There are days, even weeks where I wish I would not be called upon to comment on the goings on of life.
Take this week. A girl at work asked me if I would read some chapters of a novel she’s been working on. She is an editor for a living and I have seen her write some fantastic copy, press releases and so on, so I thought: Why not? Her fiction is sure to be good.
Except that it wasn’t. It was less than good. It was I-am-going-to- pluck- my- eyeballs-out-with-my-bare-hands less than good. There was no understanding of point of view. The tenses kept switching. There was a lot of use of cliche. It was very hard to read. It was even harder to find something good to say about it.
It is my dream to be a writer, she said before I gave my critique. I’ve been dreaming of it all my life.
Suddenly, I felt like a judge on one of those ubiquitous talent shows like American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent. I was going to be the nasty judge about to shatter someone’s lifelong dream. I couldn’t be Simon Cowell, I couldn’t just tell her straight, so I had to be Paula Abdul and hedge around. Then hedge around some more.
You have a really unique approach to writing fiction, I said. You certainly have a style all of your own.
I could see her getting excited. Her hands actually flew up to her mouth as if she was waiting for an important announcement. I realised I had to be a little more direct or I was going to dig a big hole for myself.
So I used the euphemism everyone who’s ever worked in publishing or media uses that gets the point across. Everyone from the tea lady to the CEO of the company knows what this euphemism means.
It’s very interesting, I said.
Interesting, the publishing industry’s euphemism for shit.
Her face fell.
What do you mean by that? she asked.
I just mean that it needs a little bit of work, I said. Another draft could iron out a lot of things.
It’s the 15th bloody draft, she said. Why don’t you just say it, you hate it?
She stormed off. Later she cancelled our lunch date via email.
I spent the afternoon sighing, angry with myself for breaking one of my cardinal rules – don’t read other people’s fiction unless you know they can write. Or at the very least handle criticism.
I’ve also had a problem lately with commenting on blogs. Sometimes I am sure my comments are misconstrued. I often agonise over comments for this reason, writing and re-writing them before pressing the little blue button.
About half of the blogs I read I comment on regularly. Sometimes I don’t comment if I’m running out of time or if I don’t agree with what the person has written. Sometimes I don’t comment because the person writes so well I just like to enjoy what they’ve written and leave it at that. When I do comment, I like to put a proper comment not just a That’s really nice and a link to my post.
What do you do when you leave a comment that you don’t necessarily regret but would like to modify? What if you go back and read it later and it sounds like you are having a go (albeit a subtle one) at the blog writer? What do you do if you really didn’t mean it to be interpreted like that? What do you do if other commenters seem to take exception to what you’ve written?
Sometimes I think I should just keep my mouse shut.
My final moment of miscommunication came yesterday. I was supposed to go walking in the morning with two friends but had to go to work early. I rang one friend but couldn’t get hold of the other so asked the first friend if she could make sure the second knew what was going on.
And boy, did she.
You know when you get an email thread going where you’re using the reply function on the same email over and over? Well, friend number one used this method to let friend number two know the walk was off. Except she used an email thread only she and I were privy to. An email that contained a comment from me about two other friends of friend number two.
Look, I’ll be honest. I don’t like these two other women. I have very little to do with them. I only mentioned them in the email because they had expressed interest in coming walking with us and I said I would rather cut off my own feet than go walking with them. I have my reasons for saying that. And they’re bloody good ones.
Anyhoo, as you might have expected, friend number two took offense to what I said about her other two homies and now the walks are off for good.
If you can’t be friends with them, you can’t be friends with me, she said.
I think I’m going to take a vow of silence.
At least for a day or so.