Monday, April 2, 2018

This Ain't for the Best, Why Assume the Worst?

While across the West Village with aims to see the sunset, a young man and I discussed writing.

I had agreed to meet up with him mainly because I knew that if he was problematic in any way, we at least had one thing in common, but I was faintly surprised. He was fun and intelligent, though a memoirist with little interest in fiction. He was the sort of writer who sat in awe at the work of others’ prose and announced, “How can I ever think I’m good enough to be like them?”

If that doesn’t strike a type with you, bear with me, I’ve been doing this far too long.

During the trek, he brought up his writers group a few times. I was hesitant. I actually enjoy writers groups; it’s a great deal of fun for me to talk about writing period. The problem with it, as I’ve said before, is that when you only have a few pages to comment on, you’re going to stick with surface-level complaints. These are more likely to be inconsistent with each other, homogenize your work, and completely miss the real issues. I often use the example of the scene in which two people focused on my prose and didn’t catch that a gun had disappeared. The woman who noticed? Not so oriented around my word choice.

“I sort of need a bigger picture opinion,” I told him. And I don’t need any more second guessing about my voice, I did not tell him. “The people who read it all the way through like it, but getting them there is difficult.”

He was friendly enough, and I don’t think he meant anything malicious, but the way he began to go off sounded a bit like a lecture. Not a useful one, not conveying anything he’d learned about it, but merely telling me that the beginning is important.

Yep. That was exactly my point.

I find that this happens unfortunately frequently too. I speak up about a problem I’m having, and have had for a while, and if they don’t start erroneously explaining that it is a problem, they’re arguing with me that it isn’t. The other day I was discussing an issue with a book and I spent 20 minutes convincing my conversational partner that it did actually matter, to which she then gave me an oversimplified answer.

As I was leaving Brooklyn, I told my friend in excitement how she had to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I normally rant instead of gush, but something about the film had really struck me. The fight scenes, majorly I’d say, the images and humor. I’m normally not a big fan of battle, but something about them caught me as interesting, and I was easily immersed the whole time.

I want to do something like that, I thought. Like what specifically? I don’t know. But like that.

I explained to my friend my sentiments, adding, “I want to write something with an iconic world like Harry Potter.”

“Well,” she said meaningfully. “She didn’t try to do that.”

What’s your point?

“The limitation is there,” I said. “Regardless of if Rowling came by it naturally, if she just pissed on paper and gold came out, I obviously can’t do the same. I can either target my problems and experiment with solutions, or toss my writing at a wall and hope something comes out of it.” But let’s be honest, I’ve done that. I’ve written a lot and I’ve yet to see the reaction I desired. Even from myself.

I mentioned to my roommate a project that I was attempting to get done. Then came the interrogation.

Why don’t you try to do something with your writing? Sometimes people do too many things! You need to pick a passion! You need to try blogging! You need to start small!

No matter what I said to her, I was wrong.

The fact was, not only had I had all of the ideas she was coming up with, but I had tried them, worked them, and then, amazingly, she criticized me for them.

Now all of these people—and I believe this fully—had my best interest at heart. I don’t think they were trying to pour salt in the wounds, that they were genuinely attempting to help.

But they didn’t get it. They’re still identifying the problem long after you’ve come up with six unsuccessful solutions. They’re giving you a simple idea that will fix everything of course! Don’t question it! So you’ve tried it before? Clearly it wasn’t the right answer! Why did you ever think it could be?

Of course, I don’t think they’re considering it that much. And there’s a lot of room for miscommunication. No one contradicts their own ideas that quickly, I don’t care how oblivious they are. Not to mention many of these people are those who I respect.

So why were they presuming the worst of me?

And that’s what it all comes down to; sometimes, no matter what your actions are, people are going to assume things about you, and it’s probably going to be the worst case scenario. Why? It’s easier.

It’s easier, fun even, to tell someone how to start a career. It’s enjoyable to lecture on the importance of doing something well. It’s better to tell someone that their problem is nonexistent than to admit you don’t know how to solve it.

Regardless of whether or not you’re a writer, regardless of how you handle it, someone somewhere is going to tell you, whatever you did, you did it wrong. Not a bad person either. Usually it’ll be the one who is trying to help but doesn’t know how.


Learn to ask people to listen instead of dismiss. Learn to say, “I need a sounding board, not a blanket solution.” Learn to say what you want and stand up for what you do. Or, at least, that’s what I’m trying to do.



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