Journalist, podcaster, media consultant. Telling stories & building better newsrooms. Writes The Lede. Ex- LinkedIn News, Le Figaro, The Cambodia Daily. 🎓 Mizzou '08, Birkbeck '25.