The fear of writing badly is real

fmd_cru6otk-cathryn-lavery

I really need to get this off my chest and get on with writing passionately and fearlessly again.

I’ve always loved writing and pouring my thoughts, mundane or not, to the world. As a child, I had the habit of penning down the most inane happenings into a physical diary and as I grew older, I started building simple websites to house my first “blogs”. I never feared writing badly. I just went ahead bravely to bare it all.

The more I wrote, the more I desired to read what others wrote and in the process I picked up new phrases or noticed how other writers made their pieces more compelling. As I tried new styles and developed my own “voice”, I’d get friends or strangers mentioning that they loved to read how I described my experiences. I don’t think I ever consciously wrote anything in “standard English”, but it was just how I thought, how I’d speak. It was my way of authentically reaching out to another person online. That said, how I write today is probably an amalgamation of all the gems and garbage I’ve consumed in my life so far.

I have to admit that my experience with self-publishing has been mostly positive. It helped me grow in my various passions and also pushed me to keep writing. When people confided in me about their own desire to self-publish and start a blog, I always told them to go for it. Perfect English be damned! We write to be understood and with time, we could always learn to write better and add more flair to our written work, right?

That’s what I thought anyway until I came down with what I term “internet cancer”.

Hey Carrie, welcome to the internet.

Is this your first day here? Get real! Don’t you know? It’s a cesspool!

It’s understandable that the internet is not all rainbows and butterflies. In fact, it’s the opposite: a stinking cesspool. I didn’t think that being exposed to cesspools would kill my love for writing, but what do ya know, strange things happen.

I’ve lost my zest for writing. I don’t think I can’t, I’m just held back by an irrational fear of failure. (It took me more than two weeks to get this out.) Honestly, I know that anything I post online is open for critique, but the vitriol and general anger towards bloggers (and “influencers”) is a real source of background stress. You know its there, you try to ignore it, but it just leaves you feeling sick.

The straw that broke this camel’s back was a particular Facebook Page that was is (still) skewering Singaporean bloggers and influencers regarding their poor command of written English, mostly focusing on food blogs with bombastic descriptions and bad grammar. Reading the way they roasted others and placed themselves up on their pedestals made me lose my appetite to write.

I published a couple of posts since then, but those were already written some time ago and scheduled for publishing. I had to kick myself in the butt to publish another food piece on The Cambelles. If this was old Carrie, I’d have done so without hesitation.

Is it because I fear criticism? After some thinking, it was just a general distaste for how things are panning out in Singapore.

Be the change you want to see.

It’s easier to say something sucks than to write an excellent piece yourself.

Instead of being the change we want to see, there’s so often a barrage of merciless criticism of how others could do better. As I often tell my friends in jest, “Singapore has the highest concentration of marketing geniuses/ English teachers/ customer service experts per capita judging by the amount of criticism that’s dished out with ease online.”

Instead of dissing someone else for propagating “shit English”, why not start a blog writing the pieces you think would make a difference? Why not take the time to research a topic, write something from scratch? Why not struggle with the reality of clickbait titles so that your well-written piece gets the clicks and views it deserves? Why not learn to pick up a camera and try to catch a great shot before a meal to go with that perfect piece you’re writing? Why not? That’s because everything is so simple until you do it yourself!

With the amount of time spent picking on the “poor” work of others, perhaps you could have shared some well-written pieces online.

The argument that since someone puts it out there in public, it’s open for critique? Yeah, sure. You continue to tell yourself that and take the easy way out.

Why do we find a need to criticise others mercilessly?

Is it about others or about you?

There are so many different ways to convey a single message and our intent is clearly communicated when we choose each word. That’s what’s beautiful about the written word. Don’t fool yourself into believing that the only way to make a change is to shame others. Even more important is becoming aware of our own true intentions. Is the criticism for someone else’s benefit or your own? If you delight in that next like on your comment or get excited about the 30 seconds of fame you’ve received from correcting someone else, here’s a hint, it’s probably the latter.

All that brutal criticism best achieves is instilling fear rather than inspiring excellence. If we want to create an environment where people hold themselves to higher standards, the best way is to encourage more people to write better, not shoot people down when they do.

The only way out is through.

Let’s not give up out of fear.

I wrote this because I thought it was time someone changed the conversation.

I wrote this because I still believe people who can’t write “perfect English” shouldn’t have to fear about what people will say when they write.

I wrote this because we should all write fearlessly and with passion while taking pride in our craft, which may I add, will always be a work in progress.

To all those who are afraid to write, I feel you, I stand with you and I urge you, that no matter what others may say, you should never remain silent out of fear that someone out there will embarrass you.

Could we be better? Always. There is no end to improvement.

For taking that step of pursuing your passion instead of being an armchair critic, you are already one step ahead as opposed to relaxing in the safety of being unaccountable and anonymous. Let’s take the criticism as more reason to keep writing, badly or not.

