Thursday, February 11, 2010

When Writers Become Experts

My post today is a bit rambling, so I hope you'll be more patient with me.
Yesterday the partner of a man I'm friends with showed up at my house to tell me that my friend is cheating on her and to ask for my advice. We've been very friendly over the years, though I'm not as close to her as I am with her partner. Which is why she came to see me: she wanted my advice on what to do under the circumstances. She also thought I would have influence on her partner. My gut response was to brush her off. But I didn't. We talked for a long time ( and some of it must have made sense because she told me she felt better afterwards). But I should point out that I fed her chocolate chip cookies and a soda, so maybe it was the choccie that elevated her mood?

Anyway, the reason I wanted to brush her off is that, firsly, I don't like getting involved in my friends' relationship issues, whether male or female. And when it comes to male friends, sometimes it gets messy when the relationship ends. Especially if he is being a jerk and the woman expects me to take her side because I'm a woman too. Unfortunately for me, I couldn't brush her off. You see, she's seven months pregnant with their first child, and as far as I knew, my friend was as proud as a rooster that they were expecting. And I guess I haven't been looking at them closely enough, because last I checked, he was very much in love. So my big question to the woman was, what happened? Where did all the love and caring and tenderness go? Because as far as I know, my friend is still the good man I know him to be, and what you're talking about doesn't sound like him.

Secondly, ( and I think the most important reason) I wanted to brush her off is that I'm not a counsellor. Sure, I write about love, sex and relationships for the OneLove campaign. But I have at least 15 books from the campaign partners to use as reference guides. I have access to their psychologists and panel of experts when readers ask sticky questions. And it made it easy that my offline friend would see me as someone who is knowledgeable about dealing with relationship issues in a real-practical way. I'm not being chicken here, but as a writer, I can express the thoughts, knowledge and wisdom others. I learn from it; can even sound halfway knowledgeable about it. But I still feel that, that does not necessaily make me an expert who'll have a primary impact in your life.

Let me put it this way: for over 3 years around 2000/2004, I wrote about the South African Income Tax Act and its provisions for the non-profit sector. I was communications manager for the Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa and the Non Profit Partnership, who were lobbying government to change the law, so I not only undertood the provisions and what they meant, I also had a clear idea of what provisions should be made/changed to have a better impact on the NGO sector. From that job, I went on to write about South Africa's Electronic Communications Act. And yes, I studied the Act itself, as approved by parliament, and the regulations that support it. I know how the Act and the regulations affect the local telecommunications industry: which provisions are rock solid, which ones miss the mark, which ones mean well but are not easily enforcable and the stuff that sounds great in legalese but actually creates a legal mess good lawyers can always loophole through.

Anyhoo, I think all this knowledge and insight does not make me a competent legal adviser for a telecommunications company. And the same princple applies to the sex, relationship issues I write about. Somehow, when it comes to tax and legal consultants we tend to show more discretion than when we want relationship advice. God help us, sometimes when it comes to love and sex, everyone is an expert! And it shouldn't be like that.

What do you think?


Trish Donmall said...

I'm sorry for your friend's partner, it's terrible that he could do that to her at this time, but then again it could also be the cause of the problem itself.

I think you're right, we are often very good at projecting an image that's not necessarily a true reflexion of who we are.

Damaria Senne said...

@Corinna - I think it's a good thing that we are able to project this image. When I write tech stuff, I'd say my job is very well done if I can chat to a researh developer about a new technology, take his concept and words ( which usually are expressed in an incomprehensible technical language) and explain all that to my target audience in simple English so that they not only understand what the tech is and what it can do, but how they can use it to make their own lives better. I guess I wanted, through my post, to caution that it is a "persona", as you call it. As writers, our craft and expertise lies in putting our words together in an artful manner, not necessaily the technical information that the words convey.

po said...

You know what I think? I think your friend's wife just really needed someone to hear her troubles. She will take her heart's advice in the end, but she needed you just to be there and validate her troubles.

I think there is no expert that can advise perfectly with love troubles, because of the differences in people.

Tamara said...

I agree with needing to create a persona. i view much of my work not a creative process, but as translation of someone's experise into a format that the target audience can digest, delieverd by a persona or voice they will listen to. If that makes sense.

And as Po says, I reckon this friend probably needed to get it off her chest more than to receive advice. I'm trying to learn to do more listening and less instructing. Sounds like you have it down well.

Damaria Senne said...

@tamara - Re translating someone expertise - that's exactly how I see it too.

I wish I did have the listening down well:-). But I tend to want to FIX IT rather than just listening and empathising. So Po's words very appropriate for me too.

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