Last week I emailed a book proposal I've been working on to Louise, hoping to get her thoughts on the content and the format. Louise has always been my most trusted editor, even if she's reading about sports, a subject that's so foreign to her, the only thing she really knows is that the word itself is spelled with six letters. But she knows writing. She knows what works, and, more importantly, what doesn't.
But she can be a brutal editor. Straight-forward, occasionally tactless, always honest - even when I simply want her to lie to me.
And even from Cape Town, her edits and thoughts have the ability to eviscerate my confidence. She offered a few suggestions and she delivered them in a cheery voice with a great accent. Still they cut. Like always when she offers critiques, I felt like crawling into a ball on the couch while cursing everything about writing. Why do I do this? Why did my old English teacher ever encourage me? Why does my mom always say she loves my writing? Can I still go to law school, and, if so, would Louise be this harsh when reading my closing arguments? Eventually I calm down and regain my poise, if not my confidence. I consider Louise's suggestions and realize they're perfect edits and that she's only helping me. She's not trying to break me down. In fact, this is why I go to her for advice, because she is so spot on with her thoughts and words.
But a guy could use a confidence boost. So I turn to the spam comments on my blog. This isn't the traditional spam, the ones everyone's so familiar with. There are no pleas from Nigerian princes or housewives for money and no products offering up unique - and cheap - ways to enlarge male genitalia. No, these messages are more subtle, kinder. They soothe and encourage. They flatter and praise. And they can make anyone believe they've written something worthwhile.
The comments appear on my blog and occasionally break through the spam detector and get published. But most get caught. Maybe I should let them all slide through.
"I am really glad I came across this blog. Added shawnfury.blogspot.com to my bookmark!"
So kind, especially the exclamation point.
After a blog post about New York, some anonymous computer or bored Russian said, "What a nice post. I really enjoy reading these types of articles. I can't wait to see what others have to say."
Sure, perhaps Louise thinks one of my chapter ideas needs to be fleshed out a bit, but why should that make me question my projects when someone writes - in response to a blog about newspaper comments - "Fine article! Could you follow up on this great matter!" I could, and did, and why wouldn't I when a spammer is so eager to see more of my work?
In a post centered on high school basketball records, a spammer said, simply yet eloquently, "Beautiful post, great ))" I don't know if the double parenthesis were supposed to be smiley faces or what, but the sentiment is still appreciated.
Occasionally the comments do have concerns, they're not always encouraging. But they're still not as harsh as Louise's edits:
"Hey, great post. Though I'm not sure I agree with you 100% Keep em coming. Are you interested in having anyone guest post opposing views?"
Another added, "Nice post, kind of drawn out though. Really good subject matter though." Kind of drawn out? I realize I sometimes write long, but do the robots have to point it out? Or, if written in the form of spam, do the robots have to point it out, though.
Even those from other countries appreciate my posts. "British isn't my main language yet I could comprehend this when using the google translator. Terrific publish, have them coming. Say thanks!"
A spam that demands good manners. So, thanks. British isn't my first language, either, and, really, that comment is more a compliment for the engineers at Google. Still, it's a nice thought, something any writer would enjoy.
In the end, of course, Louise's critiques are much more valuable than the ones offered up by some computer located thousands of miles away. And she's actually mostly encouraging. She's my most enthusiastic fan, in addition to being a brilliant editor.
The spams are a mirage, offering up praise without, I'm guessing, really reading all of the material. Does the spam really agree with me about the absurdity of the comments on newspaper websites? Was it really a brilliant post? I wonder.
Besides, I sort of suspect those comments aren't really spam at all. I think mom left them.