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Once your words have flown

Many moons ago (about ten years) when I did my English Literature degree, I was in a seminar discussing ownership of words and ideas. The basis of my lecturer’s theory was that once words have been written you can’t control them. It doesn’t matter how clear you are during the writing process, once your words are being “consumed” they’re no longer yours to shape.

I like to imagine it as a little scene inside a dusty old attic.

The writer is hard at work, bent over a creaky table writing in longhand. The words come alive, dancing on the page. He has a choice to let the words be free, or to shut them in a box.  He chooses freedom, knowing that is also the end of his control. Standing at an open window, the writer watches his words flutter out into the world, ready to climb inside the head of anyone who reads them. The writer can’t follow the words inside every head. He can only stand at the window and wave his words goodbye.

It’s not a new idea, but it’s one I think is still incredibly current – especially in the 140 character Twitter world in which we live.

Let me explain.

A little while ago, I wrote a post called How Do You Decide What Your Blog Is Worth? for Geekalicious. It was all about blogging and commercialisation of blogs – namely, how we value our own blogs.

As with much of my writing, I wrote it, had it published and then forgot about it in the minefield of my current crazy working / mum life. Today I was reminded of the post, after a fellow blogger told me (via Twitter) that she didn’t like my tone.

One of the things I really love about blogging and Twitter is that you can share opinions. And I wasn’t offended by the critical tweet. I just politely agreed to disagree. But after a bit of tweeting back and forth, the blogger (who blogs at Kelloggsville) came back with a tweet I wholeheartedly agreed with:

“It’s problem in a 2D words world. Body language and tone removed and readers fill in perceived gaps.”

This is SO true. When you write something, you might have a clear idea in your head of how your words sound. But those words are in YOUR head.

Once they’re out in the world, being read by others, they’ll be in other heads, read by people with different opinions, experiences and memories to you. It doesn’t matter how clear you try to be, there will always be the chance your words will not be read in the way you intended them.

The thing is, I don’t think that matters. If you spent your whole life trying to tailor your words (or language) to only ever be consumed in one way, with one point of view, you’d be fighting a losing battle. Plus, wouldn’t that make the world a rather boring place?

On this occasion, my post was interpreted as “sarcastic” and “condescending”. That’s fine. I disagree, but that’s fine. That’s the way my writing was read by that particular reader and there’s nothing I can do about it – apart from let her know that wasn’t my intention and apologise if she was offended.

I’m well aware that once you write something (and publish it on a blog or book or newspaper or magazine or social media platform or piece of paper stuck to a tree) it’s out there in the big wide world of different opinions and ideas and experiences. I’m well aware that I could unintentionally write something another person was offended by.

But I’m also aware that if I spent my whole time worrying about that I would never write anything at all.

How about you? Do you tailor your words carefully in the fear they may be taken “the wrong way”? Is interpretation something you even consider before hitting “publish”?