Dear Sean

DEAR SEAN:

I have been asked to write a column for my hometown newspaper. Nobody knows about the paper, but it’s big where I live. I’m scared. Scared I’m not good enough or that people won’t like what I write. Can you give me some advice?

Best wishes,
AFRAID-I’M-NOT-GOOD

DEAR AFRAID:

Writing a column is a lot like passing a kidney stone. It’s uncomfortable, sure. But when you’re finished, you’ll have a neat souvenir to share with your family.

When I first started writing columns, I was on the wrong side of age 30. I had no training. No experience. No pedigree. All I had were buck teeth and a bad back.

I waltzed into a small-town newspaper office and brazenly asked if I could work there. The woman behind the editor’s desk looked at me like I was three peas short of a casserole.

She asked about my qualifications.

I told her I had no qualifications except that I was currently attending a community college. Also, for breakfast I’d had a V8.

To my surprise, she gave me a job. I was shocked. Shocked.

Then, the editor went on to say there was a $50 signing bonus for new employees. So I reached into my pocket, got out my checkbook and said, “Who do I make the check out to?”

“No, silly,” she said. “The $50 bonus is for you. It’s for expenses.”

Well, I took that money and applied it toward my celebration expenses. I celebrated by filling my truck with gas, and buying a gas-station eggroll that, to this day, remains obstructed in my gastrointestinal tract somewhere.

But my life was forever changed by this simple job of producing columns. I love what I do.

Since then, I’ve written columns for many newspapers, Rotary Club pamphlets, Girl Scout troop newsletters, church bulletins, nursing home mailouts, and Civic League email prayer lists. And in my brief career, do you know what I’ve learned?

Absolutely nothing.

Seriously, I haven’t learned jack. After all, I’ve never been the brightest bulb in life’s marquee.

There is one thing, however, I have noticed. I’ve discovered that we humans are all scared of the same stuff.

And it doesn’t matter what your occupation or persuasion. Whether you’re rich or poor. Old or young. Range Rover or 36-year-old Chevette. We’re all afraid of rejection.

This is because everyone cares about what other people think of them. Every last person reading this cares. The person writing this cares. You care. We all care.

Anyone who tells you they don’t care what others think about them is either a ginormous liar or a certifiable sociopath.

The question is, why are we writers so paralyzed by this fear? Is it disapproval we fear most? Unacceptance? Mediocrity? Are we afraid someone will tell us we’re talentless pukes?

Well, let me set your mind at ease, darling. All your worst fears will come true. Someone WILL call you a “talentless puke,” and perhaps even a “suck-egg mule.”

Some folks will disapprove of everything you do. And usually, these people will be the most vocal schmucks in the whole bunch.

These critics will constantly send mail to your editors in the form of “constructive feedback.” You will wonder whether these people have social lives at all.

I’ve had people email me “constructive feedback” about almost everything.

People have criticized my hairstyle, my body type, my facial features, my writing, my misspellings, you name it.

Recently—this is true—I received some constructive feedback in the form of a flaming paper sack on my front porch.

So I’m going to level with you. Sometimes, criticism is discouraging. Actually, criticism is ALWAYS discouraging. Oftentimes, criticism alone is enough to make you consider another career path in, say, commercial lawn maintenance.

There have been days when I cried and said to myself, “What am I doing? Why am I writing columns that so many people obviously don’t like?

I pour my heart into my work, only to sometimes have a single sentence picked apart by some person I’ve never met. Or worse, by a prominent politician.

That’s right. Recently, a Texas newspaper that carries this column forwarded me an unsavory response to something I wrote. My critic was a well-known politician who didn’t like what I’d written about tipping waitresses.

The politician said that Americans are expected to tip way too much, and that tipping is an “archaic and outdated custom that is grossly abused.” He called me a few choice names, akin to “suck-egg mule.”

His words were so hurtful that I almost quit writing altogether.

I told the editor of the paper I was withdrawing my column. But the editor called me directly. She was an older woman with a lovely west-Texan drawl.

She said, verbatim: “Listen, sweetie. I don’t care what that jackass said. Some folks in this world are so miserable the only taste of joy they ever get is when they take a bite out of your rear.”

So get out there and pass that kidney stone, friend. Don’t worry about your critics.

And if, by chance, a Texas politician is reading this: I hope you enjoyed your mouthful, sir.

