Friday, December 20, 2013

Sound Advice

Imagine, if you will, standing on a stage. I know many of you have had limited experience with that, and that what experience you've had involved being pushed there by school events ... but imagine it nonetheless. Imagine a much bigger auditorium that the one in your school, more like the sort you would encounter if it were your job to speak to people. It's a fairly intimate setting; the audience can see you very well. Because of the lights, however, you cannot see the audience.

Now imagine that your reason for being there has nothing to do with your job. You haven't been asked as an expert in your field, you're not there to give a seminar to people in the industry, you don't represent a company, an organization or a cause. No one in the audience has come because they believe what you believe, or even with the expectation that you're going to say something worth hearing. They are just there. You have no friends in the audience, no family, no acquaintances from your various activities. These are all total strangers. Nevertheless, they are here to judge you.

You might be getting some money for this. It might be enough to buy a week's groceries.

On the podium is an rendition of your speech. You've worked on it to make it as good as you can. Now you are going to read it. Only ... part of the condition of your being on the stage is that you are not now allowed to improvise. You knew it would be so going in. Because of the conditions, you're going to have to read your speech exactly as written. If there's a misplaced word, a sentence that doesn't really make sense, a concept that isn't entirely clear, tough. You're stuck with the speech you have before you. Now get reading.

Most people would work really, really hard on that speech to make sure there are no errors. They would go over it repeatedly, a hundred times if necessary, changing, fixing, adapting ... but in this case, this speech will take you 13 hours to read. It is written on 400 pages.

You should know that the whole time you're reading it, the audience will be free to shout at you, criticize you, leave, insist that you stop talking long enough for them to leave and then come back again, and so on. And when you're done, that same audience will feel free to abuse or praise you wherever they please, including in places where thousands more people - who have never heard of you or heard your speech - will freely have strong opinions about what sort of person you are, what you're like, how boring you are and so on. Many of these opinions will arise from people who rose in the first five minutes of your speech, shouting that it's boring as hell, and rushing out to tell others it's boring as hell.

All of this will be firmly in your mind while you're methodically going over your speech to make it perfect.

I'd be willing to bet, given those circumstances, most of the readers here would never finish that speech. They wouldn't willingly stand up and give it. Who needs that kind of stress? Who needs that kind of abuse? No one. Better to keep one's thoughts to one's self, where they aren't judged, where the merit one has is assumed, rather than challenged. Where one's opinion, lightly or markedly given, yet possesses an inviolability - or rather, the pure righteousness of one who doesn't have to prove anything.

Better that, then putting one's head in the guillotine.


Baron Opal said...

"Better to keep one's thoughts to one's self, where they aren't judged, where the merit one has is assumed, rather than challenged."

But there is no adventure in that, is there? You have to risk the catcalls if you want to earn the thunderous applause. But, you knew that already.

Anonymous said...

This would seem to be about your book...

Anonymous said...

People are always being judged about things, and in contexts they can't control. Walk around as a woman, and you will discover that perfect strangers will feel entitled to tell you all the things that are wrong with your appearance, or offer catcalls that treat you as though your reason for existence is for them to have something to look at. This is so common that it's not normally considered worthy of discussion.

There are lots of other contexts in which putting something of yourself out there in the world is going to attract judgement as well. That's why a lot of people who are in the limelight all the time in front of millions -- actors, pro athletes, etc. -- simply try not to read their press.

Best of luck with your book, though. Constructive criticism can be helpful, but if someone says something nasty that you don't think is constructive, try to remember that there are lots of opinions in the world, and almost none of them are things that virtually everyone agrees with. You don't have to try to prove that any of your critics are wrong, or even pay attention to them. The sign of a good book is not whether there are people who dislike it -- there are people who dislike anything -- but whether there is a community of people who enjoys it and/or finds it useful. If there are people who like your book, the people who don't just don't matter.