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.
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?