I’m going to rant a little today, I’m afraid. It’s a post that I had to write, both because I care about my work “environment”, and I care about my colleagues. I’m talking about internet road rage. You know, the cyberplace where you don’t have to face the music in person so you act out in ways that are ugly, hurtful, and sometimes, disgusting? I’m talking about that volatile “place” that demonstrates our fundamental breakdown in social evolution, in manners and boundaries, and above all, meaningful communication.
The world is a crazy place and we now have access to its darkest corners, all day long, 24/7. To my chagrin. But what we need to focus on for now is how writers add to and detract from this environment. How we treat one another is a commentary on how we view our worth as a whole, our importance (or lack of) to culture and society. We are the thinkers and creators, the match to the fire. How we conduct ourselves matters, not just to us individually, but to all those whose lives we touch.
Social media posts, journals, blogs, forums, review sites. These places are where writers live, and to my horror, the “writers gone wild” culture appears to be growing.
A few disturbing things I’ve seen lately (in abundance):
- Rude and edgy comments when someone makes a mistake or typo in an article or post
- Belittling and bullying someone who has a different opinion
- Making passive aggressive statements in a public forum that betray another writer’s confidence in some way (i.e. sharing private information, or calling someone out publicly for interactions that have happened “behind closed doors”)
- Trashing an author’s book in a way that is a personal affront, as opposed to a thoughtful, critical review
- Blowing off requests for book blurbs by not responding to the inquiry at all, or worse, agreeing to blurb and never responding with a decline or explanation of suitability, obligations, etc
The problem is, when acting this way, you have no idea who that author knows, and how they’re connected. If you anger or disrespect them, they could black-ball you among other groups, with agents, or even editors. I’ve seen this happen. A lot. Just as in any industry, “who you know” can be very important. Play nice. Be professional. Be generous. And do not, whatever you do, take out your angst over the rejections you’ve suffered in hateful, jealous rants in public. That’s what friends are for in private. This behavior will bring you no closer to your goal and it will make enemies. No one wants to work with a poor sport—or read their books.
Why has this all become acceptable? I guess what I’m asking is, don’t we all deserve a measure of respect? Doesn’t this sort of behavior engender a self-centered culture that breeds a lot of anger and disillusionment, lots of resentment? We are better than this.
Many of these issues boil down to one thing: ego
Ahhh, ego. It’s what drives us. We don’t have to ask Freud to recognize this truth.
One could argue writing is all about ego. What makes our stories so damn important anyway? Why should our books be published, recognized, heralded? Because we’re _____. You fill in the blank. Yet I believe it’s something more noble than that, at least for most of us. It’s about touching lives, about starting a narrative around difficult emotions or controversial topics. Perhaps highlighting something which shaped our history and was forgotten. It’s about adding beauty and intrigue and excitement to this trying life.
So instead of lashing out, I implore you to forego the ego and:
R.S.V.P. (Répondez s’il vous plait): Politely decline a blurb request if you’re too busy or it’s not the right book for you. Pretending the request didn’t come is just poor manners and many people take offense.
Express Opinions with Care: You are not the god of the universe. People are different from you and also, they make mistakes. So do you. Kindness goes a long way. And never assume that you won’t be in the same shoes as this person you have laid low.
Keep Passionate Discourse Relevant: Having impassioned ideals and opinions is fabulous. It’s what shapes the future. Just keep it relevant. If you’re having an intense emotional reaction to a topic, take a step back for a few hours or a day or two, and respond when your head isn’t on fire. You may find you’re being triggered emotionally because of some underlining cause that has nothing to do with this incident. Besides, once you’ve cooled off, you’re more likely to bring intelligent points to the table.
Exercise Your Skills Through Tone: Most of us learn the hard way that tone is everything. Tone is something we master as novelists. Why is it, then, that it isn’t carefully honed in online discussions? While you can’t predict how someone will take your meaning, do your best to use your writerly abilities and put forth the true message you wish to convey. It’s an incredible tool and a weapon. Writers, of all people, possess the ability to wield that power. Choose your words wisely.
Take the High Road: When someone steps out of line, take a deep breath and either exit the conversation or respond with sense and sans emotion. I try to remember the Buddhist philosophy of “having no hooks”. Envision negative energy (or comments) flowing toward you and around you. If there is no emotional hook sticking out, it continues on past. It can’t grab hold and take purchase. Let the crap flow downstream. Hike to higher ground. Which leads me to my last point.
Apologize and Win: There’s this saying out there that goes something like, “Apologize for your part in something and let the rest go—even if the other party can’t and won’t apologize back.” It’s called owning your shit. It’s freeing and it tends to pop the tension balloon in an instant.
Sadly, we have a way of forgetting the good and hanging on to the bad. Remember that. It’s an unfortunate part of human nature, but it’s reality. Memories can be long and slights not easily forgiven. Create the kind of professional writing life you are proud of, relationships from which you benefit as well as add to, and make like Aretha. Show a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Where’s your happy place when you’ve been scalded by a little internet heat?