This isn’t exactly a rant. It’s more a question, a puzzle I’ve been trying to solve for quite some time.
Fresh off a writer’s conference, I’m pumped and discouraged, and elated and despairing, assured and unsure… Whatever gamut of emotions that’s intimately tied to ego and self-expression, there’s nothing quite like several days of advice panels to make me realize how much and how little I know.
And that’s neither good nor bad, it’s just the nature of the beast, the perks of joining a community of content creators (who used to be called “artists” before commercialization, product placements, and the endless pressure to quantify the self in pursuit of a vision of success that’s tied to monetary worth alone).
As a writer I wear many hats, not all of them associated with the physical act of getting isolated words parsed into some coherence that forms the core of a story. However, what insinuates that story is a lifetime of living in this world. It’s backed up by history and perceptions, opinions and experiences, training and observation, commitment and pursuit of a dream.
Writers are keen observers of the human condition. They go beyond simply cataloging behavior and deep-drill into the core of what makes us tick. They bring to the table the comfort of the familiar and the ragged edge of chaos. They, by virtue of creating characters who are like us, yet not, gift us with a place to explore all the what-ifs—even those we’ve yet to formulate for ourselves. They broaden our own abilities to see and understand. They create intimacies in a modern world where relationships are several steps removed from face-to-face interactions, giving us a safe arena in which to find extensions of our own hopes and dreams.
But because we’ve monetized the process of creativity—reducing it to a frantic scramble to be seen, heard, appreciated, starred, adored, hearted and smooched—we’ve also boxed that content creator into a maelstrom of conflicting demands on behavior, on image, and even on the rights they have as citizens to express opinions and to act upon their own belief systems in the relentless pursuit of recognition at all costs.
One expresses one’s opinion at one’s peril for there are legions of Mean Girls, naysayers, trolls and internet bullies who swarm randomly with the sole aim of inflicting damage on someone’s career, on someone’s sense of self-worth. They are mean-spirited and attack for no reason that makes any rational sense. They do it because they can. They do it because there are no repercussions.
Welcome to social media and the digital age.
I’ve had troll attacks on my work—yay, verily as it’s the price of admission to this writerly universe—but this morning’s discovery of two 1* reviews by a person whose name I vaguely recognize brought into sharp focus the disconnect between my rights as a citizen, as a member of the human race, and the constraints surrounding the exercise of my chosen craft.
To wit: thou shalt not respond to reviews (good, bad, indifferent), everyone has a right to an opinion, your right to rebuttal when said opinion is clearly a personal attack and unrelated to how you exercise your craft does not exist without having even more serious consequences.
The message to an author is: suck it up buttercup because trashing your work, your reputation, and your livelihood is legitimate. You need to accept it as a “cost of doing business,” so be passive, pretend it doesn’t impact your life in significant ways and move on.
ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE BULLIED.
You are “just an author” with no rights to opinions, no protections from abuse.
Well, I’m here to call BULLSHIT on that.
The fiction I write is just that … FICTION. It’s a craft and I may or may not have hit the right mark in its execution, or I may have been experimenting, trying my wings in new directions. It’s a story. You can like it. You can hate it. I like both of those options because it says I was doing my job. I got your attention. I got you riled up enough to rant on a character, to want that character to fit into your perception of how he should act or think or feel. I got you to care. Thank you. I love you for that.
Hmm, maybe let’s say “appreciate” and let it go at that…
If you take exception to something I said or did on Facebook, or perhaps expressed an opinion on a book I read, that’s fine. We can have a reasoned discussion about the whys and hows without making it personal. Hey folks, I’m human. I get to like or dislike same as you, and I get to say it in a public forum JUST LIKE YOU, so long as I do it respectfully and with the same level of passion and appreciation for the written word as any other reader.
That’s another hat I wear: READER. In fact, I am a voracious reader. And having knowledge of craft I can also speak intelligently about it.
But apparently I got that wrong. So sayeth the pundits and givers-of-advice.
Those two 1* reviews? One was on a MG/YA fantasy with otherwise great reviews (“not worth the money”), and the other was on a collection of heartwarming essays on a mare I lost, along with some short stories, inspirational stuff, uplifting poetry (also lovely reviews)… that one was “unreadable”.
