Sometimes It’s Not About You

Posted: February 19, 2014 in Life, Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,

Image

As writers, we struggle every day with our image.  If we’re not writing then we’re thinking about our writing and what others are thinking about our writing, holding our breath as we click on the comments or open the email, worried that the criticism will be negative.  We exhale audibly when it isn’t… grit our teeth when it is.

Many critics, qualified or not, will always find the good.  “Keep at it,” or “You’re almost there,” or “I like your snarky sense of humor.”

Many critics, qualified or not, won’t.  “That’s interesting,” is the BEST compliment they can offer.  “That’s interesting,” is about the worst thing someone can say about your writing.

Does any of it really matter?  Who are YOU to judge my work… and who the hell am I to judge yours?  Should I worry about whether or not you like my article any more than whether or not you like my Christmas sweater?

Case in point:  When I was in grammar school, I was pretty darn close to the boys who lived across the street from me.  One is a year older than me, the other a year younger.  When I was about ten years old, they moved across town and our relationship, although still intact, diminished in frequency of visits and such.  By the end of high school, we seldom talked.

After another ten years or so had passed, I made attempts to contact those old boys.  Those attempts were ignored… and I didn’t think much about it.  Then, with the advent of social media, the means I use to connect with people I hadn’t EVER spoken to while in school, my attempts at rekindling our friendship were rejected.

What had I done to them so long ago?  What is wrong with me?  Why would they shun me so?  Maybe they didn’t like my Christmas sweater?

More years passed.

Recently, an uncle of those boys passed away.  My wife, through her employer, knows the deceased’s wife pretty well, and they had become pretty good friends over the years.  In order to support her friend, my wife and I attended the funeral.  Of course, we’d long known of the widow’s association to those former friends of mine, but my showing up at the funeral was a complete surprise to them.

The greeting I received was cold, at best.  That’s okay, I wasn’t there for them anyway.

My wife and I spent nearly an hour at the funeral, socializing with a few of the mourners, and I had a good amount of time to observe my former friends socializing with their extended family.

Now, this post is supposed to be about me.  It’s supposed to be about how I feel about myself and how others see me as a writer.  It is not intended as a passive-aggressive assault on some former friends who wouldn’t talk to me.

They’re standing off to one side, talking to each other.  They’re greeting their OWN FAMILY as they greeted me.  They’re having difficulty engaging in conversation with their own kin.

HOLY SHIT, THEY’RE SOCIAL MORONS.

See, sometimes, when you’re sure it’s about you, it isn’t about you at all.

This doesn’t mean that you should blow off criticism as the advice of an idiot.  Criticism can be the meteor that changes history.  But if the criticism isn’t of the constructive kind, then it’s best to consider the source, rather than the words.

Believe in yourself.  Have faith in YOU.  You can accomplish anything you want, regardless of what others say.

I have never owned nor worn a Christmas sweater, by the way.

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Comments
  1. And if you DID have a Christmas sweater, I’m sure some would say it was INTERESTING…
    Ugh…nevermind…sorry about that. Great post by the way.

  2. Norm Werner says:

    Eric, it’s only all about you if you let it be all about you. You were there for valid and respectful reasons of your own. So what if they appeared to shun you. They don’t know you any more nor you them. Keep Calm, Chive On.

    I’ll follow you for a while to see how your efforts to become a commercially successful writer go. You are already a writer and no one can take that away from you. Some of us write just for the love of it.

  3. bottledhobbies says:

    What you wrote was really meaningful and I can connect with you. Sometimes you just can’t help what people think about you, no matter how nice you are to them. You can try as hard as you can to befriend someone, but they can still not like you. I learned that not everyone wants to be my friend and that’s fine with me. You just have to be yourself and do what you love.

  4. A.D. Everard says:

    I found this an excellent post. It is so true. One of the toughest things for a writer to learn is that other people have other reasons for not liking their work, and it might be as simple as having a bad day or being distracted by something else.

    What you saw in those old friends must have come across like a welcome surprise, the eye-opener, the light going on.

    Brilliant. Just brilliant.

    I like the way you express yourself, too, I was riveted all the way.

    Cheers! 🙂

  5. You read my post about editors and criticisms. I agree with your view. The most difficult thing to acquire about one’s own writing is real and honest criticism that actually pertains to the work in question. “Hey, I really liked your book.” doesn’t help much, and, frankly, makes me wonder if they read it at all. It may have an interesting, likable cover and the dialog may be snappy, but it is about something and it would be good to hear what one thinks about that “thing”. My topic is controversial with some people, especially those who take religion seriously. I know some of them, acquaintances, have read it, but they aren’t willing to discuss or offer any constructive criticism of what they find objectionable in the story. Authors need constructive criticism, and believe me, it’s hard to find.

  6. By “constructive criticism” I’ll assume that Michael is referring to someone who in some way qualified to comment on the style of writing, the sentence structure and flow; the grammar and spelling or other aspects that I would classify as structural in nature. One might also comment on whether a piece was written in such a manner as to engage the reader.
    As for the topic or content of a piece, only the author is qualified to expound about what he/she was trying to say; much like the artist is the only person who really understands what he was try to portray in his/her painting or sculpture. Others might find some or all of the piece to be objectionable, but, if it is not a distortion of facts, that is their opinion and not objective or maybe even constructive criticism. Maybe so-called critics think it is a very well written piece of drivel. Be that as it may the author can still feel good about it being well written. The drivel part is a matter of taste or opinion.
    I suspect that most authors write for themselves first and some have hopes that others will find what they have written to be interesting or entertaining, too. We all spend entirely too much time and energy seeking the approval of others in what we do or write. Write something that you believe or want to say. Write it well and put it out there. You’ll enjoy it and if others do, too; so much the better.

