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Monday, November 17, 2008

Regret Writing

I wrote an angry email to my oldest son late last night that broke my 12-hour rule. I was mostly right (I think) in what I said, but totally wrong in how I said it.

My 12-hour rule says, after you write passionately about something, hit the Save and then Shut Down buttons on your computer not the Send button. After a good night’s rest, read what you wrote – grimace and groan -- and you will know how the recipient would have understood it had you sent it. Then, either Edit and Send, or Delete.

For the untested wordsmith, writing that stirs your own passion feels so powerful, poetic, and personal. At 1:00 a.m., it’s amazing how good your writing skills seem to be and how good your soul feels! That’s great. Now, put what you wrote into your personal journal, and when you read it several years from now you will appreciate the raw honesty of your words and perhaps understand the tumult in your life at that time that caused it.


What you don’t want to do is to write like that for a group you are trying to persuade on some issue or to a person, say your boss, whose misinterpretation – or correct interpretation – could produce deleterious results.

Why are such wonderful sounding words so wrong? Because your late-night tome probably has:

  • Too many words. You overwrite because the governor switch for carefully crafted, creative writing doesn’t work after 10:00 p.m.
  • Too many adjectives and adverbs. It would would have been better if, instead of typing, you had read some Toni Morrison or Elmore Leonard to purge yourself of embellished writing.
  • Too much of you. You’re alone, tired, perhaps a bit sad and/or angry; it’s dark, the cheeriness of morning is many hours away; and the only person there is you; so, it’s all about you.
  • Too few facts. Your claims are unsupported by anything but "piss and vinegar."
  • Too thin on precision. You’re too worked up to pull down your thesaurus for the exact words.

Sorry for being harsh, but hardly anyone besides yourself cares much about your unbridled, enthusiastic writing. Selfish as it sounds, they want to know what you have to say that benefits them.

Possible solutions:

  • Wake up your spouse or roommate and ask him or her to read what you wrote. If it doesn’t make sense to a half-awake person who has little interest then it probably won’t work with a half-asleep person the next day who has little interest.
  • Consider Mail Goggles, which Ars Technica's Jacqui Cheng calls a "breathalyzer test for your Gmail." Goggles, which is active only late night and weekends (when you need it), runs you through a mental sobriety test to make sure you’re thinking clearly before you send off that feisty email.
  • Wait 12 hours.

So, son, sorry for my edginess. I’ll edit what I wrote and tell you in more literate and convincing language why I’m still right and you’re wrong. LOL: lots of laughs, lots of love.

5 comments:

racefored said...

Wasn't it Abraham Lincoln who had a desk drawer full of angry letters written to critics and political enemies, which he never sent? Perhaps they were all written late at night!? A good lesson for us all.

Greg Silsby said...

Is it too late to plead that everything I've ever written I wrote at 1 a.m.?

Alicia said...

This is VERY good advice. Also advice many bloggers (myself included) should listen to.

Serge said...

A good and inspiring piece of advice. Thanks. As far as creative writing goes, of course long breaks between writing and reading what one wrote are for the better. And it doesn't matter when the first draft was written - I agree that most prolific moments are somehow those when the stars and moon confide them to the writer. It is the anger/excitement/feeling of justice on the spur of the moment that could make one hit the send button. And then, as I have felt many a time, one realizes that it was an oversized emotion which has distorted the correct picture of the world and the righteous impulse was big only compared to the cage of the moment, not the ...ahem... eternity, for that matter : ) I probably should re-read this comment tomorrow, but that would take away the beauty of the raw stream of consciousness.

Kathi Browne said...

Well said. Now I feel like hiding my head in the sand for all those times I hit the send button before better judgement stopped me. My husband was right after all... just don't tell him so.