64 comments

  1. Ed (Bear) - October 29, 2022 7:59 am

    Was that Texas politician a Democrat? They seem to be on the wrong side of everything these days. Lucky we have you, Sean, to help us make sense of things. You’re very good at all that! Thanks for being our good and inspiring writing buddy!!

    Reply
    • PSC - October 29, 2022 4:53 pm

      So unnecessary to bring political parties into this. Sean was simply identifying a person by their position in society. You’ll notice he didn’t mention a party. Good for him. For you, not so much.

      Reply
    • Susie - October 31, 2022 7:00 pm

      How dare you label a politician…..as this column says “suck-egg mule”

      Reply
  2. Roxanne Taylor - October 29, 2022 10:05 am

    As my Momma used to say, If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I wish I could say I have taken that advice all the time, but I haven’t. I will say that the older I get, the more I realize how wise my Mom was. Oh how I wish she was still here. As for criticism and hateful comments I have learned one important thing…hurting people hurt people. And Sean, don’t ever let anyone steal your joy! You are one special dude! I love your writing and I hope one day we can meet. Do you have a fan club, because I sure want to join and get my official membership card!

    Reply
  3. Donna - October 29, 2022 10:05 am

    After reading todays comments I had to respond with my thoughts. First, that Texan politician is full of malarkey. I have had a high opinion of Texans, but that guy must not be a real Texan. Your columns are my inspiration for each day. I reach for my iPad at very early hours in the morning before I even get out of bed in order to start my day with the humor, wisdom, and common sense commentary that uplifts me after several years of depression after my husbands death. In some ways your articles remind me of my husband as he had a wonderful sense of the the irony of the human race. Please, keep up the great work, I would be so much poorer in spirit without your observations.
    I am looking for your books.

    Reply
  4. Kay - October 29, 2022 11:12 am

    First of all – good advise. Second – I’ve never heard anyone, other than my dearest Uncle Dempsey, use the word Suck-egg Mule! I thought he made it up, as he made up most words he said to a kid! Thanks for the memory ❤️.

    Reply
    • Anne Arthur - October 29, 2022 1:22 pm

      You are so right, we all have fear of something, everyday, all the days of our life. We’ll find always something to fear but if we let fear stifle us we’d never get out of bed again. People who write senseless criticism are probably the most fearful of all. Or, you have poked a subject which makes them feel guilty, and that, in turn, makes them even more fearful. They fear losing their position, their power, their money if someone sees through them. Sorry for those folks who cannot see the wonderful stories you write. Your wisdom, your humor, even when writing about sad subjects, are a true gift. You have a unique way of painting pictures with words and thus, keep writing, Sean, never stop. You bring joy to your readers, and that, my friend, is the exact opposite of what these nutty critics are doing. Sowing joy, you’ll reap true happiness.

      Reply
  5. Dolores - October 29, 2022 11:23 am

    Dear Afraid:
    Indifference has a bad connotation but in reality, therein lies freedom. Indifference doesn’t mean not caring. It’s the capacity to let go of what doesn’t help you to love God or love others but staying engaged with what does.

    If you know writing is your God-given gift, He’s the only one you have to please. Never write for praise, never write for fear of criticism (of people). Know you’ll get a little of each but let them both roll off your back. Let the fact you were asked to write be good enough.

    Reply
    • Mary Kathern - October 29, 2022 8:02 pm

      Thank you, Delores, for your sage reply. You said succinctly what I believe but wouldn’t have known how to put into words.

      Reply
  6. Jean Sherrill - October 29, 2022 11:32 am

    I love your writings…..every day! There will always be critics…..they think its the job to criticize anything and everything in the line of vision. Ignore them…you are doing great!!!

    Reply
  7. Joey - October 29, 2022 11:52 am

    Sean, I’ve lived in Texas all my life, and I would like to sincerely apologize on behalf of that politician. And because you write an inspiring, non-political column, may I also apologize for Ed (Bear)’s comment? Your column is a respite from politics! Thank you.

    Reply
    • Tracy - October 29, 2022 6:20 pm

      Thank you, Joey.

      Reply
  8. Kelly - October 29, 2022 12:07 pm

    I look forward to reading your column every day. It always makes me laugh or tear up and sometimes both. Please don’t let anyone steal your joy or make you want to hide your talent. People like me need real and honest people like you. Who cares what some politician thinks? He probably left honest in the rear view many years ago. And I thought suck egg mule was something my cousin made up when I was a kid. 😂 You keep doing you, and the genuine folks will keep reading and loving you! ♥️

    Reply
  9. William - October 29, 2022 12:26 pm

    A day without Sean Dietrich is like a day with sun shin in my world. Thank you Sean!

