Words Can Cut Like Knives

As writers, we carefully craft our sentences to use the perfect word to say what is it that we want to say, creating the exact image in a reader’s mind. There are times when writers have been known to spend days to find those perfect words. Yet, there is one aspect of our writing lives where many writers don’t take the same care with words as they do their stories.

I’m talking about the posts that writers put on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. The rush to get the post out there can sometimes land us in situations where the words cut like knifes.

I recently encountered a Facebook post in one of my discussion groups that fell into this category. The post as a whole was meant to be inspirational, encouraging writers to never give up pursuing their goals. It’s a great message, one that we all should to take heed off. Unfortunately, one word included in that post shifted the entire tone of the message to something that many took as negative and demeaning. The comments that resulted became a barrage of attacks that focused on the one word and not the overall message. The writer of the post, whom I have personal contact with, broke down. She didn’t realize how one word could cause such a negative experience.

Time to put on the psychology hat for a moment.

No matter how positive a message really is, people focus on the negative.

It’s human nature to look at the world through negative eyes. We commonly shy away from praise, and we’re so quick to go for the jugular when someone does something that we don’t like. Add into this volatile mix the power that words really have, and the writers are the first to be lynched.

Writers on social media need to take extra care when constructing messages, especially ones that are meant to be motivational.

The issue really stems to the fact that humor doesn’t translate to the written word, not when it’s out of context. Within a book, writers can take the time to build the setting, to show the character’s wit and sarcasm. Those carefully chosen words build the picture in the reader’s mind. Hence, when the humor occurs in those written passages, the reader is laughing, because they can visualize the entire scenario.

On social media, we’re writing as a hybrid character that is built from components of ourselves. In person, a writer might be the most gentle, loving, and hilarious person; however, online, the words chosen could give the impression that you’re an insensitive, sadistic monster. It’s not a simple matter to crafting messages with correct grammar and punctuation. Sometimes it’s a single word that can change the entire tone of a sentence.

Tone and intent do not always translate to the written word.

Take the following example:

No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.

If you were to read that line, you can take it so many different ways. The context is removed; there is no sense of exactly what the writer had intending. Depending on the circumstances behind which a statement like the one above was posted, it could be interpreted as cruel. However, when Abraham Lincoln spoke those famous words, he was talking about how one needs to have trust from those around him to be successful.

Let’s consider another example where a single word can change the entire meaning of a sentence:

It was hard for Eric to accept the punishment for his deeds.

Compare with:

It was hard for Eric to accept the just punishment for his deeds.

It’s only one word, but that one word changes the tone of the writing.

Writers are skilled at this level of wordplay. We train and spend painstaking hours to finely hone that ability. It’s time to put those skills into use on social media too.

Reread every post/tweet before you hit the send button.

Today’s society is in a rush. Every thought is tapped out onto a smartphone and posted directly onto Facebook and Twitter, or whatever social media platform you happen to be on. The send button is selected before we know it. However, there are many different reasons why sending a post without rereading it could be a disaster of an idea.

On my personal blog, I had written an article about how auto-correct can get the better of you, where I spoke of my own throw-the-phone-across-the-room moments when the auto-correct beast refused to let me post what I wanted to post. However, as mentioned above, there are instances where simple words can change the entire perception behind a post. Before hitting send, take an extra 10 seconds to reread through your post/tweet to ensure that you haven’t said something that you would come to regret. In my mind, it’s 10 seconds well spent.

I’m not suggesting that you need to spend the full day to work on that carefully constructed tweet of 140 characters, unless, of course, you want to spend a full day on that tweet. If you’re constructing a Twitter pitch for your latest book, I can see the desire to spend not one day constructing that tweet, but multiple day. However, always look at your posts and tweets with the brush of another’s eyes.

Will that post come across as funny as you had intended? Or will it be insulting? Then ask yourself if you care either way. I’m dead serious about this one folks. It’s social media. You’re going to ruffle feathers along the way. Not everyone thinks the way you do. Just like your stories won’t appeal to everyone, neither will your social media posts.

I have posted comments on social media that rubbed people up the wrong way myself, but they were meant to. They were designed to get people thinking, and I got the responses that I had expected, including a few attacks, which I was able to ignore, simply because when I posted those messages, I didn’t care if I was attacked for them. I knew enough people out there would see things from my perspective that it was worth the risk.

As I’ve said before, don’t aim for perfection — aim for something that you can be proud of. This goes for everything in life, folks, including your social media.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2017

Posted in General Advice, Hidden Traps, Social Media, Writer Platform and tagged , , , .

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