What I Meant vs. What You Thought I Meant

by Ginger on September 13, 2012

in Random

One of the things that’s been the hardest the last two weeks is to watch people twist my words into something completely different, effectively missing my entire point.

Particularly when they use that twisted version to imply that I am against something I’m for, or that I’m for something I’m against.

No one likes to be misunderstood, particularly when it comes to things close to your heart. It’s been hard to watch people say ugly things about me, but it’s been HARDER to watch people align me to things I don’t want to be aligned with, don’t believe, or don’t endorse.

The urge to go on the posts and comments that are talking about me and defend myself and my beliefs has been really strong, but it’s an urge I’ve resisted, knowing that it doesn’t MATTER what I say. This is the internet. Or, as my husband likes to say, “Relax, it’s only the internet.” I’m never going to convince the people who have decided they know what I meant that they got it wrong. Because this is the internet, where no one is ever wrong.

I don’t think these people are trolls, I just think they read something I wrote and either misinterpreted it or couldn’t help but put their interpretation onto it. And that’s one of the challenges (to me) of writing, in general– can you convey YOUR meaning, or will the reader’s meaning overshadow yours? Clearly, the better writer you are, the more you can bring people to see what you meant your words to be, but even the best writers will have meanings they never wanted attributed to their work because people are people, and an individual’s experiences will color their view of just about everything.

And it’s hard to have your words misinterpreted. It’s hard to see people put words in your mouth, and ideologies in your head.

But you know we all do it. I know I’ve done it, and even though I’m not the kind of person to badmouth other people online, it doesn’t mean I haven’t put my own meaning–a meaning that twisted the intent of the original–onto other writers. Heck, let’s go back even beyond the web–I remember sitting in an English class in junior high arguing with my teacher over what the author of a book was trying to say, because based on MY experiences the book meant something totally different. (obviously, I was a terrible English major later.)

There are times to try and defend and explain your words, and there are times to let it go–and heaven knows I probably get that choice wrong a majority of the time. But the more interesting thing to me is working on using my words better in the future, so I leave less room for interpretation. Working on clarifying my ideas better. You know, basically, becoming a better writer.

April September 13, 2012 at 2:23 pm

I think this is something that we all struggle with, although I usually err to the generous side of an interpretation. “surely they didn’t mean THAT, right?”

I thought your post was against sweeping generalities and for degrading people for their beliefs. I didn’t read anything into your ACTUAL beliefs. People’s actual beliefs drive me crazy all the time, but I just ignore the poor shmucks 😉

nonsequiturchica September 13, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I get frustrated when I write a post and obviously don’t get my point across because of the comments I receive. I guess I need to work on my writing too (and here I was hoping it wasn’t me). 🙂 I would try not to worry too much about what people are saying on the interwebs.

Natalie the Singingfool September 13, 2012 at 3:26 pm

The writer’s dilemma. We’re still fighting over what Shakespeare meant, so I guess it never goes away. 🙁

Charleen September 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Oh yes, English teachers… even before you got to the comparison I was thinking of something I saw going around FB a while back.

The book says: “The curtains were blue.”
What your teacher thinks: “The curtains represent his depression and lack of will to carry on.”
What the author meant: “The curtains were f****ng blue.”

But yeah. There’s a reason I don’t typically read comments on articles.

Alyssa S. September 14, 2012 at 10:14 am

I learned this in my college creative writing classes. No matter what I thought I meant, people brought their own mental baggage to the story and I’d hear comments about what my story was “about” and get puzzled because I’d know it wasn’t what I meant. People will read into things what they want. I honestly think no matter how good you are, you can’t control the interpretation. Ever. I say just keep on keepin on!

Kim September 14, 2012 at 12:34 pm

I didn’t infer anything from your post aside from the frustration WE’RE ALL FEELING with political stuff online lately. I re-posted the crap out of your post because, as usual, you wrote what was also in my mind, but so much more artfully than I could have. If I am one of the offenders, please let me know & I will immediately cease & desist. Keep at it, friend! At least you’ve got them talking!

Ashley Austrew September 14, 2012 at 1:39 pm

I think that is the hardest part of sharing our writing. So many times I’ll get comments or emails and think, “Man, you totally missed the point.” I always want to chalk it up to the person not *getting* it, but then I can’t help but wonder if maybe I could have found a better way to say it. I found your blog because of that post, and I’m glad I did because I’ve been going back and reading older posts, and they’re fantastic. Whether people got it or not, you started a conversation. A big one! And that is awesome.

Hope September 19, 2012 at 10:46 am

I think you’re already a pretty great writer!

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