A writer friend of mine just forwarded me an email that someone has just sent her. She’s a brand new writer, has a column going in her local paper, and really enjoys writing. The email she was sent is as follows, only the name of the person sending it has been changed:
Recently the word ‘butt’ was used in one of your columns. That word is inappropriate, in poor taste, crude, and offensive. The fact that it is used on tv does not change a thing. I appreciate your being able and interested in writing and would like for it to be above reproach.
Best to you.
She wants to know what I think of it, and what would be the most appropriate way to respond.
As I sit here pondering her request, the full range of potential responses seems to be these:
- The immature response. This is the one you’d go with if you fired back an immediate, gut check-like response. You’d tell the guy that he should find some “Barney” reruns to spend his time watching and then imply that he must be a real firecracker in most other aspects of his personal life. You’d then close it out with a reminder that this is a free country and that he was free (and encouraged) to read something other than your column in the future.
- The sarcastic approach. Tell the reader that you’ll try to do better in the future, and that the slip up in the column is easily explainable. Then, go into how you and your friends went out drinking the night before, entered a “Who Can Cuss The Best” contest at a local bar, and that the carry over from that slipped into your column when you wrote it the next day. Promise your reader that it’ll never happen again, as you definitely want to live your life “above reproach,” and then swear to watch twenty episodes of “The Brady Bunch” as penance.
- The politician’s approach. Take no responsibility for your wording by telling the reader that you actually wanted to use the term “heiny,” “tookus”, or “twin pink apples,” but were prevented from doing so by your editor. Then, go into great detail about your “poor as Job’s turkey” upbringing, adding that it was hard for you to learn proper language usage skills because you grew up in a shack with seventeen brothers and sisters. Close by offering to let the offended reader write a guest column in place of yours the next week, recommend to them some web sites offering free government programs and money, and each Arbor Day from here on out faithfully send them a pine tree seedling.
- The avoidance approach. Email back a terse two-liner, telling them that you appreciate the feedback but that your schedule is so hectic that you can’t possibly respond to it. Wish them eternal peace and happiness in the closing line.
- The mature approach. Email your reader back, let them know you appreciated them giving you feedback, and never comment on what you personally thought of their message. Then thank them and close it out. Sweet, simple, and very mature.
It looks like my friend is going to choose the last option, which is certainly the best one to take. But a thought now occurs to me - maybe, instead of these approaches, her good writer friend should just tell her that she’s doing fine, and not to let stuff like this bother her too much. He should also take the time to remind her that not everyone is going to like everything that you write or say, and all you can do is your best and gracefully accept whatever comes along as a result. Finally, maybe her writer friend will simply remind her that her stuff is good, much better than some of the writing being done today by columnists that’s so lame that a South Georgia tree buzzard could do better...
On second thought, I might better leave that last one out...she might start looking at me sort of quizzically after she reads it...