Friday, January 9, 2009

Write Responsibly

This is the first blog post I wrote, way back in Nov. ’05. (I wrote two posts the first day, even leaving myself a comment to test it out.) Since I didn’t install sitemeter, I had no idea if anyone was reading it and it seemed like it was just me, tilting at windwills with only an occasional reader, likely similar to the guy flipping through the channels at midnight, I thought. .

One day, however, this guy left me a comment, demanding that I correct something I’d written. I’d heard of him and was a little surprised that he cared what I’d written between court hearings in a windowless room at the Public Defenders Office. So it was brought home to me that you never know who was reading, even if it still seemed like he just stumbled on my blog and would likely never be back.

Lately, however, I’ve learned how important it is to choose your words carefully, even if you attract about 15 readers a week. I once heard Angelina Jolie describe the way she approached playing the role of Danny Pearl’s widow, saying that she believed, to play it effectively, she had to assume that Pearl’s children would one day be watching the movie, viewing her role as if it were the way their mother acted at the time, before they were old enough to remember it. She took her “play” role very seriously, in other words.

What does that have to do with writing a blog? I thought it had nothing to do with it, but have learned otherwise lately. I attract less viewers per day on average than Angelina has kids, but sometimes it’s the quality of the reader that matters rather than the quantity. A better way of putting that is that you never know who will read your blog, so write for the reader that you have the most responsibility towards, and don’t assume that someone whose opinion truly matters won’t end up reading your words.

I’ll show you what I mean: When Don Fiedler, one of my heroes, passed away, I wrote about it here. Later, when I met his son, he told me he found my blog and enjoyed it. When he told me that, I wished I would have written with him in mind, considering the possibility that a son, in a lot of pain, would use google to find his dad’s blog and stumble across mine in the process. Later, I received a postcard from a friend of Don’s in Arizona, telling me he’d found my blog entries, thanking me for writing them. If I would have considered this type of reader, I would have written more carefully, in case I said the wrong thing in a rush.

Then a couple months ago, I wrote about another tragic death and received a comment I didn’t expect, that made me wish I'd written more carefully:

I am the mother of one of the 5 children Destiyon, he left behind from someone being careless and not knowing what they are doing to peoples lives. My son will be 2 on December 04 and will never grow up knowing what a great man his father was. He was the kind of man who knew how to make you smile even at your most angriest moments. He always told me Laura you're so much smarter than most of these woman our here. Thats when I decided to go to college and finish my degree. I will never forget you and everything I have of yours I will give to my son when he's much older including the diamond ring and necklace. Love you from the bottom of my soul.

Once again, I wished I would have considered this type of reader before I posted or at least edited more carefully. Angelina Jolie’s observations hit me once again.

But today this rule was really brought home. I may have had it in mind in fact, when I wrote a post talking about the tragedy of a suicide, “carefully” I thought, using a fake first name, no last name and no links. Even then, a family friend thanked me for the post today, leaving me wondering how they even found it. I even learned, for the first time, that the name I chose at random, “Dan,” wasn’t really random. I hope I chose my words carefully enough, that they were appropriate for a family in pain and likely searching for something to ease that pain on the internet. There’s a line from a Yeats poem that I often think of at sentencing, when a judge or a prosecutor is rushing through a decision that will effect a person’s life for decades: “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” They’re not my dreams, they’re my client’s, but they are dreams and they shouldn’t be rushed.

The same goes for writing blog posts about death: “Write carefully because you write about a person’s life, and your words might soon be found by his family.”

No comments: