1 thing writers shouldn’t forget.

You’ve got a lot of writing to do, so I’ll keep this short.

You don’t get to control what people read, you get to control what you write. And those things are very different.

You might feel like you’ve explained a blog post or book chapter perfectly. You might go to bed feeling good about the day’s work. In the morning you awaken and someone completely misread what you thought you had written.

Why does this happen?

Often because people don’t read what you write with their eyes, they read what you write with their filter. They bring to your words every good experience, every bad experience, every prejudice, every fear and every hope they’ve ever had. Suddenly your words don’t mean what you thought your words meant.

Case in point, I once tweeted something about “guys and girls.” A few women told me that “girl” was a horrible word to use. They told me “lady” was bad as well. That’s OK though, because they get their own opinion and own filter. At the Acuff house, “girl” is a word that does not carry insult. We like things like the song “Brown Eyed Girl,” and Jenny is AOK with me tweeting something like, “I’m so glad I got to marry this girl!”

And in this particular case, the phrase is “guys and girls,” not “Guys and Women.” But again, all of that doesn’t matter a whole lot because the reader gets to determine their own filter. Did I mean to insult people when I used that expression? Of course not. Did some people read it that way? Of course.

I do the same thing sometimes too. About six weeks ago, someone on Twitter asked me, “What exactly is your career?” At the time I was going through a really difficult career transition and I completely misread her very innocent question. (I think it was the word “exactly” that made me frustrated.) I could not have taken it more the wrong way. I ended up being really sarcastic and quite frankly, a jerk. I no longer have the direct message or I would have apologized. I messed that interaction up because I read it with my filter.

As you write, expect people to have filters too.


Because you don’t get to control what people read, you get to control what you write.

About Author

Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff


  1. How dare you say I read this through a filter!!!

    • Neil

      I am *outraged* that your reply, read through /my/ filter, makes it appear that you are outraged at the lack of quinoa in this post by Jon. Outraged, I say!

  2. Good reminder. I’ve had a few guys comment about my blog posts like that. I’m in already touchy territory, and I’m sure using the phrase “terrible husband” doesn’t help… But my posts are written about me. Not to call others terrible. A few folks didn’t see it that way.

    • When people misread your blog, they are probably commenting from a guilty filter! Your blog is clearly your own learning experience shared with others. With the exception of the guest posts of course. 🙂

      • One person in particular was DEFINITELY coming from a guilty filter, clearly hurting. It was tough hearing but also gave a good opportunity to know he might come back and I could be a small part of his healing.

        It was a great learning experience for me, too.

  3. So far I have had not one negative comment or misunderstanding on my blog. I probably just jinxed myself….

  4. I am so glad you posted this, if only because it’s incredibly validating! When I first started blogging, I wrote a post about being thankful because things could always get worse. I compared several “common” problems people have at work to those who are going through legitimate trials (death of a loved one, cancer, etc.) One of my favorite people in the world pointed out several sentences and for each one had a rebuttal (we worked at the same place and she felt I was criticizing when I was actually just being general.) Oh boy, was I devastated. It was probably my 5th post ever, I had received a ton of positive feedback, but that one negative answer had me in tears (it didn’t help that it was family and we were close.) Looking back I can see that she was reading what I had written through her own unique filter of personal experience. Thanks, Jon!

  5. In writing anything, I type it and then re read it and try to see the possible ways it could be taken. I have often rewritten and just flat out deleted things before. Ultimately, you won’t please everyone because, well, no matter what you do, some people just don’t like you.

    I found that out when I was writing a weekly article for our local sports paper. I was critisized for foolish things and it was obviously something personal against me (I used to coach high school basketball in Indiana, that tends to make enemies for dumb reasons). The online comments were anonymous and I always answered them as I do here, by posting my name. Usually stopped the give and take.

  6. It’s hard for me not to be snarky in my responses to questions sometimes especially when people do not think I can make any money with photography, so this is good advice. Photographers write too!

    • Who thinks photographers don’t make money? People who live in a cave?

      I know a lot of photographers. None of them go hungry. Most of them make more than $100k a year…90% of which is profit. A couple have large staffs and $1M businesses.

      I’m not good at math but I can figure out that $500 a shoot X 300 shoots a year = $150k.

      Not everyone can charge that much at first or have that many shoots, but it’s entirely possible…and being done.

  7. I don’t think Brown Eyed Girl would have been such a big hit had Van Morrison changed it to “woman” Really has nothing do with your post. Just glad he took control of what he wrote and stuck with girl!

  8. This is a great reminder, and it is also helpful when reading not only the content of a blog, but the comments. We are, then, reading through our own filter what someone–through their filter–is adding to the conversation. It’s best to take at least two grains of salt with those comments!

  9. A good reminder for today, thank you! I have been hesitating on publishing some more difficult material because I have been frozen by the fear of the possible backlash, and this is a timely reminder that I can easily say as comfortable and safe as I want, and still have people get angry or upset. Thanks!

  10. This is wise. It chips away at the desire to “control” – as in, it’s impossible to make people think EXACTLY what you want them to think through your writing, but I suppose that’s the beauty (and insecurity) of the arts: interpretation.

  11. Brady


    All i got was something about Jon not liking like girls?

  12. So needed this reminder. Thanks!

  13. I recently triggered a storm of upset comments when I wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog post about how I solved my husband’s problems. The phrases “he blamed me” and “spice cabinet” caused some commenters to denounce my marriage as dysfunctional and my husband as controlling. I later learned that there’s a movie I’ve never seen with a husband who demands that his wife keep the spices alphabetized…evidently my commenters had either seen the movie or lived with abusive men, and my post triggered them.

