Andi Cumbo - Writer, Editor, Online Writing Courses, Classes & Lessons

We Can’t Control Our Readers

| 11 Comments

Last week, a friend on Facebook said, “Shame on You” when I posted about Peeps.  In the past couple of days, two other friends called me to task for judging people with service animals after posting about a man who brought his pet dog into a Starbucks.  I was hurt by these comments because in both cases the updates were posted for fun and because these are people I know, some for over twenty years. 4321723428

But I’m also grateful because these comments reminded me of a really important writing lesson – we can’t control how someone reads what we say.  We can’t help if they are having a bad day or if our words touched a raw nerve that has been scraped too many times.  We cannot force them to read back a few lines to get the whole story or research our life stories before they judge us. We simply can’t control the reader.

Many of us try. We weigh every possible response and rework phrases to avoid offending or pushing people’s buttons. Some of us even stop writing at all because we don’t want to feel the lash of other’s tongues against our precious words.

But the truth is – especially in our ultra-sensitive age – we may offend someone, even with quippy comments about Peeps and shih tzus. Our very life stories may set someone off because we seem too whiny or too brazen or too happy.  We can’t control other people’s reactions.

All we can do is be responsible with the stories we have to tell. We can be dutiful to our memories and experiences, true to our characters, right with what that place in the center of our chest tells us we need to say.

We will sometimes offend people, and sometimes, we will hurt people. Sometimes, they will hurt us. This is the fact of being a human, not just a writer.  We simply can’t worry about that as we write, not because we don’t care, but because we can’t please everyone and we must be true to the stories we need to tell because it’s in these stories that we may all find some healing.

If I am hurt by a review or an editorial, if someone’s response cuts me a bit, maybe I can remember that what I have said might have cut them, too.  Maybe we are all nursing our paper cuts together. 

When have you written something that pushed someone else’s buttons? How did you respond? 

 

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Author: Andi

I am a writer, editor, and writing teacher whose most recent book, The Slaves Have Names, tells the story of the people who were enslaved on the plantation where I was raised. When I'm not working, my husband and I are working to make our small farm - God's Whisper Farm - a retreat here at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

  • Nate Shields

    Unfortunately in our hyper-sensitive age, it is easy to misunderstand a writers word, a tweet, a FB post. I know I have not always understood why some words inflame a few when I didn’t intend them that way (but honestly, sometime I do).

    Words on a page do not necessarily convey tone. They just sit there. Waiting for personal meaning to be applied. That was a lesson I remember distinctly from a class in college.

    “Meanings are not in words. Meanings are in people” – Dr. Ken Danielson

    I think that when we are misunderstood, especially by close friends, it stings because I hope that they know me well enough to get my intention. So when it goes off the rails, I wonder if people know me at all.

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Exactly how I feel, Nate. I don’t like to be misunderstood by people who know me, but then, that’s sometimes the way with so much communication going on, I suppose. Thanks for reading.
      Andi recently posted…I Love An Honest MemoirMy Profile

  • loafingcactus Mary

    I recently saw a post (I wish I could link to it but I’m not sure exactly where it is) in the recent blogger Kerfluffle over purity where the author weighed the comments and adjusted her post several times as she learned how her message was being received. She didn’t adjust for every comment, a few she left at agree-to-disagree, but she did refine her message so the words didn’t get in the way of what she wanted to say and who she wanted to be.

    One does grow from criticism, if not as a person (because the criticism was wrong) at least as a communicator? I realize that in the broader context of the blog you don’t mean to be saying not to, but right here that part of story seems muffled a little.
    loafingcactus Mary recently posted…Improve communication skills with Myers Briggs: Four easy piecesMy Profile

  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com LarryTheDeuce

    I wrote a blogpost a couple of years ago that I meant as humorous. Other people took exception to it and eventually we had to leave our church. No, you definitely cannot control your readers.
    LarryTheDeuce recently posted…Mere ReligionMy Profile

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Oh, Larry. Wow. I’m so sorry. That’s brutal. How does that happen? How do people who know you and have committed to love you just turn because of one post? I’m so sorry.

  • http://marthaorlando.blogspot.com Martha Orlando

    The nature of my blog, being a devotional, thankfully doesn’t lend itself to harsh criticism. However, I’m very circumspect about what I put on Facebook or Twitter. I do believe we must be true to ourselves in our creative endeavors, absolutely! If someone doesn’t like it or misunderstands it, we can’t take that personally. Does it hurt? Sure! But, on we press!
    Blessings, Andi!
    Martha Orlando recently posted…Ashes to Ashes, Dust to DustMy Profile

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      I’m becoming more circumspect about Facebook and Twitter, too, Martha, because sometimes the cutting comments cut too deep for me. I’d rather take that on in something I care about – like my creative work. And yes, indeed, we press on!

  • http://likearadio.blogspot.com melanie

    I think I might have told you this before, Andi, but when I first began writing my blog I didn’t tell people I knew in my offline life about it. I felt this gave me some freedom from worrying about hurting people I knew if I needed to vent or work through something difficult. And even though I never felt like I was really hurtful or offensive to those people, my brothers still found my blog somehow and were both hurt and offended by it. So, I removed all that content and quit blogging for a while. Then, after a couple of false start attempts at rebooting the blog over the next few years, I finally realized that something in me NEEDED to blog, and I went back to it with intention, this time letting all my friends and family know about it. Writing again has been so good for me. But now I am VERY careful not to offend my family, and that does cut me off from writing about many things. I think that I would not worry so much about offending friends, if the cause of offense was merely writing my own truth. But it is very difficult for me to cross that line with my family. It makes me sad. I wonder about how it damages my writing or my truth. But for now I suppose it is what it is.
    melanie recently posted…the care and feeding of girlsMy Profile

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