Point of interest: both reviews were posted on the same day, neither was a “Verified purchase”. Hmm, that says to me “not worth the money” might be invalid since no filthy lucre exchanged hands. Those two 1* were the only fiction reviews out of a total of three by that person.
I checked the date: I hadn’t gored anyone’s ox for quite some time. The name isn’t on my friend’s list on FB. Curiouser and curiouser. That leaves the ‘taking exception to a review I wrote’ option. Or a reaction to my personal statements in support of HUMAN RIGHTS, with Gay/Lesbian Rights being a subset of that.
I’ll probably never know for sure. But here’s what I do know: if you come at me, don’t hide in the shadows because I’m calling it what it is… BULLYING.
And nobody puts me in a corner and tells me to suck it up.
No one puts Nya in the corner. . .not without accruing some lumps of their own, at least. THIS is a huge part of what has slowed my writing to a trickle – why bother?!
I’ve felt this way for such a long time and I’ve been plunged down to the depths all because I let exactly this happen. I’ve got to free myself from that kind of thinking and as a result free myself from what negativity that surrounds these people. My writing is what it is. Some people like it, others don’t. Thank you for bringing this up to the forefront. Very important message and well received!
Thank you, Matthew. I very much appreciate your support and I wish you all the best. This is a difficult, seemingly solitary journey we’re on. But we aren’t alone.
You are amazing. Your ferocity and determination are more of an inspiration to the rest of us than you shall ever know. And your writing? Oh, I don’t even have the *words* to describe how much your work has shown me, has taught me, has moved me. There aren’t enough of them in all the languages in all the world. Tell THAT to the bullies. I know THEY can’t do any better.
Thank you, Mo. And you are an inspiration to me as well.
We have all faced those nameless, faceless bully/cowards who would never say those things to your face. It’s galling at best. They’re especially prevalent on free books, as I’d guess skinflint is part of their profile. It has taken me a long time to come to grips with them. I finally figured out that getting upset by their actions is exactly what they want. They want to control any little part of my life they can through this incredible meanness. I’ve decided that I’m going to take that privilege away from them. I’m not going to let them ruin one damn minute of my life. Instead, I’m going to see them for what they are — sick individuals with no life. And I’m going to think of it as a badge of courage. If you haven’t been attacked by a troll, then you’re obviously not a good writer. I’m taking back my life and my sense of well-being from these lower forms of existence. It hasn’t been easy, but my new attitude has helped me to live with the unthinkable, base behavior of others, while not becoming one of them. Your points are all valid. I hope you can get past these evil folks and put their stupid statements into perspective and out of your life.
Amen, Jean. I wrote this because more authors need to understand they are in control. They can choose to fight back in ways that maintain their own mental health. I hope that we can all stop feeling victimized.
Reblogged this on Maegan Provan, Author.
I think the creative soul will always take “pot shots” but I believe that social media has made that so much easier to do with anonimity. I’m so sorry for you. All the misused should get together and write a scandalous book.
I’ve been hacked, had work stolen, my identity stolen (I think I live in the caribbean) …
Oh and then my award winning site was pirated … (lights turned off, a new sign hung over all my painstaking ideas)
Yep a book deal would be great.
Big hugs and hang in there!!!
Excellent article. Wish I’d read it a few days ago, when devastated by my first 1 star review. It was devastating because it wasn’t a review of my writing skills, but a review of my personality and opinions. “There must be something terribly wrong with this author,” and as such very hard to bear.
I’m sorry you had to deal with that, Margaret. I guess the advice to grow a thick skin is one we all need to take to heart. Mercy, it’s like being back in high school, but on a broader scale. And it doesn’t hurt less just because we are older (and hopefully wiser). I wish I could give a real hug to everyone out there who’s been treated unfairly.
Well said, well written and needed.
I stopped looking at reviews on Amazon, and I gave up Goodreads a while ago. I still go there occasionally to post a review as a reader, but I never read the reviews anymore.
I can count the number of well crafted, insightful reviews (both good and bad) I’ve gotten on one hand. Those were the ones that informed me of something, gave me an insight into my choices, my technique, my plotting, my characters. Less than five. The rest, whether negative or positive offered me nothing. Personal or impersonal, they didn’t help me as a writer.
And that’s all I give a shit about. Being a good writer. Don’t spare a fuck for them, Nya. You’ve got tales to tell, and they’ve got neuroses.
Oh do they ever, RG!