Thursday, May 19, 2011

Choose Your Weapon: Words or Sticks and Stones

We were taught at a very early age that “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” I’m sure our parents meant well, but let’s face it…they lied. Words have a lot of power. To hurt. To heal. To inform. To deceive. To entertain.

As a writer, I appreciate that words can do those things and more.

As a human being, my feelings got hurt this morning when a jerk wrote the following about a one-page excerpt from one of my novels:

If more than three people in the world buy this load of catflap, I'll eat my laptop.

The comment was posted at Page99Test.com, a site where authors post page 99 of their works in progress so that readers can vote whether they’d turn the page or not. There is a comments section…which is where I found the catflap nonsense.

The interesting thing is that I also received this comment:

The situation is instantly gripping and many details (the room smells of mold and cigarettes -- what a combo!) ignite on the page. This could be a John Grisham thriller. Good work.

The hurt I felt this morning passed quickly. And the pride about the second comment passed just as quickly. Why? Because how I feel about my writing – about myself – comes from within myself. Too often we base our self-esteem on how others view us – or how we want them to view us (rich, thin, sexy, smart, professional, talented).

Readers, what do you think? What makes you feel good about yourself despite what others might say?

4 comments:

  1. I think it's easier for people to be critical when they have an anonymous environment like the web to do it in. The negative comment you received didn't even offer any constructive criticism- ie. a reason WHY the person thinks noone will read your "catflap." So, for me, it was a nothing comment. The positive comment on the other hand gives specific reasons why they enjoyed your excerpt. I also believe you are spot on about words being way more hurtful than sticks and stones.

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  2. Ever since I recently read the following quotes, I've been thinking a lot about "basing our self-esteem on how others view us."

    First, John Piper, introducing the following G. K. Chesterton quote in _When I Don't Desire God_ said, "A person who is becoming morbid over fears and preoccupations about what others think of him needs the liberation from the illusion that anyone gives a hoot!"

    And G. K. Chesterton said:

    How much happier you would be if only you knew that these people cared nothing about you! How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure...; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference! You would begin to be interested in them because they were not interested in you. You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.

    I know that this might not directly pertain to your question about feeling good about yourself despite what others might say, but it immediately came to mind.

    Sorry this is so long.... :-)

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  3. I have to add to the list of great quotes with this one from Don DeLillo's "White Noise":

    "How strange it is. We have these deep terrible lingering fears about ourselves and the people we love. Yet we walk around, talk to people, eat and drink. We manage to function. The feelings are deep and real. Shouldn’t they paralyze us? How is it we can survive them, at least for awhile? We drive a car, we teach a class. How is it that no one sees how deeply afraid we were, last night, this morning? Is it something we all hide from each other, by mutual consent? Or do we share the same secret without knowing it? Wear the same disguise."

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  4. I am currently struggling with this idea with a group of 6th grade boys. People (kids especially) can be so mean. The bigger part of me knows that what the bully says in the hallway (or page99test) is ridiculous. These kiddos are fabulous, and so is your writing Mandy. But comments do cut deep, and unfortunately can start to carve trenches in our self esteem that can take a life time to recover from, if we ever do.
    I think learning who we are, what our true self is and being able to see your own light is huge. When that fails we need to look to our "people". Those who know us best and have seen us through successes and failures, and love us despite of and because of it all. This is where the real magic happens. Taking on the more positive perspective vs. a misguided and unconstructive comment. Staying with the love. Leaning on our friends.

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