The Soundtrack of the Writer’s Life

The soundtrack of a life comes from friends and family, coworkers and clients, supporters and detractors, and ultimately complete strangers, all of whose voices layer into a greater universal dialogue. Though the cacophony may seem uncontrollable, my interpretation and perception are not outside my influence. Even if I had that power to silence the dialogue, I wouldn’t want to as it is the best mechanism for feedback that I have. All voices, negative, positive and neutral, have something to teach.

Though it is often easiest to isolate and ignore the negative voices, positive voices can also be harmful. For example, there exist people who are nasty and hateful to those they see as accomplished simply because of jealousy or spite. These people can be safely ignored, though that is often easier said than done. Likewise, there are also those who will be supremely positive and supportive, seeking to inflate the ego rather than help a writer recognize his or her strengths. Though they likely mean well, they still cause harm. Both of these situations lead to a twisted view of the world. I have found that it is necessary to filter on both ends, to ensure that feedback and reality align as closely as possible.

I have found the best filter to be an understanding of the speaker, especially what interests and motivates them. Though this doesn’t help with strangers, it is valuable for trusted readers or fellow artists. For example, I have one beta reader who is excellent with characterization and blocking, but his personal morality will sometimes make him overly harsh of a character’s decisions. I have another friend who is fantastic at poetic prose and fine tuning line editing, but has an incredibly low tolerance for what she views as “gun porn.” Both of these individuals are valued readers because I know how to calibrate their feedback to their personalities.

Dealing with strangers, especially without the benefit of non-verbal cues, is more difficult. In this case, I have come to rely on an analysis of their intent. Does the person compete with me or want something from me? Do their comments show that they are knowledgeable or an amateur? Often the distinction can be found in the language. Someone who writes in a calm, specific and thoughtful manner will be more useful as a source of feedback than someone who employs inflammatory language or inappropriate parallels and metaphors.

Ultimately, we are each responsible for managing the soundtrack of our own lives through the filter of our perception. We cannot allow the nasty voices to drag us down, but we must learn from well-intentioned criticism. Likewise, we cannot allow positivity to inflate the evaluation of our own skills and accomplishments, but must instead accept reasonable praise of accomplishments with both pride and humility. So much of our world is based upon perception, and though we cannot control what others do and say, we are responsible for being thoughtful in our interpretation of their intent.


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