Photo Credit: Cathryn Lavery

12 Responses to The fear of writing badly is real

  1. Hence December 29, 2016 at 1:58 pm #

    Nicely written and hope you continue writing.
    Take all nice feedback to fuel your passion and the nasty one with a pinch of salt.

    • Carrie December 29, 2016 at 5:20 pm #

      Hey Hence!

      Thank you for your words of encouragement.

      I think it’s important to always take criticism as a healthy, even if uncomfortable, part of growth! There are no smooth paths to success and improvement. It all involves a degree of discomfort and challenge. I’d be foolish and naive to think otherwise!

      I have written this post as I recall many conversations I’ve had over the years with friends and people I’ve met mentioning that they were afraid to blog, even if they were thinking of it, because their command of English wasn’t strong or they wrote and spoke English poorly. So I wrote this with those experiences in mind.

      I do agree however that some blog posts that were criticized, are really funny. There’s some strange and inappropriate descriptive phrases, bad grammar and it is in the best interests of all bloggers to take all comments, nasty or positive, in their stride and just work towards doing better of course! As someone who believes in the power of positive reinforcement and creating joy and fulfillment through supporting others and constructive criticism, I thought I would speak out against being nasty to bring across a point.

      Thanks again for popping by and cheers!

  2. Nick January 4, 2017 at 9:54 pm #

    I’d disagree, Carrie. If bloggers want to be taken seriously, they need to write better. You said it yourself: Some of the featured bloggers can’t convey the intended message or image appropriately.

    Could the page admins be nicer? Maybe, but to each his own. Not every blogger became famous by playing nice. 😉 You’d do things differently, and that’s fine.

    As for me, I recommend using Grammarly and leaving the WordPress spellcheck function on. Pax.

    • Carrie January 4, 2017 at 10:35 pm #

      Hey Nick,

      Absolutely. We choose what we stand for.

      I acknowledge that there will always be different viewpoints and there is more than one way to look at things. Different strokes, different folks.

      Not gonna disagree on using spellcheck and Grammarly. 🙂 Cheers!

  3. Thomas January 5, 2017 at 6:40 am #

    Nah, I think they are doing a good job. It’s far too easy for people to pretend they are experts about everything, but if anyone wants to do anything public-facing, they have to start by choosing a language and then getting good at it. I can’t be a good PR spokesperson for a company without being able to communicate clearly – so why would you give these people a pass? Especially if they’re taking money for it, too.

    The standard of English is woeful in Singapore and you know it. You grew up reading and writing for the love of it and of course that would have helped you become a good writer, but it seems to be the case that so many of these people are only doing it for money. Yes, we shouldn’t be afraid to write, but we also need to recognise that there’s a minimum standard required for a lot of the things we happen to do in real life, like driving or cooking.

    As to asking the page owners to do some research themselves – that’s strictly appeal to accomplishment. If I see a helicopter stuck in a tree, I don’t need to be a pilot to know that someone’s messed up badly.

    • Carrie January 6, 2017 at 2:34 pm #

      Hi Thomas,

      I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to respond to this post and I do truly take the time to reflect and think about the feedback I’ve received.

      That said, while I don’t disagree with criticism, grammar correction, I still do not agree to the method of “shaming” someone online. There is nothing wrong doing so, it’s a matter of choice – but I stand by what I said, there are many ways to put a point across. The page owners have themselves shared that they don’t do this to educate or to create any change, but to entertain. You may check some of the responses on the page.

      I recognise that a minimum standard should be achieved and I look forward to improving through receiving criticism in any form. Again, that doesn’t mean I can’t speak out against what I feel is someone or a group of people going overboard.

      I wish you a great weekend ahead. Cheers!

  4. Alistair January 6, 2017 at 1:49 pm #

    Hi Carrie,

    With respect I think you’re presenting a very one-sided argument.

    First off, you’re exercising your right to freedom of speech by publishing a blog, and the positive feedback you receive is also a (presumably appreciated) expression of free speech. When you receive negative feedback regarding linguistic accuracy, is this any less valid? And how is it different from the myriad negative reviews that properly published literary works, movies, art shows etc. receive? In each case, the artistic force behind these must decide whether they wish to continue generating their output, or move on to something else which may be received with more enthusiasm.

    Secondly, the world has changed since the days when an aspiring author would need to seek the endorsement of a publishing house or benefactor who can ‘sponsor’ the publication of their work. Back before the days of self-publishing which you talk about in your blog, this was the first stage of quality control: If the piece was insufficiently accurate, interesting or clearly-expressed, then it would likely not move on to the stage of publication and wide availability. However, in the days of self-publication, this barrier does not exist and anything can get published, regardless of its merit – what you’re talking about above, and in the facebook page you referenced, is a very understandable reaction against an easily quantifiable reduction in the quality of written material being made available. Writing well is a skill – you’ve made it clear that writing is important to you, so why wouldn’t you consider it equally important to hone that skill in the most fundamental way, rather than complain that people who challenge your skill have an agenda that’s based on getting ‘excited about the 30 seconds of fame (they’re) received from correcting someone else’, then I think you’re not only missing the point but trying to shut down the argument without really thinking about its merits.

