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.