Let’s Get Meta

toneI’m gonna’ write about writing. In doing so I’ll briefly be writing about writing about writing. And when I am done I will have written about writing about writing. Yes, I did that just to amuse myself with the knowledge that you will have read those sentences. I’m both that kind of dork and that kind of jerk.

I’ve got just this side of zero formal education in how to string words together. I learned to write by reading. Being a colossal geek who spent a significant amount of time (all of my free time) on the internet. I honed my skills by writing there; conversing with friends and strangers using instant messaging programs, in chat rooms, on message boards, and on Usenet. It’s astonishing what immediate unflinching criticism from anonymous and antisocial individuals can do when you’re the sort who takes it to heart. Particularly if you’re also extremely curious and go poking around corners of the internet best left unexplored and take advantage of that same anonymity to ask questions usually better left unasked.

The lessons those years in front of a screen taught me were multitude. The most valuable of them related to framing an argument for a particular audience. It taught me that semantics are important and how easily a very slight change to the words you use can trigger or defuse an argument without changing your meaning. And the way people react to particular arguments can (and boy will they) vary, often drastically. My recent post on white privilege was written with the sort of person who believes racial and/or gender inequality aren’t A Thing in mind. You know. People who are wrong.

What I found absolutely fascinating were the reactions from people who lean socially left as opposed to those on the right. Thanks to social media I was able to follow some of the conversations that went on when people reposted the piece. I could play voyeur and “listen in”. Liberals had a tendency to be dismissive, believing the semantics weren’t important. A few conservatives said things like, “I get the point, but the tone is too apologetic”. Most of those talking about it were middle-aged white males. Overall, I was OK with this; my argument seems to have made some people who have ignored minorities’ complaints actually consider the idea. And that was my goal. Seeing that made me damned proud of myself. I care far less about what people who already accept the point I was trying to make as fact think about it. Except for how it effects my ego, which can be quite a bit. They’re jerks.

I’ve gone off on a tangent, though.

My point is that there are a million different ways to say something. The way that works for me won’t necessarily work for you. The words you use will be processed differently by readers based on their own experiences. Reactions will also vary based on your audience’s impression of who you are. When I write something persuasive I try to keep in mind the sort of person I’m addressing. I make my best attempt at empathy and step into their shoes. When I’m writing something general, or for myself, my tone is different. I usually use less confrontational language and humor.

The voice(s) I write in varies. Not like the ones in my head. Those are all pretty consistent. They just want whiskey. And murder. Haha! I kid. About the murder. Not the whiskey.

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