Are you a people pleaser?

Let’s say someone asks you out for coffee, but you don’t really feel like going.  Do you go anyway, just because you don’t want to say no and upset the person?

Or maybe a friend has done something that hurt your feelings. When he or she asks you if everything is okay, do you acknowledge the emotion inside or do you instead play it off as though nothing happened?

I tend toward “people pleasing” behavior in my own life. There’s one example that stands out most in my mind, even though it happened many years ago. I sat at a table in Taco Bell, across from someone. We had been discussing religion, a topic on which we held differing views. He happened to notice that I was fiddling with a religious medal I wore on a chain around my neck. “Can you put that away?” he asked me. Shamed and desiring above all else to smooth any disagreement between us (and thus to please him), I immediately tucked the medal underneath my sweater, where no one could see it, though my awareness of hiding my faith seemed to burn me from inside.

I’ve tried to remedy these desires to please other people at all costs. Yet, as a writer, I have an inherent desire to “people please.” I want to create a story that will bring our readers enjoyment and make them happy. That’s kind of the task of any author: you are writing for your audience.

Yet, the other day, I shared some writing with another person and, instead of receiving praise, I was met with disapproval. The reader didn’t agree with some of the main character’s decisions and the direction the plot veered in.

I won’t lie to you: it really shook my confidence. I began to second guess my writing. Should I change the plot? Tweak the character’s motivations? In other words, do I change my writing to please this person (and any other readers who may agree with her)?

But here’s the catch. This particular (somewhat controversial) plot development was really critical. It needed to happen to teach our character a lesson, to help her grow. It would bring out the theme we were trying to relate. And it was true to the character—even if this particular reader didn’t agree with it.

I could water it down or make it less dramatic. Doing so would appease any readers who might take issue with this point. Sometimes you write something that people agree with, that makes them feel good and pleases them. 

Sometimes you write to challenge and disturb people, to make them think, to shake them into questioning and wonder. It might not please all the readers, but is that the risk you take as an author?

At the end of the day, as a writer I want to please my readers. It is impossible, however, to please everyone. You will always have someone who disagrees or disapproves. I am also convinced that it’s better to take a stand and have a point of view, even if it’s controversial and divisive.

Otherwise, if you try to say something that pleases everyone, you end up saying nothing at all.

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