Saturday, 2 March 2013

Opining: Nobody's Opinion EVER Counts That Much ...

One thing that is both a pro and con about aiming to become a 'for-sure' writer is that all your friends who nurse the same hopes, but are less sure of themselves about it (and all mine are, which is why I'm the 'serious' one in that respect) will come to you with their work and ask for feedback.
When this happens I have to conduct a sort of interview before I take the piece and agree to read it. I have to make sure I know exactly what they want. It's a very touchy situation, because, as most understand, handing over a piece of your writing, whether it's poetic or prose, feels inexplicably like letting them see you naked. It really does. The writing may not be 'personal' yet it is, in a way, because it's some of that person's deepest imaginings. It's a sort of spiritual nakedness - almost.
Anyway, I question them on what they want me to do, because sometimes they only want you to proofread. They’ve typed the piece of writing: obviously they have spell-check and know how to use it, but upon explanation you’ll learn they’re uncertain of their grammar, and know sometimes the mechanised spell/grammar check doesn’t recognise what is humanly awkward in language, and at other times can change what was meant to be humanly awkward in the language, etc. They want you to pick up what the check would gloss over, and ignore what the check would otherwise nit-pick when any human eye would never bother.
There are others who might find your nit-picking over spelling and grammar offensive. Believe me, I've known these people. They will say they can sort that out for themselves - though why they couldn't do so before handing the piece on for reading is beyond me, as basic mistakes are annoyingly distracting, unless it's a purposeful contribution to the piece. But these are the types who just want to know if what they’ve written connects, flows, makes sense. If it’s any ‘good.’
Others still want the whole editor deal out of you. I suppose that’s sort of a compliment, that they see you as someone as authoritative as an editor, and that they find you worthy enough to wreak editor-havoc on their work. However, when you’re still finding your own way with this writing business, it can be a bit much, no matter how flattering to your ego.
More than that, the struggle I have when friends come to me, desperately requiring my ‘services,’ and advice, is in offering the feedback. There’s no way you won’t annoy them. You tell them the ending might drag or be a little too cloying in sentiment, or that their descriptions are of too laborious; their voice goes distant and their eyes glaze over, even as they continue nodding, by now only pretending to listen to you. It’s a terrible, tense time. You have no choice but to keep talking because, well, they asked for your opinion. They have no choice but to let you because, well, they asked, and they know it.
I don’t know it all. But I will offer my opinion when asked. I may not be right, but my response is always as a reader, as much as a friend, as much as someone who knows how to pick out the flaws in her own writing. When my opinion goes ‘so far’ as to put a person off writing, what then? Were they really invested?
Nobody’s opinions, constructive or cruel (depends which side of Logic’s fence my perception is hanging out on at any given time!) would ever motivate my Giving Up on writing. But what has kept me going is knowing there is at least one person in the world who genuinely believes my writing is something special. Another person’s less than favourable opinion doesn’t diminish that.
If my opinion makes a person want to stop, it proves to me their hopes were a little too tentative; they may return to writing later, when older and a little more tough of skin and worldly of life experience. It doesn’t mean ‘the End’ of their potential. But if you can be stopped by someone’s subjective opinion, one you asked for, one from a friend who you ought to be able to trust means it constructively, amiably, then the passion for telling your story, any stories existing within, waiting to come out, isn’t as strong as that of those who barge on. Those who barge on whether they accept and apply constructive opinions or say PHOOEY and ignore them anyway – either is the true writer’s modus. Giving up because external opinions have proven too important is not.
It could be the world's best publisher, your husband, or your mother, or your best friend, or a stranger on the internet, who takes issue with something you've written, and it's perfectly okay to place such importance on all those figures equally, or one more than the other, and have one of them, professional in the literary world or personally your rock, be the naysayer to end all literary output from your corner. It really is okay to do things that way, if it's what you want. But the choice to give up is ultimately yours, whatever the impetus to do so, whoever's voice you let 'guide' you with their perceived negativity (or the lack of complete unabated adoration you were probably expecting). You and your choices are what matter; someone else's opinion, never as much as you and your choices. 

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