    Lastly, you talk above about people criticizing because they are too afraid to put themselves out there and produce their own material. This might occasionally be correct, but it doesn’t invalidate the criticism – if it did, then every single book reviewer and movie or art critic would be a hopeless hypocrite and rightly ought to be out of a job. Criticism of literature is – and has always been – an integral part of the literary world literally since the invention of the printing press – you make an implied acceptance when you publish something that people may have an opinion on it, and if that opinion isn’t favorable, it doesn’t make it less valid.

    Linguistic accuracy is crucial, and needs to be protected more and more in a world where anybody can publish anything. Critical feedback forms a fundamental part of that protection, and has done for hundreds of years in a system which has traditionally ensured, as much as possible, that output which is of a low quality does not make it out into the public sphere. You do a disservice to the literary world in which you clearly like to exist if you discount or disregard criticism focused on linguistic accuracy, since that accuracy, like it or not, constitutes a core underpinning of good literature.

    • Carrie January 6, 2017 at 2:11 pm #

      Hi Alistair,

      I appreciate that you’ve shared valid points in this argument without name calling – a rarity in the days of the internet. 🙂 Fair points made.

      That said, I question the motives of the page owners only because they have positioned themselves as an authority and yet never once revealed who they were. I admit this wasn’t something I wrote, but I thought perhaps through these discussions I could also clarify on why I feel so strongly about what they did that I wrote this piece.

      Perhaps I wasn’t clear when I wrote this that I believe there are many ways to “correct” and regulate. The page owners have chosen “shaming” as their preferred method. What I pointed out was my disagreement with their method not that negative criticism shouldn’t be welcome.

      Of course, everyone makes their own choices and there is not wrong or right. I’d like to point out that at the end of the day, I am as entitled to my view as they are to theirs. The only difference is I decided to own my words and views and face the criticism that will come with doing what I do, while there are the page owners who have decided to do so anonymously – again their choice. Myself and any of the other bloggers who have been criticized are accountable for what we’ve written, not so much the anonymous page owners.

      Again, thank you for taking the time to share your views. I acknowledge them. Cheers!

  5. moviefan101 January 6, 2017 at 11:55 pm #

    Oh Carrie, seems you haven’t been paying much attention to local sentiments on “influencers”…not since my previous post to your replies on your Youtube advertisement :L

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_14muCTOL8

    Hopefully, you getting the spotlight by means of this post, in that fb page you so detest knocked some sense in you if it hasn’t already.

    • Carrie January 7, 2017 at 7:13 am #

      Hi Moviefan101,

      I think you have jumped to conclusions that I’ve not paid attention to the sentiment. Rather, I have chosen to make a stand about the way some of us have decided to show our dislike for a particular group – in this case “influencers”.

      I see no issue with raising feedback and criticism. That should always be welcome.

      As for how I’ve dealt with feedback on the work front, I’ll let my work speak for itself in future. 🙂 Have a great weekend.

      • Moviefan101 January 7, 2017 at 9:16 am #

        Eh…not from what I inferred though.

        Despite my previous post criticizing “influencers” for being pretentious (rightly so) and being far removed from the average individual…in this post, you stance posited was to defend them instead.

        Don’t think I jumped to any conclusions there.

        See, I think you’re obviously missing the point as to why we have gripes with “influencers”. Their questionable objectivity aside, these individuals actually benefit from viewership and thus ought to be held to an elevated standard.

        If you’re generating content for free, then sure, by all means, regurgitate diarrhoea. “Influencers” however, chose to put themselves in the limelight, why shouldn’t the public call them out for their flaws? Same comparison can be made for artists/performers/actors etc.

        As to your work matters, this very post speaks volumes on your stance.

        Cheerio!

        • Carrie January 7, 2017 at 11:06 am #

          Hi Moviefan101,

          Thanks for taking the time again to share your views. Point acknowledged.

          Anyhow, I’ve published the comments here because while we all have differing views, it makes for good discussion. While you may not accept my point of view, I respect yours.

          Regarding my work, not much can be said except only time will tell. The use of influencers is only a small portion of the marketing we do and it’s your right to express your opinion.

          I see that you’re rather passionate about the use of influencers in marketing and on a personal note, if you’d like to chat more on the topic, I’ll be at an upcoming WordPress Meet Up. More than happy to speak face-to-face which I find a much more conducive space to discuss topics like this one. You can drop me an email if you’d like to catch up then and I’ll share the event details.

          Cheers!

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