Wrap It Up

Nov 16

I am a bad blogger. I need to find a reason to write something down that goes beyond “it’s Wednesday and you write something on Wednesdays.” That sort of pressure creates awful writing. From everyone. I am a good writer.

I am a bad blogger because people stop reading what I write on the Internet. I am not for the Internet. Rarely do people online, myself included, have the patience to read essays, and I’ve had it said to me more than once that someone is going to print out something I wrote in order to read it properly. I am a hazard to the environment.

An incident took place last weekend, however, that reinforced something thing I know about writing and about debate. It struck me as important because I messed it up in a fantastic manner. When writing, it’s absolutely vital to sew up all of your loose ends. To cover your exposed arse. I slipped up last week, and I was called out on it on Sunday.

On Thursday, I received a comment notification for my dad’s blog that annoyed me. The commenter, who was bright enough to leave , expressed such gross misunderstanding of things my dad has said and done that I felt the need to set the record straight. The post I wrote as a result is here. I thought I’d wrapped that one up pretty damn good.

My thoughts were that an unfavourable commentator could take a number of lines of attack if they were to refute what I said. The first method (and one that has been levelled at me before) was that I was not a good swimmer, and thus had no place commenting on what was good practice in swimming coaching in terms of how good a coach my father was. This line of attack always hurt the most, and required people to denounce the fact that I held a New Zealand open record for nearly four years. People did that really quite well though: they’d cite a range of things to rationalise why my record, or subsequent achievements at university, meant nothing. I covered that line of attack in the last paragraph of the post. That would do them no good.

Secondly, I assumed that my age or location or relationship to my father would be used against my credibility and argument. I have been painted as too young (yes, even at twenty-six) to understand what I was talking about, and I could even more easily be accused of being too far removed from the community to have a valid opinion. Lastly, I made sure to sew up the argument that I would definitely stick up for my father because he’s my father. I thought that the only line of attack left was patronisation: someone coming back with a saccharine response is hard to guard against, even with all the weaponry of the English language in your arsenal.

I even covered blatant trolling.

But I screwed it all up, and I realised that I’d screwed it all up on Sunday morning when a comment notification made its irritating way into my email.

Jenny Smith was not impressed. Jenny said:

What is wrong with swimming in NZ is brilliantly captured by Jane’s emotional outburst above [Jane, I might have sympathy for your experiences but it was OVER A DECADE ago. Defending your dad is one thing, (you must admit he does little else other than attack others) but your points are pretty irrelevant to the current debate. Swimmers are brilliant at focusing on personal slights and completely missing the big picture. Must be all that trawling up and down narrow lanes :)  ]

Oh, for God’s sake, I had not covered the fact that I was not after sympathy, and that was my piece’s downfall. And I wasn’t; I told stories that happened ten years ago because critics had brought those same events up in previous comments. It was a relevant example of my main point (that point being to explain why my father does what he does, where he has come from and how much he cares for his swimmers), used because the situations in question had been first mentioned by the person to whom I was replying. But I hadn’t sewn that hole up. And that’s not good writing.

Whenever you write something explanatory, especially in defence of yourself or of someone else, it is far less effective to defend points after the fact than it is to create a product that is bullet-proof from the outset. Of course I wasn’t looking for sympathy: I’m an adult who’s been through a lot more than being accused of teenage promiscuity and other variations of petty swimming politics! I don’t even recall wanting sympathy at the time: what I wanted was a sledgehammer and a shotgun, but a one-way ticket to Seattle sufficed.


… and this, do not require sympathy. Go Cougs!

What I did wrong was fail to think of every angle of disagreement beyond blatant trolling. Of course! Accuse the writer of “emotional outbursts” and sympathy pleas for events that happened ten years ago. Why did I not think of that? It’s such an easy argument, and is so common: you won’t spend any time at all on a forum like Reddit (where I spend far too much time) without seeing that argument used as to why women (especially, although it’s directed at men as well) shouldn’t be listened to. They’re emotional, hysterical and irrational. You will be silenced by my belittlement.

As a relevant aside, I do find “you must admit” to be as poor a persuasive crutch as “no offense, but.” I’m not going to hide behind not offending myself. It was unacceptable for me to miss the most likely form of attack.

Why is this important? Jenny Smith isn’t important. The things that happened to my family and me ten years ago aren’t important, and I was simply using them as an example. But this is important for people who conduct business in nearly every sector, especially marketing. This is about anticipating objections–a fancy way of saying “covering your arse.”

