Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Writing Like a Reader

As you probably know (since I did such a thorough job of bombarding everyone with the news) I recently did a guest post for the Veterans Administration blog.  I haven't done much editorial writing for public forums in the past, so there hasn't been a whole lot of room for hate mail from readers.  I was a little worried I'd get some negative comments on my post, because if you've ever read a blog post about anything other than cute puppies or giggling babies, you know that someone will somehow find a way to take offense (sometimes even cute puppies and giggling babies can piss people off; it's a mad, mad world).  To my relief, no one had anything nasty to say about my post on the VA blog (I've received one whole comment, and I'm happy to say it was positive).  I was in the clear. Whew!

At least, I thought that was the case, until yesterday when I happened to see that my friend Emily had re-posted the article to her Facebook page.  There, to my horror, was a string of rather rude comments about my post, all made by one woman who apparently decided my article was about how women can't be independent and intelligent unless they have a career.  Here are her exact words:
"I resent her implication that you can't be a homemaker AND be educated, intelligent, and independent. Sounds like a brainwashed feminist to me."

Of all the things I've been called or expect to be called in my life, I can't say "brainwashed feminist" is one of them.  My friend Emily was kind enough to stick up for me and said that the woman was taking the line out of context, but this woman insisted that I was "contrasting not only the adjectives but homemaker vs women with careers."  I admit, I could have phrased the sentence differently.  I could have changed "These were educated, intelligent, independent women with careers of their own" to "These were educated, intelligent, independent women, MANY with careers of their own."  But the truth is, it never crossed my mind that an article about how proud I am to be a military wife would somehow generate the notion that I'm anti-homemaker, especially considering I'm a stay-at-home mom myself.  I wanted to tell the woman that if she spent as much time examining her own insecurities as she did scrutinizing my sentence structure, perhaps she would get to the root of why she was so fixated on one sentence of a 700-word article, an article that clearly explains that my preconceived notions of military wives were incorrect.  I do say in the article that there have been moments during my seven years as a Marine wife that felt straight out of 1950s.  This, I'm sorry to say, is one of those moments.
However, I held my tongue (for the most part) and didn't tell the woman what I really thought of her.  Facebook isn't the place for that, clearly (That's what blogs are for.  Duh).

But I did learn a lesson from all of this.  Lately, Jack has taken to retrieving my writing books from the book shelf and delivering them to me.  For some reason, these books fascinate him more than any of the others (I refuse to buy into the possibility that the universe is trying to tell me something about my writing via my toddler, although he has also been bringing me my little red birthday book several times a day; a not so subtle hint that his birthday is coming up in eight short months, perhaps?).  One of these books is called "Reading Like a Writer," and it explains how "quality reading informs great writing" (to quote the Publishers Weekly review).

In this case, I think the real lesson for me is that I need to learn how to write like a reader.

For some reason, the Internet makes people feel like they are entitled to share their incredibly negative opinions with no regard to the feelings of others.  Gone are the days of "if you don't have anything nice to say..."  And I'm pretty sure that if this woman knew I was a friend of Emily's, she wouldn't have written that comment.  But, if I'm going to continue to write non-fiction (not my dream, obviously, but a good way to build a platform as an author), I need to realize that anything that can be misconstrued, will be.  That's not to say I plan on curbing everything I write to placate the potential angry reader (for one thing, it's impossible; for another, it makes for really boring reading), but I do need to make sure that every sentence I write conveys exactly what I intend it to.  Is it possible this woman would have found fault no matter what I wrote?  Of course.  But I could have done better?  Absolutely.
Lesson learned.

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