You Can’t Please All The People…

Last Monday (a week ago today, in fact), I gave a talk to a ‘Ladies Luncheon Club’. (Yes, such things do still exist – even in the Midlands!)

It was their Christmas ‘do’, so I wasn’t too worried. I assumed that the ladies in question would be knocking back a fair bit of sherry and wine (and brandy on the Christmas pud), so that, by the time I stood up to speak, after the lunch and the raffle, they’d all be quite merry and would laugh loudly at all the funny bits and/or sleep through it all.


They were actually rather a genteel bunch. About thirty five ladies were gathered and I only spotted one bottle of wine on the tables! Yes. One. In total. They were all on the orange juice – and driving!

So, by the time I raised myself up to speak (tricky because of the amount of turkey I’d just eaten. It was a delicious Christmas dinner and even my nerves couldn’t stop me wolfing down the lot), they were all perky and fresh-eyed and ready to listen to their speaker. Me.


I talked about my former role as Warwick Poet Laureate and some of the disasters along the way and in between the chat, I read about six or seven of my poems. For a while it was hard to tell if they were listening carefully or if they weren’t that interested (someone told me once that when people are listening intently their faces often register the same look as if they’re completely bored!).

But after a few minutes, I could see that some of the ladies were enjoying it. They were laughing and they made a few ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ in the right places. Some of them even came up to me at the end and told me they’d liked it.

The bit they all liked best was a limerick I’d written especially for the occasion, which involved George Clooney as a raffle prize.

But others were clearly a bit disinterested. They yawned, gazed around and when I addressed the audience directly, they looked at me like I’d just spoken Serbo-Croat.

My heart constricted and I could only think about those two or three who didn’t seem to be enjoying it. I felt horrible. It’s not often we get such a direct and immediate response to our writing, is it?

But then I remembered something that the wise novelist Martin Davies told us in a recent workshop: you will never write something that everybody likes.

Think about it. I bet you’ve got a favourite book that other people think is rubbish – and vice versa. There’s a certain best-selling female novelist that I won’t name here (it’s Christmas, after all!) who I can’t stand (I’ve never got further than about three chapters into her books) but who sells novels to men and women by the million and who’s won awards and is generally raved about. She does nothing for me but lots of other people like her. And that’s fine.

As writers, we’ve got to stop worrying about what other people think.

We met up with some friends over the weekend and they asked how my writing was going. As soon as I mentioned the words ‘short story’, their eyes glazed over. I know they don’t think that’s ‘proper writing’. They’ll only be interested if I ever have a novel published. They don’t think much of short stories. And d’you know what? I don’t care. I’m not writing for them. I’m writing for myself, for the editor of the magazines I’m aiming at and for the people who do like short stories.

So write what you love. If you love it, the chances are that someone else will too. And take the pressure off yourself by remembering, you can’t please all the people, all of the time.

So you might as well just please yourself.

This entry was posted in Men, Poetry, Short Stories, West Midlands and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to You Can’t Please All The People…

  1. Well done on the speaking Helen, it can be daunting. Once, years ago I had to talk to a ladies group in Wales on flower arranging. I had a gap where I was going to say, ‘would anyone like a go?’ I allowed for them all rushing foreward and filling in twenty minutes of getting involved. In fact, they all avoided eye contact with me, even looking up at the ceiling. People are unpredictable, so glad some of them loved you, can’t please them all as you say.

    • Ooh Susan, I sympathise! Hope the ‘gap’ wasn’t too long and embarrassing and that you managed to fill it with something else! I suppose the lesson is… always have a ‘plan B’!



  2. Prue says:

    I dislike speaking so usually avoid it, and I admire anyone who is willing to do it. So good for you!
    You’re right, if I write what I love then I get something out of it. In a sense, it then doesn’t matter if no one else likes it. If they do, it’s a bonus.
    If someone is yawning and looking disinterested, they’ve probably had a sleepless night…or work outside so when inside have a tendency to fall asleep in the warmth…or they ate too much when usually they have a small lunch…or, well it could be anything including they find your talk boring. But hey! what’s wrong with them that they are bored by your talk? You gave ’em a limerick and mentioned George Clooney. Now that I would like to hear! 🙂

  3. Maggie May says:

    I agree with Prue that you should write what you enjoy writing and therefore get more out of it. The problem is if you want to get published, then you have to follow the magazine rules. I sometimes feel I’m going round in circles. Well done for standing up in front of those ‘ladies who lunch’. Brave lady.

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