Writing is very personal and very risky work. You spend hours scrutinizing over words and story structure that inescapably reveal your inner nature—your feelings, your thoughts. And when the editing process is complete and you’re finally confident enough to show your work to the world, the readers are your jury. It ceases to be a matter of words; it becomes a matter of you.
Three weeks ago I published a column in my university newspaper entitled, “I paid $100 to cuddle with a prostitute.” The 1,800-word column received lots of attention from bloggers and Internet users. At the time of this writing, the column has been read more than 36,000 times, plus generating 162 comments at Reddit.com, 47 comments at MetaFilter.com, 62 comments at StumbleUpon.com, and 87 comments at my university newspaper’s Web site.
My column’s popularity has taught me a valuable lesson: In anything you do, you will never be universally approved. We as humans are so unbelievably different in how we see the world that we will never create perfection.
For instance, one person commented: “It’s one of the best articles I’ve ever read, period.” Another wrote: “You should be embarrassed you paid for your writing degree. This is awful—especially for something so potentially interesting.” One or two readers offered me their hands in marriage while others called me dirty words, immature, and a moron. The column seemed to touch most readers, but other readers said it was cliché with a moral lesson so obvious that it wasn’t worth mentioning.
As the comments and readers continue to flood in, I’m amazed at how contrary people can be. How can one reader call my column a beautiful piece of writing and have another call its writing awful? How can my column cause one reader to have tears well in her eyes while outraging another? How can someone say, “It was fascinating, sweet, and sad. Thank you for writing it,” then have another reader say, “This column was interesting, but pretty self righteous and god awfully cheesy?”
My column isn’t perfect and none of my writings ever will be, but that’s not the point. The point is that of the 6.5 billion people on the planet, it’s possible to have 6.5 billion different reactions to the same stimulus. With this in mind, can anyone produce a piece of writing that would satisfy all 6.5 billion people?
You know, friends, maybe I’m a slow learner and I needed this experience to hammer into me the adages “Nobody’s perfect” and “You can’t please everybody.”
Two weeks from today I leave home to begin my Peace Corps experiences. Most of my friends and family have been incredibly supportive, while a few—and just a few—think I’m wasting my time. Teaching English and HIV/AIDS awareness for two years in Madagascar, they say, is a useless effort and won’t accomplish anything. I suspect that there is even a person or two who secretly wants me to fail in this endeavor.
But I won’t let my dissenters affect me. Like writing, deciding to join the Peace Corps is a very personal affair. I now understand that as long as I’m confident in my work, the critics shouldn’t matter. You really can’t please everybody.