In the late 90s, much of my social life centered around a couple online communities. There was the newsgroup “misc.writing,” where I learned how to call myself “a writer.” My first paid writing gig came from a friend I made in my other favorite online community, the newsgroup “alt.music.soulcoughing.”
In those newsgroups, I learned about myself and my writing. I learned I am not a troll, and never could be. I am also not interested in “combat prose,” though several of my good online friends were terrifically skilled at it. While I relish passionate debate, it’s rare that being unkind feels like the right thing for me. These are just a few things the newsgroups—so much like comments on a newspaper’s website—taught me.
Today, I responded to a comment on my Bangor Daily News column. For the most part, I don’t read the comments. Or, rather, I didn’t after the first column. There were so many (what an ego-boost!) on the first couple and I knew it would be difficult to avoid taking them personally. For this last piece, though, there were only a small handful of comments. I read the first 10 or so as they came in, and then I stopped. One of them criticized my writing, and the awkward absence of transitions. It made me re-read the column with new eyes. I wanted to thank the reader for the comment, but I was wary about participating in the comments section. I did, though, post a thank you and a clarification. I went on to respond to a few of the other comments, “since I was there already,” I said to myself.
While I may respond to comments in the future, I suspect I mostly won’t. I realized today that if I have the sense that “I can clarify any misunderstandings later” then my writing won’t improve. I welcome the challenge of brevity. I need to make my point clearly and without distractions. It’s not easy. But, oh my, it is fun.