    Since then, I’ve had several friends read through blog posts to flag “trigger” words that could be taken multiple ways. I’m not going to be hyper-vigilant, but if a little extra effort before hitting “Publish” can keep me from accidentally offending, it’s worth it.

  14. The only negative responses I have had to my blog (so far) have been from one “friend” who is usually on the internet while heavily intoxicated and from one who hurled personal insults (under an anonymous name of course). I put one in their place (I know them, remember), and the other I deleted. If a person doesn’t have the guts to post his real name, he doesn’t get the right to post snarky comments.

  15. Brian

    This is so true. I have always talked about how someones perspective can change how they read something and interpret the information. Never thought of it as a filter, but that is so true. That’s why I don’t like responding in email format with people. Depending on how, (their mood, time of day, etc..) it can change anything into a complete mess.

  16. Bottom line, ‘haters gonna hate’, but my issue as a blogger is finding a balance in how apologetic to be when my words are genuinely misunderstood. ESPECIALLY when it comes to, you know, Jesus. (It probably doesn’t help that my blog attracts more Twilight fans than Christians…sigh.)

  17. I can hardly wait until I get a mean reply!
    That means I’ve touched a nerve with a painbody out there!

    I dare you…


  18. Kelley P, aka [email protected]_Woofy

    One “trigger” for me is “quotation” marks. When I “read” quotation marks, I “hear” sarcasm. Like in a David Spade-y “voice”, with hands in “the” air, making “quote” “signs”. There is a particular person in my life who uses “” in every single email I receive from that person. I have not had the guts to tell this person that it comes across as “snarky”. Partly because this person is kind of old and maybe doesn’t get it. And mostly because this person is my mom. How do you tell your mom stuff like this? (I may have created inspiration for another book chapter: Things your Mom does that are completely annoying but you are afraid to tell her even though you’re 48-years-old.). “Thanks alot”, “Jon”.

  19. vic

    I shut off my filter and read this again. I was then totally offended the second time..Thanks Jon!!!

  20. Lolly

    You may refer to me as a “girl” anytime! No offense will be taken.

  21. Candace

    So what exactly IS your career?

  22. This is one of the problems with blogs versus more traditional avenues of writing. As the blogger, you are producer, writer, editor, proof reader and publisher. I am in the process of setting up a blog of my own about creative problem solving and I am hoping to gather a close-knit group of peer reviewers that can act as “pre-filters.” I am confident in what I will be saying, but any minor tweaks I can put in place before I publish will improve the chances of reaching one or two more folks with the intent of my message. Since that is the goal, I hope my intended process bears fruit.

  23. emily

    I had a outside of my company stranger say this to me today, “I told you I was from Texas right…so my cussing won’t offend you.” confused, I said what. ok. the person replied, ” you have no sense of humor.” because I didn’t reply to her comment. She didn’t get her way and she treated me like a doormat. pretty much ruined my work day.

  24. Reminds me of a quote I once read (I’ve searched google the last 10 minutes for it and can’t find it) but basically says something like…

    I know what I’ve told you but I don’t know what you heard.

  25. This concept is never more evident than when a husband and wife are having a conversation. I know what I said, but I’m not sure what he heard or he wouldn’t be looking at me like that!

    Thanks for the reminder, Jon.

  26. Very interesting comments and perspectives, and lot of tongue-in-cheek posts!:-) I don’t blog because I usually don’t have that much to say. Thanks for the comments from those who do blog. Keep up the good work! It is always refreshing that folks can disagree without questioning the writer’s right to exist!

  27. Amen! People are ridiculous. The internet only exacerbates the problem. Besides the filter thing, people forget that not everything they read is targeted at them. Just because they see something in their Facebook timeline doesn’t mean they were the intended audience. Consider who is writing, what is written, and who it’s written for.

  28. Michele Gawenka

    I find the word “girl” offensive (or at least politically incorrect) when one is talking about adults. It’s like calling a black man “boy.” Guys and gals. Boys and girls. Men and women. Gentlemen and ladies. Mix them up and someone will be offended. So if you care, don’t. If you don’t, do.

  29. Hannah

    Well said and a good reminder! One only has to read any the comments on any article on Yahoo EVER to know that people will misconstrue anything into an offensive debate. Seriously, Yahoo comments make me see how messed up people’s listening abilities really are.

  30. The thing about filters is…we shouldn’t necessarily think of them in exclusively negative (or positive) terms. The same set of experiences that cause folks to bristle at the use of inappropriate terms or descriptions is the same set of experiences that allows the writer to connect with his or her readers.
    Obviously, some people are just too darn sensitive, while others refuse to clean up their invective as some sort of claim to ‘realness,’ ‘authenticity,’ or as a slam against ‘political correctness.’
    Truth is, if we want to connect with our readers, and with people in general, we better be comfortable taking the good with the bad. We’d better be ready to deal with ‘filters’ of all shapes and sizes, including our own.

  31. This is a very good point. I do this all the time. Sometimes I will write several words for one word just so my general target audience all get what I mean. For example I might say, “I love rap (hip-hop, poetry, lyricism) a lot!” Some take offense to calling it rap. The poets hate the term hip-hop. The lyricists hate being called poets. So yea, I find myself doing this in a lot of my post like I’m writing my post as if I am the author of the Amplified Bible. lol!

  32. Right on Jon! So… write on! 🙂