Writing Style: Readers Welcome Influence

Your writing style influences how your readers' inner ear hears your writing.

In the same way that nobody reads Emerson using Shakespeare's style, nobody reads your writing while imposing their own style.

Readers will embrace whatever style you write with because they're reading your writing. They're listening to how you're communicating the words. Nobody reads like an editor (except editors, and they already know they're reading like editors).

The very act of choosing to read puts your readers in a receptive mode that welcomes influence, whether they realize it or not. The placement of your commas and periods, the points at which sentences and paragraphs end, the words that you choose to use, all of it influences how your writing sounds inside the head of your reader.

They do not use your style--whether good, bad, or full of errors--to judge you as a writer. (Again, editors and people inclined to read like editors are the exception, but they're not the norm and they're most likely not your average reader.)

So embrace whatever style comes natural to you. Avoid letting your inner editor judge you before others even get the chance to read what you have to say. Don't let your style, or lack thereof, prevent you from writing. What you have to say is far more important than how you say it.

Not Judging is a Judgment

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I've long maintained the position that remaining open-minded and not judging others was the best route to take in life. I've avoided forming opinions out of fear that doing so would cut me off from seeing other perspectives and therefore prevent me from gaining a new understanding of something that was otherwise alien to me. But as I've gotten older I've found that a lack of opinions greatly limits my personal growth.

If someone asked me for my thoughts on a big topic--God, religion, politics, money, sexuality, ethics--my response was always watered down so that I didn't have to take a firm stance in any direction. I might say that I feel one way or another, but I would always end it by saying that I'm still exploring and that I choose to remain open-minded.

That's not to say that I don't have a strong sense of personal ethics and moral values. I've always felt a strong sense of right and wrong, but I've never explored the why of those feelings. So when I'm presented with a situation that requires using my sense of right and wrong to judge someone else's actions, I've always taken the stance of not judging at all. Instead of deciding that someone's actions are right or wrong, I choose to tell myself that I don't fully understand where that person is coming from and therefore I cannot rightly judge their actions.

However, I'm beginning to see that I do this not to protect the other person but to protect myself. I do it because I'm afraid of what others might conclude those judgements mean about me. I'm afraid of being defined, of being put in a box and labeled as 'person who believes X'.

But the older I get the more I realize this is not only wrong but dangerously influential to those who may be watching my example. Our life is a walking billboard and the examples that we set are the messages that are broadcasted to the world. Our ethics define who we are. Choosing not to take a stance on a particular subject is taking a stance in itself, a stance that says it's OK not take a stance, that it's OK to let things slip by simply because you've chosen not to decide.

All of these thoughts on judgement and ethics came about after reading the following bit from a post written by Shawn Coyne on Steven Pressfield's blog.

The other day I overhead this conversation:

Man #1: “I ran into Frank Smith (not his real name) at the beach yesterday…”

Man #2: “Isn’t that the guy who cheated on his wife, got a DWI, and said all of those nasty things about Jill’s daughter in law?”

Man #1: “…Well…yes…but I try not to judge.”

I run into this “I don’t judge” stuff a lot and it infuriates me on many levels. But as this is a blog about what it takes to create art, I’ll just address why this “moral position” is at best hypocritical and at worst a force as undermining and dark as Resistance.

If you want to create art, you need to make judgments about human behavior and take a side. How well you convey and support your point of view is a measure of your skill.


If you don’t call people on their shit, you’re placing yourself above them, as if their actions are so inconsequential to you that they need not be considered. You’re above it all, some kind of Ayn Randian ubermensch behaving only out of self-interest. The same goes for not giving a standing ovation for great work because others remain seated. If you admire a work, let the artist know. They can use all the attaboys they can get. It’s Hell in that studio.

Despite the initially convincing argument that to “not judge” is an expression of empathy—who knows, if I faced those same circumstances maybe I’d do something like that too? —It’s not. It’s an excuse for not standing up for what’s right.

Not saying something is uncaring. Not saying something means that you do not want to put your ass on the line and take the risk that you’ll be shunned for your opinion. It has everything to do with you. Nothing to do with the other person.