  7. dugger50 says:

    That was nice. I had a bad day yesterday having to deal with people who treated me poorly, and they didn’t even know me. Today was better and after reading you post it is all behind me. Thanks!

    • Hi Doug… or if I may call you such, Dugger. Dugger is a great nickname, one that speaks of familiarity and warmth. I hope that Dugger is more than a screen name for you. I hope that those closest to you call you by that name.

      My blog here was intended to host my articles related to American history. Occasionally, however, I go off on tangents like I did above, ranting about the quirkiness of the publishing industry or the silliness of selling yourself to others, etc. I’ve found that posts such as these draw a lot more traffic than those I write on “The 24th Michigan at the Battle of Weldon Railroad.”

      That’s okay, because it’s comments like yours that bring out the best in me, stirring fervor and empathy and raw sentiment that make the blog worthwhile in the first place. Making your day a little nicer makes my day a lot nicer in the end, drawing unexpected emotion from within.

      I’m so very grateful that you stopped by to say what you said.

      Thank you.

  8. Eric:
    Good to hear from you, Eric. I am really interested that you are polishing your first manuscript. Good luck with finding a literary agent. I wonder how you got started writing.

    Part of my husband Neil’s career parallels your own – he worked for three years with the Harry E Foster Foundation and the Kennedys to bring the Special Olympics to Canada with Floor Hockey included for the first time.

  9. fishingfordreams4 says:

    This is wonderful. As a kid looking to one day be a writer, this is more than interesting (you’re welcome). I really like your writing style

  10. revgerry says:

    Great post. Being a rejection-phobe myself, I also wonder why I put myself out there…why would I even consider writing a book? Would anyone ever read it? Would anyone ever even know it was there to be read? So, I can relate. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Important words. I do much better when I understand that it isn’t all about me.

  12. My drug of choice is laughter…and I am so glad that you found my Blog so that I could find yours. Your writing is hilarious. Thanks for the laugh.

  13. P. C. Zick says:

    Hello Eric,
    Love your blog – and this post. It’s one of the simplest yet most difficult to see. It’s almost never about us.

  14. Sara says:

    I find criticism often tells more about the giver than the receiver. It’s strange when people give feedback that’s quite emotional. Lately I had someone give me a critique and I wrote back just to clarify what they were saying and they got mad at me. I wasn’t upset with their criticism but I wanted to figure out exactly what was the error in my story so I could fix it. I told her some of my thoughts about why I wrote what I did to see if it helped her to give me better feedback. It just made her stop talking to me. Oh well, I figure I can still use her suggestions somehow.

  15. Claudia says:

    I pressed ‘follow’ in the first 5 minutes of coming to your blog and have been reading ever since….I’m utterly unqualified and so won’t offer criticism or compliments. I just wanted to say that I really enjoy the way you write. That my attention was caught and held. That I’ll be glad to see your articles appearing in my reader and that I laughed more than once while reading

  16. Millie Ho says:

    Your concluding sentence, about having never having owned nor worn a Christmas sweater, sums up how I feel about writing.
    Create your own path.
    Write your own metaphors.
    You have all the tools you need, and let no one tell you otherwise.

  17. Eric I spent ten years trying to get published. In the end I self-published a book and it led to a commission from Pan Macmillan for two more. You can obviously write, just glue your arse to a chair and get the job done. If you worry too much about what people might think you’ll never publish anything. I decided I was never going to win any writing awards but I wanted to see a book in print. Best advice was from my partner. Write something the market wants to read, he said. So the next book is partly about him. He might now be re-thinking that advice.

  18. Great post…it was interesting

  19. Kidding aside this IS a great post.

  20. Great lesson here! I often write that people are bigger than the skin they wear. We really do think everything must be all about us when usually it’s not. I am one of those paranoid types so there is comfort in knowing most of it is only in my own head

  21. Newingness says:

    ‘It’s not about you’ has become my mantra lately. Your story is a an, um, interesting reminder. I’m spending my morning reading your posts when I should be writing my own. I love your style, your outlook, your voice and most of all, your snarky sense of humor. Keep at it – you’re almost there.

  22. eightdecades says:

    Well it is about you or you have nothing to blog. My rule of commenting is—- I don’t want to waste your time with dumb responses and I don’t want you to waste my time with shallow stories or useless dribble.
    I liked your post so I pressed the “like” button. When I read your posts it is about you–If you read or look at mine, that is about you too. so It is all about you!
    That is what makes it fun— trying to make it about me.

  23. praw27 says:

    Thanks for the reminder that considering the source is always a good idea! I love your writing style.

  24. greyzoned/angelsbark says:

    Great post Our big bad egos always assume everything is about us and most of the time everything isn’t even remotely about us. Your post is a great reminder that may just save us precious head space that we’d normally be spending trying to figure out all the whys and how’s of what’s wrong with us. Thanks for that. And thanks for the line, “Holy shit, they’re social morons!” Loved that!

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