    Reply
  10. Deb Whitehill - October 29, 2022 12:29 pm

    Sean:
    You are a welcomed and desperately needed breath of fresh air!
    Who knew you couldn’t cry if you tilted your head back?
    Deb in Missouri

    Reply
  11. Sheila Sutton - October 29, 2022 12:30 pm

    Love it. Keep writing, Sean!

    Reply
  12. Ramon Presson - October 29, 2022 12:59 pm

    Sean, I’ve been writing a newspaper column in Franklin, TN (where you’ll be speaking tomorrow night) for 15 years and everything you said about column writing is true times two. Thank you for saying it. Moreover, thank you for showing up to the blank page (or screen) day after day because we need your voice of gentle humor, your humility and wisdom from years of experience and observing and listening, and your compassion for all of us in the human race running with a bit of a limp.

    Reply
  13. Patricia Gibson - October 29, 2022 1:11 pm

    Sean, as you well know, you can never please everyone but you do please a whole lot of us. Keep writing you make my day❤️

    Reply
  14. Vicki - October 29, 2022 1:12 pm

    Thank you. I needed to read this today. God bless you.

    Reply
  15. sjhl7 - October 29, 2022 1:15 pm

    Love this and love you, Sean! You are one talented man with a heart bigger than Texas! God bless you always!

    Reply
  16. Jacque Mixon - October 29, 2022 1:19 pm

    I love to read your columns. So happy you haven’t quit because of any criticism.

    Reply
  17. Mac Brown - October 29, 2022 1:25 pm

    The silent majority looks forward to your witty and spot on observations, my friend.
    Mac B

    Reply
  18. Donna from Iowa - October 29, 2022 1:34 pm

    I love starting every day with your columns so keep up the good work! As an Iowan perhaps we are on the same page!! But life is still beautiful because we wakened to another morning to watch the sunrise and have a cup of coffee.
    !

    Reply
  19. Peggy - October 29, 2022 1:39 pm

    Something in your daily columns always makes me cry, Sean. Keep up the good work. I wholeheartedly support you.

    Reply
  20. Suellen - October 29, 2022 1:41 pm

    We are all hungry for people who lift us up and bring us together. We’re all tired of those who want to bring us down and tear us apart. I think the latter are in the minority but just more vocal. My husband is a Pastor. The church we were at had a big upheaval when a large prominent family got upset with my husband. They left and tried to take everyone else with them but only after months of tearing my husband down. At one point my husband said not one of them are speaking up for me. I told him they were speaking up for him and standing by his side by quietly showing up for church every Sunday and not joining in the fray. You have way more supporters than you will ever know.

    Reply
  21. nancy - October 29, 2022 1:45 pm

    I hope you don’t mind me askin’.
    Can you tell me about the art works that you display at the top of your piece of writing?
    I have assumed that you draw them, unless there is someone else’s signature.

    Reply
  22. Maggie Priestaf - October 29, 2022 1:48 pm

    Dear Afraid and Sean,
    Don’t you stop writing! For my sake at least!

    Reply
  23. Cindy - October 29, 2022 1:56 pm

    If you write it I will read it. Always and forever!

    Reply
  24. David - October 29, 2022 2:03 pm

    You tell ‘em bubba!

    Reply
  25. Melanie - October 29, 2022 2:27 pm

    I feel sorry for whoever put that mess on your porch. They are in a bad way. No doubt from bad experiences in their life. I hope that someday they are able to find peace in their mind and warmth in their heart.

    Reply
  26. Sandra Jones - October 29, 2022 2:31 pm

    Never stop writing and finding joy in our world ! We all need uplifting . Sharing joy is a reward in itself !

    Reply
  27. Michael - October 29, 2022 2:37 pm

    Sean,
    Keep doing what you do! Keep encouraging others to do the same, I’ve met you and your lovey wife a couple times both time a warm greeting followed by a firm hug. And by the way there is no such thing as a viable politicians there all egg sucking mules. Killers of positivity and focus. How do you know when a politician is lying.. their lips are moving and in recognizable sound are spilling out.

    Reply
  28. Kathy - October 29, 2022 2:52 pm

    A writer is so vulnerable, putting themselves in strangers lives. As you’ve shown, it can be wonderful or a kick in the teeth. Thank you for taking the risk.

