When I first started out as a journalist in 2000, computers were around, the internet was around, but none of my articles were ever posted online. They went out on paper only.
I wrote my very first article at a weekly called the Charlotte Shopping Guide. The story was about a time capsule opening at my old Junior High. I was so excited that Sunday to run out to my mailbox and grab my copy of the newspaper. When I opened it up, there was my article, right on the front page above the fold.
I was ecstatic as I read through it again and again.
Back at work that week I plowed through several more stories; city council meetings, school board meetings, ground breaking ceremonies and man on the street interviews.
I kept my spring in my step until Thursday. That’s the day I received a letter from a lady we’ll call know-it-all Nancy. It was written in messy scrawl on a lined piece of paper ripped from a spiral bound notebook, it said (I paraphrase here as it’s been 16 years). Ms. Loughan if you wish to continue your career in writing you should take a bit more pride in your craft. I hate to inform you that in your article you abbreviated microphone mic when the correct abbreviation would be mike according to...” Then this good grammar Samaritan went on to tell me all of the places that lauded mike over mic.
Let’s break this down for a minute, somebody was so angry about that they pulled out a sheet of paper, wrote a pretty long letter by hand, grabbed an envelope, found my name and address, wrote it out, put their return address on it and spent money on a stamp to send me a letter to make that point. I felt horrible about it. That piece of paper weighed on me and slowed down my momentum. Lucky for me I had a copy editor, Yvette, who knew what that letter was, a complete crock.
I came to work one morning and found a clipping from Reader’s Digest which had a joke on it, in the picture caption they used the abbreviation mic. She had stuck a Post-it to the page which said, “It was good enough for Reader’s Digest, so that’s good enough for me.” I was so happy with that I left it on my wall for all five of my years there. I quickly threw out Nancy’s letter.
In all honesty that was a complete fluke. While I worked there I never received another grammar nasty gram, but trust me I continued to and still do make plenty of grammar mistakes. I’m also still working as a writer. I’m not here saying it’s okay to write unreadable garbage, but when you write every day, thousands of words per day some boo boos are bound to get through and I don’t agonize over them.
Here’s the rub, I’ve been writing professionally for 16 years, so I got to see things change. In the last four years, with the growing popularity of internet comments sections I have had many people point out mistakes I’ve made, worse than that one. Some people hate my work and yup even criticize my right to write. But I don’t really care. I think that’s because I’ve had the benefit of 12 years of silence. I wrote in peace, back when it was a real pain in the hind quarters to send a complaint.
Now the minute you put something out on the internet, be it a book, article or even your picture you have opened yourself up to the world, and the world didn’t seem to get the lesson, “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
I feel bad for people just starting out in creative pursuits. Young authors and writers who yearn to have their work seen don’t get the advantage of mentors and editors like I did. They don’t have Yvette’s standing by to cheer them up.
Why is that? Technology. Newspapers and Magazines have not been able to compete very well with online news companies. Producing a real tangible product every week, paying a staff of editors and delivery drivers is hard when compared to companies that can just upload an article that only one person saw. Newspapers are almost never hiring and when they do they are looking for experienced writers with full portfolios. It’s the old catch-22 the only way to get a writing job is to get experience, and the only way to get experience is to get a job. The only way to get around that is to write for free. This means new writers are going out and getting proactive in the only avenues allowed them, blogs, social media and Amazon and the minute they put their work up they are getting shot down. The know-it-all Nancy’s of the world are waiting by the computer ready to point out their misplaced commas.
I worry because if I’d started writing today I don’t know if I could have taken all the negativity. I benefited from positive editors, copy editors and co-workers who were my loudest feedback. I think as we move into this new world of technology we need to be loud encouraging voices for young artists.
The takeaway next time you read a blog, article, post on Facebook or an indie book make sure that if you have something negative to say it’s worth it. You can decide this by stepping away from the computer, going and grabbing a piece of paper and writing the comment down. Then sit around for 10 minutes and pretend to address an envelope. Then get out 40 cents, the cost of a stamp, and set it aside to donate next time you see one of those little jars at a gas station. If you still think your criticism is worth it, go ahead and type. But go donate that money, don’t cheat. Don’t tear down another person, trying, working and doing something for nothing.
Nicole Loughan is the author of the best-selling Saints Mystery Series and the new release, The Divine Hotel. You may also know her as the syndicated humor columnist, The Starter Mom. For her day job she writes features for The Bucks County Courier and Intelligencer. She was recognized by Writer’s Digest as a top genre fiction writer in 2014 and was named a top feature writer by the Michigan Press Association in 2003. You can find her books here on Amazon.