I shied away from writing for about thirty years following my formal education. Every time I put pen to paper, or fingertips to the keyboard, every bad memory of my horrible schooling came rushing back to me.
As part of my new job (a decade ago), I was required to write a regular monthly article for the trade magazine, which I approached with great trepidation initially. Having come from radio and before that my life as an auctioneer, I had no problem talking, but writing, wow, that was a whole new adventure. I realise now that this is a classic chicken and egg thing, because i didn’t want to write I had to hone my speaking skills, so no shock that I finished up in gigs that didn’t require writing right?
Having served my writing apprenticeship after three or four years I found the constraints of writing a monthly trade article (effectively toeing the company line) just too restricting and I found myself looking for other opportunities to express myself.(I know, get me!)
I then began writing a newsletter, sent electronically as a subscription service to the very same people who were readers of the magazine. It started from just my email list of about 60 people, soon I had 1200 subscribers. So far so good. I was able to be cheekier than the monthly corporate article and have a little fun along the way. Then I got an email out of the blue, from someone who was not a subscriber, giving me advice that I had not requested, none of which was complimentary.
It went something like this “who do you think you are? what arrogance, opinionated, childish dribble etc” My immediate reaction was one of shame and disappointment. My gut reaction was exactly that, physical and forceful, it felt like I had got all of this wrong, and let people down by publishing my thoughts and ideas. I went straight back to that time in school when the teacher was handing out yesterday’s test results.
Then, as my gut reaction calmed, I had another look at it. He wasn’t a subscriber, no-one was forcing him to read the newsletter. In fact he had to go out of his way to read it. Why then would someone go to that extra effort, and then be critical of the author? And even more than that, why would you bother to get personal and send it to the author? Are people really that mean and keen to hurt?
After some consideration, I concluded that, yes indeed some people are that mean. In this world in which we live there are mean, cruel people hell-bent on destruction. People without a moments care for the ramifications of their appalling behaviour. They feel it is their divine right to be critical and no fear for the collateral damage. The real issue then is, for me, should I listen to them?
Should I have sleepless nights worrying that I am not doing the right thing by writing? Do I really write childish drivel? Should I just hit the delete button on his email? Should I write back to him giving him both barrels or perhaps apologising for wasting his oh-so-valuable time? Should I give it another thought? Well that last question is an easy one, of course I was going to think about it some more.
I have in the past been guilty of catastrophising and then relying heavily on my bride to supply perspective in matters of these kinds or whenever I feel that I may have lost objectivity. So, back to the well I went and asked for her honest opinion. She told me that my writing had improved out of sight and was now fun to read. As a fully paid up member of the “Harsh but fair” party, she wouldn’t lie to me about stuff like that. So I decided to take on board the input that my writing style was not for everyone, but was sufficiently popular to keep going.
I tell this tale because most people who know me, may be surprised that the foul words of someone I have never met would upset me or indeed have any effect on me at all. But they did. So I would ask you to be considerate when complaining. Which means have a little think about it before you do it. That’s all.
Footnote: Michael is the Curator of The Life Log Project. A commercial operation based in Sydney Australia that helps people tell their story, captured on digital media for the benefit of future generations. For more information on the service check out http://www.thelifelogproject.com.au