To all my fellow writers,
I have something to say. Maybe it isn’t important to you, maybe you don’t consider this a problem, maybe I’m just the kind of person who is too easily aggravated by unnecessary negativity. But I need to take a few moments and address those who do not see things from a writer’s perspective, or those who misunderstand what is and is not a writer’s responsibility.
All I ask is that, if any of this resonates with you, please pass it on. Please. I write this from my perspective and do not intend to put words in your mouth or speak for all writers without first hearing their stories. But if you have ever felt a frustration similar to mine, please do not hesitate to spread the word, because at this point I don’t know how else to express how I am feeling and I hope it doesn’t come off the wrong way, as so many of my opinion pieces apparently seem to do.
To those who love stories, but still feel as if you are not being heard, represented or acknowledged:
I want you to know that I hear you. I understand what it feels like, never to be “understood.” I understand that being upset, because a story you resonated with did not “tell it all” – or it said too much, or conveyed things the wrong way in your eyes – is completely rational and that you have a right to be. I do. I really do.
But pointing fingers at one person – the writer of that story – amidst your anger and frustration? Okay. I see where you are coming from. But take a moment, if you will, to see things through the eyes of the human being who sat down and wrote that story.
Every writer constructs a story with a specific message or set of messages in mind. Those messages are what helps the writer focus and gives the story direction. It makes the story worthy of reading, because it has a point; a moral; a purpose.
That being said, a reader cannot, should not, expect every writer to be able to convey every single message that needs to be understood, explained, read and passed along. In case you forgot, a writer is a person. A human. Not a superhero. Not an advocate for every group and cause out there. Not a spokesperson for only the things you care about the most (no matter how much they themselves might care, too). It’s not possible. To expect that from someone, no matter how much their stories have satisfied you in the past … it’s just not fair. To anyone.
I have never heard of a reader asking a writer, “Why don’t you write about this?” But when a writer does take up the courage and strength to write about something, whether controversial or not, and it isn’t done exactly the way someone wants, they’re totally slammed for it. “You forgot about this.” “You didn’t mention this.” “You only scratched the surface on that issue.”
Over time, writers build up the strength to take in these kinds of criticisms professionally and rationally. They have to. They are aware that pleasing everyone, as a storyteller, is impossible. That does not make these kinds of criticisms any easier to brush off, even still.
We’re sorry. We’re sorry we only have so much in us to even write these stories for you at all. We’re sorry we didn’t have the time, resources, room or permission to include every single detail of every single issue people are talking about. It is not our job to do that.
As writers, we select messages to communicate through our stories, so that you can read them, walk away from them and start your own discussions about those messages, with or without us. It isn’t up to us to have an entire discussion for you on your behalf in one story. You have a voice, too. We’re trying to help you, inspire you to stand up and say how you feel.
And when you criticize us by saying we’re not doing that, or we’re not doing it enough, or we’re not doing it RIGHT? You’re acting like we’re robots. Storytelling machines. We aren’t. WE ARE PEOPLE. People with ideas and concerns and, yes, feelings, too.
The story you read, the final draft, the polished, published version, is not entirely ours. There may have been more in the first draft, which you will never see, that had to be removed. That’s how publishing works. Editors have to trim things down. Printing books costs money. So just because it’s not all there, doesn’t mean we don’t wish it were.
People have short attention spans. Things have to be short. We can’t just ramble on and on about every detail we want to, or you’d never read it all. That’s just the way things are. Our stories are not always tell-alls. Please, try not to be upset if you aren’t satisfied. Is there something you wish would have been addressed in our book, that wasn’t? This is your chance. This is your opportunity to speak up, to take charge of that, and tell the world what you are thinking.
You don’t have to write it. Tape it. Draw it. Sing it. It doesn’t matter how you communicate your message. Just because we communicate ours through the written word doesn’t mean you have to.
Are we going to make mistakes? Of course we are. And we will do our best to own up to those … but it would really help if you brought them to our attention nicely. Professionally. From one human being to another. If we didn’t do something right, we want to know. But let that be a conversation. It doesn’t have to be one-sided. It doesn’t have to be you throwing out accusations without letting us respond when we are ready to respond.
We are proud of our work. It takes years for a book to go from an idea to print. Trust us, there are a lot of things we want to write about. We would write about every issue, every under-represented population, everything, if we could. But we can’t. In many cases, we have other jobs. Families. Lives outside of our stories. It’s not just a job: it’s a hobby. There are only so many hours in the day, and only so many messages we can send through the stories we write. Don’t tear us apart for being human. We would never do that to you.
If you are looking for a writer who stands for exactly what you stand for, keep looking. There is someone out there. Just because one writer doesn’t write about this or that doesn’t mean another won’t. Expand your horizons. When you do find the work that conveys what you need it to, promote that. Celebrate that. It is a positive thing and you deserve to feel joy on behalf of it.
Not everyone is going to be able to please you. But that does not mean you have to speak negatively of those who don’t. We are trying as hard as we can to reach an audience. Our audience is made up of individual people, all with different beliefs and opinions. We cannot change our stories or ideas just because some of them might not get out of it what they want or need. We have to take risks. Maybe a little selfishly sometimes, but if we let that hold us back, there wouldn’t be any stories at all.
A writer is a messenger, but they can only carry so much on their shoulders. If you like a story, great. If you don’t, you don’t. If you don’t, you are more than entitled to speak your mind. But do it kindly. Do it constructively. A story is neither all good nor all bad. Think of how you hope people will react to your own art or product of your hobbies. You know not everyone will like or pay attention to it. But you hope, you pray, only a handful will rush at you bearing words that hurt.
We can take a little criticism. But we’re people, just like you. It still doesn’t feel good. We’re not going to stop writing because of you. We don’t always know why you choose to lash out, but to ask every single person what they want from us, to try to satisfy every reader’s need, would destroy us.
I understand that to read a story, and to feel dissatisfied, is not a good sensation. That is why there are thousands upon thousands more books out there. Pick up another one. Or tell your own story. If you don’t feel heard, maybe you just haven’t found the right way to convey your message yet. But you will. I hope you will. That is all I hope for you, that you find your own way to express yourself, as long as you keep others and their humanity in mind as you do.
Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.
Image courtesy of The Atlantic.