March 23, 2015

The Author's Tightrope Walk

Being a writer is a tough business. The creation process is usually extremely personal and downright lonely. The editing stage picks away at your self-confidence. Seriously, how many times can you hear, “Find a better word” before you believe that all your words suck. The publishing process is often confusing, slow, and lacks communication.

Finally, your work is “out there” for reader pleasure. The release goes well. There’s some buzz about your book. Reviews. Excitement. Sales. Yay.

Then comes that blogger (or Facebooker, or Tumblr-er, etc) who says something about the best friend’s love of Ugg boots and how that doesn’t belong in YA. (A hypothetical situation…stay with me on this.) The reader decries how their sensibilities are deeply offended. They raise the flag about your transgressions against responsible teen fashion. Their post is widely circulated. Others jump on board leaving comments on blogs, Goodreads, and Facebook disparaging your ill-treatment of fashion sensible teens everywhere, because certainly all teens not only have a natural fashion sense, but also funds to support the current trends and how dare you suggest otherwise.

tightrope walker - Free Images photo by Kristin Smith
Okay…you blink a few times and take a few deep breaths. You're nervous about approaching the subject since it’s such a hot button topic, but while promoting your book, you decide to give a little nod to those offended by bad fashion sense and you tweet, “Despite the odds, Celia finds love in her Ugg boots.” Twitterverse goes wild. In 140 characters or less, they tweet their offense to your insensitive approach to a well-known label. They vilify your fashion prejudice and insist you’re a horrible, closed-minded person who can't accept people with different tastes. They hashtag #boycottYOU and it’s trending!

With trembling fingers, you sit down to type your next novel. You’re careful to dress all of your teens in the most neutral clothing there is. Every single one of them wears jeans and t-shirts, without logos, and sneakers or flipflops.

Yep, you guessed it. Reviews are in. You’re accused of a lack of vision. Of being narrow-minded. In your own defense you say in an interview that you grew up in a small rural town, where everybody wore denim and flannel. Social media goes crazy over how you stereotyped country folk everywhere. Once again #boycottYOU is trending.

Sometimes I feel like authors can’t win. We are either too much of something—or too little. Pushing the envelope too far or we find a letter opener embedded in our chest with a note reading, “Push farther.”

But here’s the deal. Authors really only have lived the one life. Maybe it has been filled with world travels and international education. Or maybe it was isolated and simple. But whatever it is, that’s the experience we bring to the story we're telling. Thank you for reading. You’re entitled to your opinion. You are free to write a review (or contact the author directly) explaining why you’re outraged. You have the choice to never read the author’s work again. But browbeat the author until they close their social media accounts—pretty excessive.

I repeat, writing is a tough profession. The bandwagon-mentality makes it tougher. I ask that when you feel hyper sensitive to a topic, instead of raising a flag, or before taking up someone's cause,  ask yourself, “Is it the author’s agenda to further poor fashion sense among teens?” (or whatever the hot button is for you). Because more than likely you’ll realize that maybe—just maybe—the author has a different experience with that topic and would appreciate a well thought out note about why the topic is sensitive to you, opposed to you raising the pitchfork and storming the castle to kill the beast.

I understand that authors have to be prepared to hear criticism of their work. What I am addressing is when the criticism becomes an attack and I'm asking that people stop and think before they flay. 

In the inspiring words of Ellen Degeneres, “Be kind to one another.”

4 comments:

  1. There has been so much negativity lately on the Internet. There was one day that I just had to step away from my computer and phone and unplug for a good long while. I think just treating others with respect, even when disagreeing with them, can go a long way. I don't know how so many people have lost sight of that simple fact, but I agree that all of us need to be kind to one another.

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    1. I had hoped that some of the hater attitude would disappear after the presidential election. But it's almost like the negativity became the new internet voice. It's so sad.

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  2. Well written article, Kai. I guess some people just look for things to complain about. They must be miserable if they can't find the good in a story or in the world.

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    1. Thank you, Beverly. Miserable, indeed. :(

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