    Reply
  29. Lee - October 29, 2022 3:06 pm

    Thank you for your answer to the writer – I really needed that this morning! I’m not gonna write a column, but I needed the push for another challenge. Love your stuff – read The Circle – related, cried, laughed – and look forward to the daily dose.

    Reply
  30. Woodrow Burt - October 29, 2022 3:22 pm

    Sean, I absolutely LOVE your writing. You are one gifted person, and one of the wisest people I know (and I know a lot of people). You are thought provoking, clever, witty and smart. You put yourself down from time to time, because you didn’t graduate high school. Let me tell you, you don’t have to have a degree, or numerous diplomas to be smart. In fact, some of the dumbest people I know have many degrees. You, dear sir, are very smart! I am truly grateful that my wife introduced me to you. You are a daily inspiration! Thank you!

    Reply
  31. Jeanie Madeley - October 29, 2022 3:27 pm

    Sean, don’t let the turkeys get you down. For some reason, the people who love your column and look for it every day, are the ones who stay silent. And I feel sure that you don’t have that many attacking you daily. So the odds are, and I know this for sure, is that people love your column! And I’m from Texas!

    Reply
  32. Pamela Davis - October 29, 2022 3:48 pm

    Sean, I love your columns. I have read your books and I read your post everyday. I read your monthly column in the Alfa magazine. You make me laugh and cry so many times. I consider you a Southern treasure! Please continue what you do to make us see things in a different light.

    Reply
  33. Joe - October 29, 2022 3:51 pm

    If you think you get constructive criticism, try being a Texas Politician for a few minutes.

    Reply
  34. Fossil - October 29, 2022 3:54 pm

    Keep writing. Whoever you are – keep writing. No matter what anyone says, keep writing. Heck, I want you to keep writing even if I don’t like what you write. Why? Because someone needs to hear what you have to say – and you need to say it, to write it.

    Reply
  35. Pamela Davis - October 29, 2022 4:03 pm

    Sean, I have read all of your books. I read your post everyday. I read your monthly column in the Alfa magazine. That is where I first discovered your writing. I laugh and cry over so many of the columns. You are a voice for the South. You remind me of Rick Bragg. The things you write about I have experienced. You are a Southern treasure! Keep on writing.

    Reply
  36. macblair1936yahoocom - October 29, 2022 5:28 pm

    Sean, don’t you ever quit. I look forward to reading your comments every day. I love what ever you write. I someone does not, they can go suck an egg.

    Reply
  37. Sandra Siegel - October 29, 2022 6:23 pm

    Don’t worry about the small minority of critics and try to focus on the vast majority of readers who will enjoy your work.
    We tend to focus on the critics and not on our fans.

    Reply
  38. MAM - October 29, 2022 6:33 pm

    True words, Sean, except for when you denigrate yourself. Your writings, your daily columns are a true breath of fresh air in our messed up world. Yes, I used to be afraid of “constructive criticism,” but after many years I’m used to it. I still feel a twinge when someone unsubscribes to my publication, but if the reason is blasting me for something, I just think: “Good riddance.”

    Reply
  39. Carolyn Geck - October 29, 2022 7:32 pm

    Just keep writing; you don’t knock it out of the park everytime at bat. Just get a hit.

    Reply
  40. Karen - October 29, 2022 7:34 pm

    The bullies win if we quit. I do believe being hateful online is a hobby for some folks. I hope the young writer does not get discouraged. hey, look at the folks that know more than doctors, dentists, nurses, educators, writers, mechanics and the list goes on. Sean, your writings are how I start my day.

    Reply
  41. Ann Gramlich - October 29, 2022 7:44 pm

    I LOVED, LOVED, Loved your column…Especially the LAST sentence !!!!!!

    Reply
  42. Brenda Smith - October 29, 2022 8:05 pm

    Sweet Sean. Those of us who REALLY MATTER love the heck outta you, and you make our day. Never ever let some foolish idiot who knows nothing about what life is really about discourage you. You keep writing my friend!!! You know the truth of life!!! Love you!!!

    Reply
  43. Linda Moon - October 29, 2022 8:59 pm

    I love what you do, too. At my stage in life, I’ll correct you: I no longer care what people think of me, therefore “everyone” needs to be replaced with “many people” because lots of us are FREE from that bondage. We would never stop writing comments or playing loud music or dancing through the house in comfy white sox, and we’ll never criticize you! I’m not a sociopath, I’ve been FREE of cancers for a long time, and your work brings JOY to me everyday while I’m still here.

