I’m not used to reading comments written on online sites, where I do not have the ability to respond. It may sound strange to some because it follows that a writer should be able to read and even learn from some of their feedbacks. But it’s my prerogative. I write for myself and that is how I choose to roll. It’s mainly because I do not want what I write to be defined by a reaction I may have to an irrational response but rather based on my personal opinions.
I do, however, encourage my readers, who want me to see their comments and wish for me to respond to them, to reach me on twitter, facebook, by e-mail and through SMS on a line that is held by a third party.
I choose to do so because I provide a service which I believe is in the public benefit, and, while I welcome constructive criticism, there is no way I will allow some prepubescent fellow, who has not earned the platform to express themselves in the same way I have, or some exasperated, chauvinistic and bigoted nonentity who skulks behind an outdated and grubby keyboard to derail my pure intentions for my people and my country. Only I define what, when and why I write.
But this weekend, I did something that I don’t usually do. I went into a random blog, which I was not aware regularly published my articles, and I proceeded to read the comments that followed. While I found the negative and unconstructive comments comical and flippant, I was shocked that there were so many of them. The shock wasn’t so much about the negative comments that were said; it was more of amusing surprise that little old me and my little old views typed on my little old laptop had so much power to evoke such strong emotions from strangers. I strangely found it quite empowering and even encouraging.
As I read on, wrapped in this weird feeling of euphoria, there was one particular comment from a young lady that caught my attention. Hers was one of the non-hostile comments. She came across nervous and unsure. Maybe wary of the group of hyenas that had huddled themselves in a herd ready to pounce on anyone who was pro-the writer. She spoke about her interest in writing but couldn’t bring herself to do it when she reads the kind of vitriol targeted at some of us columnists on blogs. She must have been surprised when she got an anonymous reply asking her to follow @hanneymusawa on twitter. I’m sure she never really thought I was the one who had asked her to do so, but she did follow me on twitter. Through twitter, we were able to communicate through private messaging and eventually we got in contact with each other and spoke over the phone.
From the short conversation we had, she told me about the passion she had for writing but was too scared of being judged or writing the wrong thing. I asked her whether she thought that I ever considered that some of my writing might be wrong or whether I believed that everything I wrote was right. To my surprise, she said that, because she sees a confidence and conviction whenever I write, she was convinced that I totally believed that whatever I wrote was right.
I found that really amusing because, as I told her, I frequently second-guess, not so much the way I write but more the perspective I adopt in the topics I write about. One of the greatest lessons that my father taught me is that “perspective is reality” and people usually only see the reality of things from the standpoint at which they are at. That’s why there are always two or three sides to every story, because each perspective is a reality within itself. Although I try to adopt that, not only in my writing, but in my everyday life, one is only human and can never always be right and one will always make mistakes.
Confidence is a disguise most writers use for keeping up appearances and deadlines, after which, slumping on the sofa, one ponders the source of such confidence. This, of course, has its way of leading one to crippling uncertainty. Which is all part of the motions most writers go through. And I told this young lady that I bet that even the best writers have experienced this.
I told her that if she really wanted to be a writer, it would have to be something that she enjoyed and was committed to doing. For example, I explained to her that writing is not a profession to me but a hobby that I enjoy profusely. First and foremost, I am a barrister at law and, for me to write several weekly columns, it must be because I enjoy the art of expressing myself through writing.
But of all the pieces of advice I gave her, the most important was for her not to allow anyone to define who she would be as a writer. If writing was what she wanted to do, she should never let the criticism define who she is or what she wanted to say. My initial advice to her was to do what I do and not read random and anonymous comments. But if she was one of those writers who was always curious about the feedback to her pieces, then, as long as she has the clear conscience and passion to do a good public service, and she was scared of the reaction of trolls and haters, then, she should use the negativity that she fears to motivate her and light the fire she needs to start writing. She should not let the people who will always be ready to belittle her by virtue of her gender, appearance, race, tribe or age define her as a writer, or as anything for that matter. I bet her that when she begins writing, no matter how negative a response she gets, as long as she is consistent and earnest, it will be the success and truth of her work and triumphs that will define her.
I advised her that, in life generally and as a woman, she cannot let negativity define who she is as a person. Her life was provided to her by God, but it was put into her hands by God. Her decisions and her choices about her writing and the emotions that would be generated by the feedback she gets are hers and she shouldn’t give that power to anyone, just like I don’t.
My conversation with this young lady was a good ending to a week that had begun very hard for me. And instead of completely falling back into my shell, I did something out of the ordinary by reading comments from random sites, which I never did. And within that process I met, counseled and encouraged an extraordinary young lady, whom I hope to see very soon on the back pages of newspapers and on blogs. And even though she says I did a lot in giving her courage and confidence to start writing, I think the person who benefited more from our communication was me: after speaking to this young lady, I had overcome the challenge that accidently brought me to a point where we began the communication.
I hope my communication with this young lady inspires another young writer or anyone else in the way it inspired me.