Brutally Honest

Last night, I received via e-mail what at first glance appeared to be possibly the most insulting piece of “constructive criticism” I had ever gotten from a reader. Beginning with the line, “I am fairly sure you are a very nice person. Being nice, however, does not make one a good writer,” it went on to detail this individual’s disappointment with my columns over the years – of course begging the question, why continue reading? – and the suggestion that I “stop vacillating…and actually say what (I) believe.”

Harsh, yes. But (somewhat) true. 

I studied Journalism in college, the first step in fulfilling my lifelong dream to be a writer. It seemed the natural way to go. This column has been a blessing in that respect, affording me the opportunity to do what I love on a weekly basis. 

Six years later, I see the problem. Yes, coming up with original material is at times difficult, though not impossible. No, the real challenge lies in finding a way to express what you truly wish to while being mindful of the audience you are writing for, public opinion, advertisers, etc. Yes, it would be wonderful to write hard-hitting pieces on current events, or deep, soul-searching exposés on human nature – but this is not the medium for such content.

I do vacillate. I do care what people think. I attempt to not offend, while keeping some semblance of myself – slight edge and sarcasm sharply intact. If, in the process, this has rendered my writing boring, and has left readers such as this one “feeling empty, as if I had read nothing of import, nothing meaningful,” then I apologize.

I do see your point. Looking back on previous writings from high school and college, I see great potential to improve, to recapture the talent that drove me to pursue this field in the first place. Perhaps I have lost my touch in the process of trying to please the great unknown that is my potential readership, subsequently resorting to clichés and “fluff,” instead of thoughtful narratives.

But back to the letter… after documenting each so-called clichéd expression found in a recent column of mine, it closed with, “I am sure none of the people who love you would ever tell you these things, which is why after years of disappointment with your columns, I have decided to write to you. I wish you insight into your weaknesses and strengths, the courage to change, and the wisdom to know when you are being boring.”

Again, point taken. I have noticed, through the years, that many high school and college friends familiar with my past writing have commented sparingly on a handful of pieces they felt were exceptional, precisely because they were either deeply personal or slightly provocative and controversial – in a word, honest. Sometimes – excuse the cliché in advance – silence speaks volumes.

And so, to this reader, I say thank you. Thank you for saying what I felt in my heart to be true for quite some time now. Thank you for expressing what those closer were hesitant to. And thank you for pushing me on the right track to reclaiming that passion I once had for my writing.

Stay tuned.


{Published: August 31st, 2011}

Jamie Lynn RyanComment