We all have an audience, and a bubble

Sign up for Writing Nerd’s newsletter! It comes out on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month and features links and other nerd tidbits.

We all have some influence on the world around us, sometimes good, sometimes bad.  Most of the time we might not even know what influence we had because that part of the world moves away from us.

But we also seem to be losing two skills associated with this:

  • Common courtesy
  • Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

And it’s a lot of little things in what we all do.

Many, many years ago, I worked in a copy shop.  During my first few days, I asked a customer, “Is there anything else?”

I got lectured by the owner.  You never say that to a customer.  It makes it sound like you’re trying to get rid of them.

Yet, I hear it all the time in just about every retail establishment.  Sometimes, it does indeed feel the stores don’t really want my business.  Some clerks barely speak to me, other than to ask for the money.

Really, sometimes smiling at people or generally being friendly makes a big difference on the people around you. 

For many years, I ran the writer’s pitch sessions at the Washington Independent Writer’s Conference.  I and another writer kept the pitches running on time to military precision (it helped that we were both vets). 

I greeted the agents.  Sometimes I’d swing by between pitch sessions and see if they needed anything (Cookies?  Coffee?).  Asked them how the trip was over here (they would have taken a train from New York).  Took complaints (didn’t want to do that, but those were the writers’ fault).

One of the agents returned after a two-year break.  Recognized me.  Called me by name.  I was flabbergasted, actually.

It was all those little things about courtesy that most people don’t bother with these days.  Chances are they’ve got their head buried in a cell phone instead.

And what’s this bubble?

This is Writing Nerd’s turn to wander in. 

The bubble is how we view the world.  You’ll see the most obvious example of it in Hollywood where actors do strange things and think that everyone should follow in their footsteps.  Arrogance on steroids.

But it’s everywhere.  We might think everyone is like us, and if they’re not, they’re wrong.

Example from the Army:

I’m a rotten runner because I have flat feet.  Yet, we had a sergeant who was a naturally gifted athlete.  Running was easy for him.  His bubble?  If you can’t keep up with him, you weren’t trying hard enough or you were faking it.

He couldn’t put himself in someone else’s shoes to understand what they were experiencing.  We had people like me, people with short legs, people with different body types—all things that influence running.

When he was assigned to be in charge of “remedial” physical training, we all dreaded it because this bubble made him an extremely poor instructor.

Example from the writing world:

I don’t outline when I write.  People who outline scratch their heads and instead of asking questions, tend to say I’m writing wrong. 

And you’d think that people from the non-outlining side would be different, but nope, the same bubble exists.  Apparently, I have some things I do that are outside other people’s bubbles.   So even when I have something that works for me, in the eyes of others, I’m just wrong.

Not even one person asked a question about why I might be doing it differently.  Just like the sergeant above never asked why I might not be able to keep up with him.

We all can’t be right.

We all can’t be wrong.

But the power we have is common courtesy so we can learn more about other people.

Additional Reading

Abundant Blogger on Courtesy and Respect

Respecting the Writing, Respecting Yourself

Man screams as UFO beams up another person

It’s hard to believe that about 2010, I was thinking I was never going to be able to write a novel.  My process of writing because a source of great frustration.

The more I revised something, the more broken it got.  It went from a two car accident to a spaceship crashes and destroys an entire city.

I remember one writer offering to look at what I’d written to see if she could see what was wrong and I was embarrassed to let her see it.  I knew I was a better writer than what I was producing.

So I attended a lot of classes, searching for answers.  One was with Bob Meyer, one of the earlier indie successes.  I was so frustrated that I described my writing as a “screwy way of writing.”

He said “Never put down your writing.  There will be someone else who will be happy to do that for you.”

A lot of the starts with respecting the writing, not treating it like a weird thing from outer space.

Men in spacesuits approach computer keyboard

There’s a hella out there that does the opposite. (That’s California slang, by the way).

The writing community, craft books, and even writing magazines are rife with put downs.  Some of it is quite subtle.  Some of it is blatant.  Some of it you may be saying yourself.

  • “My writing is crap.”
  • “My first drafts are shitty.”
  • “All first drafts are terrible.”

So you’ve just said you can’t write.  What the heck does that do to the little kid in you who is doing the writing?!!

What does that do in how you write that story?!!

Some people think their first draft is so crappy that they race through it so they can get to the revision.  Contrary to popular believe, revision isn’t where the real writing happens–it’s the first draft.

And that first draft is being labeled as crap.  That’s a lonely place for the muse to be.

Silhouette of lonely man, the universe above him

We’re constantly bombarded by advice that we’re not “good enough.” The writing magazines have what amounts to diet advice, that there’s something we’re not doing right, something that we should be checking the box on that is keeping from getting us published (rather than another skill level of writing).

I used to be on a message board where anyone experimenting was told, “Most writers screw it up anyway, so don’t even bother.”

This stuff is TOXIC.

Bottle of green goo with a skull and crossbones.


Our words have power.  Just read a book that makes you want to re-read it all over again once you’ve finished it.

If we say put downs to ourselves and repeat them, how can they NOT have that power?