Epic Writer Fail: 5 Ways to Avoid Pitfalls

Yesterday I posted a simple opinion piece about celebrity. I learned a few things. First, there is nothing simple about anything we write. Second, if you’re writing an opinion, someone might disagree. Otherwise they’d call it fact. This was my first most recent epic writer fail. Thus, I studied why I failed and what can be learned about writing from this experience.

  1. There is almost nothing that cannot be interpreted differently from what you think you’re writing. I thought I was writing about Bill Cosby and how, just because he was famous and has a house on my street, I wasn’t knowledgeable about his crime, nor was I surprised by it. I meant to convey that just because someone is famous and near you, that doesn’t mean you actually know them or have a reason to believe they won’t commit a heinous crime. I suggested actors and politicians present themselves to us differently, although both are famous. That’s what I thought I wrote. What some readers thought I said was that I was bragging about having a house on his street (I wasn’t, that’s just a fact and believe me, my house is nothing like his mansion!) and that I didn’t care about his (alleged) victims. OMG, that’s not what I meant at all.
  2. If your work is being misread, that’s likely your fault. Having read the reactions I took another look at what I’d written. I could see why some readers couldn’t make out what I meant. My writing seemed clear to me but upon that reread with fresh eyes, I saw where I went wrong.
  3. Slow down, good editing cannot be rushed. I was posting away from home and it’s likely I wasn’t being as careful as I normally am. I hurried when I should have taken more time to edit. It’s good policy to step away from something you’ve written and then come back to read it again before hitting the Publish button. I didn’t do that and it cost me in credibility.
  4. Sarcasm is sensitive business. Snarky tones likely work better in voice than in print. Intonation matters. I once sent an email to a client that she  misinterpreted and sent me a nasty email in response. I could see she had completely misread my message. I wrote back to her and started out with something like this: “I’m so sorry you…” I meant it sincerely, I was really sorry about the misunderstanding. But she read that message with a totally different tone than I intended and thought I was maligning her.  Calling her enabled us to work it out. But you can’t call all of your readers, so you really have to watch tone.workspace_2_hires
  5. Own your mistakes. I thanked the commenters for letting me know where I went wrong. I edited the piece. I asked for forgiveness. We’ll see how that goes…

9 Responses to “Epic Writer Fail: 5 Ways to Avoid Pitfalls

  • Some readers thought you were bragging . . . seriously? It didn’t sound that way to me. Your credibility is still intact, Debby.

    • Thanks, Carol. That makes me feel a lot better. But, while I wasn’t bragging, I guess I could see why the person who thought that interpreted it that way… after the fact that is! If I had seen that to begin with, I probably would have written it differently. But, again, I appreciate your support.

  • I didn’t think you were bragging at all! I think I got what you were saying 🙂

    • Thanks, Judy for taking the time to let me know. It means a great deal to know some understood even my poor attempt at communicating!

  • I always get a fresh pair of eyes to read what I have written before I push the publish button. Not only can it help in what you have highlighted in this post, but it can also highlight other mistakes like grammar or sentences that don’t make any sense. However, sometimes even with a fresh pair of eyes, mistakes can still get though.

    • True. Mistakes happen but they’re not usually anything that bad, right? 🙂

      • Well, it depends on the mistake. Spell check doesn’t always pick some words up (especially when the word you were not meant to write is spelt correctly). Usually the ones our eyes always seem overlook.

        • That’s true. I will try to share this somewhat X-rated story as politely as possible. I worked for a large metro newspaper once and one day the management went understandably crazy because in the obituaries where it should have read, “Beloved Aunt…” the A was replaced with a C. The family was not too happy. (Not my mistake or I’m sure I would have died of embarrassment.) See, sometimes just a one-letter typo can be really, really bad.

          • Exactly, Debby, you’ve hit the nail right on the head with that example. I’ve seen it happen on a few blogs, but thankfully not on my own…yet.

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