    Reply
  44. Stacey Wallace - October 29, 2022 11:09 pm

    Sean, my husband and I think that you are a very talented writer. And we have great taste so please ignore the Texas politician and keep at it. What do politicians know anyway? Love to you. Jamie, and Marigold.

    Reply
  45. Tommy - October 30, 2022 12:42 am

    I remember one particular day of being scared. I had never laid eyes on her until a coupla hours earlier. I was chicken to ask her out; might get turned down, you know. So i let the opportunity go by that day. Funny thing is, she later told me she would’ve accepted. Now 48 years later she just called me to supper.

    Reply
    • sflouden - October 30, 2022 10:35 am

      Love this Tommy!

      Reply
  46. Tom Cole - October 30, 2022 1:54 am

    I live in Texas and that politician doesn’t deserve to be a politician, and damned sure not in Texas… I hope the politician reads my comment…

    Reply
  47. David - October 30, 2022 2:37 am

    Don’t ever let any Texas politicians get you down, my friend. Democrat, Republican, and even that rara avis here, Independent —all are recognized by the Texas people as being like diapers: They must be changed often, and for the same reason. 99.99999999999999999% of the people who read you adore, respect, love, and need you. Our feedback is the feedback that matters.

    Reply
  48. Darline V Heatley - October 30, 2022 10:26 am

    No criticism from me! I enjoy reading your columns online, every day and sharing them with others on Facebook! Keep writing and we will keep reading and sharing!

    Reply
  49. sflouden - October 30, 2022 10:32 am

    Sean for what it is worth…as an “older” human….your emails with your words light my day each and everyday…and this is worth a lot to this old 77 year old human. And I also know many more who feel the same. And we have spread the word and they are now subscribing….so don’t listen to those #@%$& just listen to the ones to whom you make our little space in ife a little more tolerable and thanks for it!

    Reply
    • Edward Willis - October 30, 2022 1:00 pm

      “Well I’ll be a suck egg mule”, one of the least appreciated movie lines of all time, delivered perfectly by Jack Elam in Rio Bravo. Well used here!

      Reply
  50. Bill - October 30, 2022 1:26 pm

    Here’s some constructive criticism: don’t stop writing; ever. Your tales make my morning; every morning.

    Reply
  51. Helen De Prima - October 30, 2022 2:47 pm

    When I wrote my first novel, I collected enough rejection letters from agents to paper a small room. Eventually I attracted the interest of not one but three top agents; I wouldn’t have appreciated that thrill without all the rejection beforehand. Write on!

    Reply
  52. Lisa Leydon - October 30, 2022 5:03 pm

    Love waking up to your column every morning…. You make me think…. You make me laugh…. Sometimes you make me cry. What a perfect way to start the day! Thank you

    Reply
  53. Roxanne - October 30, 2022 9:07 pm

    I live in Texas and am chomping at the bit to know exactly which politician that was. He’s probably o w of the congregation of asinine folks making decisions about my classroom…in which I’ve only had ONE politician step foot. And I invited him. And he is a generous tipper. Seeing as how a lot of people have never taught thirty-five 8th graders six class periods a day OR written thousands of columns and a shelf full of books, we should BOTH ignore them. But it still hurts sometimes. Thanks for coming back again and again. This is my 27th year in a classroom.

    Reply
  54. Karen Snyder - October 31, 2022 3:26 am

    “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” ~ Aristotle

    ❤️ that you say something, do something, are something, and thus, mean something to so many of us.

    Reply
  55. Jeanie Morelock - October 31, 2022 1:19 pm

    Sean, I hope that you NEVER stop writing and sharing your wisdom (YES – it is wisdom to some of us)! Your delightful commentary makes me smile (although, sometimes, it draws tears from my eyes). But, it is always a good thing and I look forward to meeting you over my pop-tart every morning! God loves your heart AND your pen – so do I! Keep ’em coming, please!

    Reply
  56. Wendy A Oliver - October 31, 2022 6:39 pm

    We humans find it SO easy to criticize others. We seem to be more likely to take the time to criticize than to say how much we like something. I have been guilty of not saying how much I love your writing. I LOVE your writing. It touches my heart!

    Reply
  57. Patricia Taylor - November 1, 2022 5:43 am

    I love your writing…some people would write to the author of the Bible if they could figure out a way to get it there! People love your writing, they love your speaking, they love you….Marigold loves you… you are special. You not only tell about real life, you make us see it! We are fortunate to be able to read your take on life. Most of all, God loves you…keep writing…we need to read it.

    Reply

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