No matter how successful your marketing business (in my case, online marketing), you’re going to have to pitch every once in a while. Big accounts require a tender process, and you will end up on a conveyer belt of successful agencies, vying for someone’s business. People listening to pitches must learn why one person or agency in particular is better than the others, and to do this, they’re going to ask some difficult questions about what you can do for them. They’re your Jenny Smith. You are going to sound a lot more convincing if you have smooth-talked your way past their objections in your initial pitch and supporting documents, rather than being left like a suffocating Apprentice contestant, flapping desperately on the floor of Debenhams’ corporate office.

Firing her was criminal. She was awesomely good TV

For the most part, blogging doesn’t matter. Everyone’s a writer and a blogger, and some of the most well-known bloggers in any given industry are incredibly bad writers who attract audiences with cheap tricks and ploys (a skill of its own, but not an attribute of good writing). However, the ability to sew up an argument against all but the most irrational responses (which you cannot feasibly predict) is an essential skill for many things besides writing for writing’s sake.

I suppose I am mostly irritated that I screwed that up, as it’s not something I’ve traditionally been bad at. Some people think of musical scores as solid objects and others report to “see” flavour. I “see” writing as objects: pieces of writing have curves and corners and holes, but the best pieces of writing are like professionally wrapped Christmas presents, where the wrapping paper is seamless and smooth, even if the product underneath isn’t symmetrical or easily covered. I had polished the corners and found a perfectly-fitting bow for the top, but there was a big tear on the underside of the box that I hadn’t seen. Oh, how incredibly obvious a thing to miss.

by on Flickr

by on Flickr

8 Responses to “Wrap It Up”

  1. David says:

    I love the article. Perfect answer.

  2. Amelia says:

    Some people don’t recognise that there is somebody behind the writing – as in a real person with real feelings. It can be hard to take criticism, especially when it is personal. I think you did a good job of answering the ‘venom’, but I guess some snakes are more slippery than others.

    I like your work.

  3. Jane says:

    Thanks Amelia, glad you liked the stories! Cheers.

  4. Stuart P Turner says:

    I just read this post followed by this one, as a result I’m feeling a little ashamed.

    Thinking back to my degree (Philosophy) I used to value all the qualities in a writer which you have outlined in this post; formulating a logical, objective case and answering all possible rebuttals before they happen is what makes a piece of writing provoke thought rather than just an opinion.

    However over the past few years working in digital and getting sucked into social media; my ability to write properly has slowly been eroded (due to my own laziness and my use of the networks I’m a member of). The knock on effect of that appears to be a shorter attention span and greater promotion of my own opinion over a reasoned response. This is definitely not good.

    Aside from general internet oversharing the reason I made this comment is that I agree with what you’ve said; My initial – emotional – response to your Twitter post was ‘I’m not like that, Twitter hasn’t affected me in that way’ however, in the cold light of day I have snarked, I now cannot hold the string of an argument without getting opinionated as well and my ability to write has suffered.

    That’s not necessarily the fault of Twitter; but the very nature of the medium encourages brevity. Brevity can make you reactive and less prone to reasoned response. That combination can make you react in a way you would not in other circumstances.

    I seen it, I done it, I’m off to have a word with myself.

  5. Jane says:

    Hey Stu,

    Thoroughly agree. Twitter most definitely made me a poorer writer. Like I said in the Twitter post, I could think and write (really quite good) 140-character snippets of thought or text, and sometimes they were relatively clever, but then I read my piece on my athletic mentor, Arthur Lydiard, again. I wrote that when I was about 21 and in university. I realised that as a 25 year old, I’d struggle to put that sort of structured essay together again. That bothered me. I could, however, have handed you some passing banalities about Arthur and what he meant to sports history, and to me. But that was about it.

    I am adamant that prolific Twitter use reduced a writers’ ability to construct beautiful writing. Not intermittent Twitter use, but the 20+ tweet-a-day shit that too many people go in for :)

    Crazy that you majored in Philosophy. You really do know where I’m coming from!

  6. Stuart P Turner says:

    Sometimes I think I know too much… Or I know I think too much? One of those…

    I love your long writing, don’t let a flash in the pan get you down!

  7. Jane says:

    Haha, no chance. BTW, I grabbed the above-mentioned woman’s IP (from this post), and labelled her in my stats. She’s not been back to the site in a while (unless visiting from a mobile phone, or unless she has a roaming IP). Which is a shame, since I took out all the aggression I *don’t* take out in public by bashing others unnecessarily, by labeling her IP: “That stupid bitch Jenny Smith.”

    Hey, I’m allowed a few outbursts of childishness ;)

  8. Stuart P Turner says:

    Ha! I love a bit of private (well, now public) revenge ;)

    At least you’ve got her marked if she does come sneaking back – I don’t know why people can’t be more positive. It’s so draining being around people that complain all the time. Anyway…

    I’m adding ‘Read more of the writings of JC’ to my resolutions. So now I have one, and it’s a month late.