Pillaging Pedantic Pontification
If you’ve ever watched American Idol, you know the kind of train wrecks you can witness in the auditions. Everyone walks into the judges’ room believing they can sing. Many are told they can’t, and react to that news with varying degrees of shock and indignation, protesting about how their family and friends have always told them what great singers they are. Some are average singers but not good enough for the competition, and that news must be even harder to take. The producers of the show know viewers laugh at people with delusions of grandeur, while those who have some talent but just aren’t quite good enough tug at our heartstrings. Why?
Because we’ve all been there. We all have something we feel we’re really good at, and once a few people reinforce that feeling, your ego starts to swell. Then you begin to feel that you’re more talented, smarter, better than anyone else (at least anyone else you know) at what you do, and this gives you a right to criticize others. “Oh, your guacamole is good, but did you use any cilantro? I always mash it in with the avocados”… You may not even realize you’re doing it, and if people don’t call you on it, you’ll have no reason to change your behavior.
But one day, the reality check hits and you realize that you’re not as good as you thought. You may have been valedictorian of your high school, but then you go to a college where everyone was valedictorian. You discover that growing from good to great requires effort. It happened to me. For years I was told how smart I was and how well I wrote, especially essays. It got me to a point where my essays became lectures, talking at my readers, not to them, and sometimes even talking down to them. On the spectrum between engaging, thoughtful writer and pompous ass, I skidded dangerously close to the latter.
It took my own personal version of the Idol judges to say: you’re good, but you’re not doing your best, because you think you can get by on your talent alone. No one will be interested in what you have to say when you think you’re interesting by default. If you imply that your mind is a Ferrari and your readers are Fords, no one will want to drive alongside you. In the end, it doesn’t matter how fast you can go if no one likes the scenery along the way. With the Idol contestants, all the raw singing talent in the world won’t help if you don’t know how to entertain an audience. It’s no different as a writer.
It’s a struggle to check the ego and turn on the empathy. But that’s what I’m trying to do; stop writing about me, me, me and find ways to make you, the reader, not only interested in what I write, but wanting to read it. It’s very general advice to anyone who wants to be a successful blogger, or ever be a published writer (not that I know anything about that!): write, stop, read it out loud, and ask yourself: why would someone want to read this? I had to do that with this post. In its first draft, it went on and on about the 13th anniversary of registering my domain name and my limited success of living up to that name. I’ve written the same post, in slightly different versions, a dozen times over the years. Not only was it not new, it didn’t say anything to relate to readers.
If you sing a song, write a poem, cook them dinner, etc., most people will be nice and tell you it was good. It’s in our social training and usually it’s the right thing to do. But if you’re trying to improve at something, you need to be open to constructive criticism. More importantly, you need someone you trust who will give it to you. I’m blessed to have a friend who does. Sometimes all you need to strengthen talent is a little taste of humility.