Today, while scrolling through the internet for funny memes (because that’s what I do now…lol), I came across a Dilbert comic strip from 2007. I won’t share it here, because I don’t have the rights to it, but check out the link for the full effect. http://dilbert.com/strip/2007-11-21
In it, another character tells Dilbert that a document says “a backup server is overkill”. Dilbert replies that it doesn’t say that, as a matter of fact it says the opposite of that, which he knows because he wrote it. The other character chimes in that he thinks Dilbert is misinterpreting the document. Dilbert replies with, “I wrote it!”
That comic strip made me chuckle because I have been there. Multiple times. Though one instance sticks out in my memory more than others.
My writing career started as a reporter for the local newspaper over 12 years ago. Of course, back in the day, our pictures weren’t splattered all over the internet so, for the most part, the general public knew our names from our bylines but didn’t necessarily know our faces.
One day, I was standing in line at Walmart, lamenting the length of it in my head and minding my own business when a woman in front of me starts loudly talking to someone she apparently knew in front of her about an article she read. It caught my attention, partly because the woman’s volume and our proximity made it impossible not to hear and partly because it was my article. She detailed to this person the “facts” of the article, how it said this and it said that, interjecting her thoughts along the way. I remained an objective observer, safe in my disguise of your everyday shopper and then suddenly, she turned to me in an attempt to gain my support for her cause. (Yeah. This isn’t new to social media. They just have a bigger audience now.)
After I listened to her recount what the article said, I politely smiled. “Ma’am the article didn’t say that.”
Now, I don’t remember exactly what article she was ranting about. I’ve written thousands of articles since then. I do, however, remember the shocked and offended look on her face that I, a stranger, would dare correct her.
“Pardon me?” she said, sneering. “That is what it said. I. READ. IT.”
I smiled again. “Ma’am. That isn’t what it said. I. WROTE. IT. You may want to go read it again.”
Like a balloon that’s knot was taken out, she deflated, turned around in a huff and continued with her shopping.
Of course, being the self-evaluating person that I am, I checked the article to make sure there was not some way it could have been misconstrued – that I hadn’t made a mistake that changed the meaning of a phrase or the content of the article. I hadn’t. She was an idiot.
That encounter though taught me a valuable lesson. Reading is subjective. It doesn’t matter if it’s a news article, a creative writing project or a blog post. You can put every fact in and every detail in and someone, somewhere will misread it. They will embed their own feelings on the subject within your words. A simple quote can be read as inspirational by one person and with a sneer by another.
You can’t control how other people read your work. You can only control how you write it.
Just keep writing.