I’m aware that the world is not black and white. There are shades of gray between the two poles of every value. On the spectrum of “Truth and Deceit,” telling a white lie when your cousin asks if she looks good in her bathing suit is not the same as running a billion dollar Ponzi scheme. I get it.

And yes, most of the time, keeping our big mouths shut is the right thing to do. We’re all guilty of misdemeanors and don’t need Earnest Ernies pointing out our shortcomings. And when we do confront someone about their actions, we need to do it with tact and care. That’s empathy.

But this “non-judgment, I tow the middle line” attitude is dangerous. There is no middle line. Not judging is a judgment. And it pushes people away from each other—I best not make a mistake and judge anyone or no one will like me…best to keep quiet and be agreeable—instead of bringing them together—I thought I was the only one who thought Animal House was genius…

The man I overheard who doesn’t “judge” the adulterous, alcoholic driving, rumormonger sends a message to the world that destructive actions are excusable. It is what it is… There is no right and wrong. Nonsense.

But it is his passive aggressive dressing down of the other guy for “judging” someone guilty of antisocial behavior that is even worse. It masks his cowardice as virtue. And to not judge whether something is right or wrong is the furthest thing from a virtue.

You must choose a position in this world on innumerable moral questions and stand by your judgments. Woody Allen made this point in six lines of dialogue. Ken Kesey riffed on it for an entire novel. It’s important.

If you are an aspiring artist and you wish to avoid “judgments,” you’ll find that you have nothing to say.

So even if it means risking shutting yourself off to other possibilities, choosing a position on moral questions is important. It's important because the alternative--not choosing a position--means that you're setting an example even worse than choosing the wrong position.

By not choosing to make moral judgements you're setting an example that says it's OK to not stand for what you believe, that it's OK to not believe in anything. It's not OK. As human beings we grow and evolve through what we believe, not through what we don't believe.

Equally as important to being human is the formation of new opinions and ideas, that process of discovering, learning, and then accepting that previously held beliefs may have have been wrong. But if you don't take a stand in the first place, how can you prove yourself wrong?

The Superior Guest

If you were a guest in someone's home, would you criticize your host behind their back? If you were invited in and you accepted that invitation, would you be rude or judgmental or act superior?

Now let's say your host prepared a nice meal and then and gave you a nice comfortable room in which to sleep. 

Let's also say that you were aware ahead of time that money was tight for your host. You knew they incurred extra expenses hosting you, buying the ingredients for dinner and cleaning and preparing your room to make you comfortable.

Before going on your way, you gave them some money as reimbursement for their help. You included a bit extra as a way of saying thank you for their service, their kindness, and their willingness to host you.

Now how much different is what I just described from any restaurant or hotel you may visit? How is it different from any service-oriented business?

There are few things that irk me as much as observing guests in a restaurant, hotel, or any business for that matter, criticizing their hosts, talking behind their backs, and acting like they, despite being a guest, are somehow superior. 

Adding money to the equation does not make you superior. It does not give you the right to act rude or judgmental. Adding negative energy to the situation by acting superior only enhances the coarseness of all the interactions; it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you're invited and you accept, leave money out of the equation. If you don't like the service you're offered, leave. But if you do accept the invitation, remember that you're a guest. Show your respect. You may be surprised by how much a change in your attitude affects the service.

Worthy of Influence

To lead a life worthy of influence we must avoid the urge to 'fit in', even if doing so means risking judgement. We must be eager to set an example, unafraid to stand alone, and always ready to step into the darkness.

If others choose to judge us for leaving the herd instead of respecting our courage to try new things, let that be a sign they are holding more respect for the status quo than for our individual potential as a human being. We are worthy of more respect than the status quo.

Judgmental Influence

Those who commit an act of superiority cause others to feel judged. To avoid being judged and judging others, we must treat everybody as an equal; not as a superior or an apprentice, but as an equal. We must respect each other's individual existence and understand that our example -- not our authority, persuasion, popularity, or command but our example -- is the only influence we have over anyone.