Hey, Writerface: Don’t Be A Dick (But Still Have Opinions)

Retirwepyt!

I have occasionally seen sentiment that suggests writers should be little church mice.

They should become little peeping cheeping baby birds who shouldn’t ruffle any feathers with talk of politics or religion or publishing or any of that for fear of losing a publishing deal or scaring off an agent or what-have-you. It becomes a game of tiptoe here, tiptoe there.

Don’t shake the bushes. Don’t stand up on the boat.

I call shenanigans on that.

Because that makes you boring. A boring writer is not a writer with a big audience.

Further, I think it makes you bored, as well. And a bored writer is… well, I dunno. Probably an alcoholic. Or a World of Warcraft addict.

Here, then, is a line in the sand. I have drawn it with my big toe.

Over here, this is where adults talk about adult subjects like (wait for it… waaaaait for it)… adults.

Over there, that’s where adults devolve into foul-breathed trolls and Internet douche-swabs.

Live on this side of the line, and you’re okay.

Cross over that side, and that’s where you turn into a raging dick-brain.

We are living in an increasingly connected world thanks to this sticky spider’s web called The Internet. I pluck my dewy thread over here, and you can feel it over there. That is — mostly — a good thing.

We are further living in a world where the audience is becoming as interested in the creator as they are the creator’s creations. This has always been true to a small extent: once you start reading an entire author’s catalog or going through a director’s stable of films, you start to grow curious about the man or woman behind the curtain. But now it’s becoming that new authors are working from their so-called buzzwordy bullshit “platforms,” and the audience is starting out interested in the author as much as the author’s works.

This is in a sense a little ridiculous: we want to be judged by our novels and films and placemats and vanity license plates, not by our online personas. And yet, we are. Reality is reality. No ignoring that.

This leads to that very simple Internet truism: don’t be a dick.

But, the fear of violating that law has lead some people to become fearful of being who they are, and fearful of having interesting or unusual opinions. I think it’s caused some degree of turtling in terms of worrying that what we say will somehow violate our chances of getting published or that it will decimate (in the truest sense of the word) our audience with one ill-made statement or sentiment.

And I think to some degree you have to get shut of that. You should be mindful of the shit you say, obviously. You, like every other adult out there, should have a pair of bouncers at your brain door ready to escort any unruly thoughts before they stumble drunkenly toward your mouth or fingers.

But don’t be afraid to have opinions.

Just offer them with respect and tact. And an interjection of humor and self-deprecation just to confirm that you’re not being some super-serious self-righteous blowhard.

And, when (not if) you inevitably cross the line in the sand from “The adults are talking” to “The dickwipes are howling and keening their gibbering dickery,” then back up, throw up your hands, and offer a fast mea culpa — just like you would do off-line.

Don’t hide from your own personality. Be who you are. Be the most awesome and interesting version of who you are. You are more than the sum total of your likes and dislikes of books and whiskey. You have controversial thoughts, hey, share them — provided you share them with tact, respect, and some ground given to the other side.

Do you have to be careful? Sure, of course. I’ve seen creators (be they writers, game designers, journalists, whoever) spout off and show the world their blow-hardy cranky-pants, and it turns me off. Most of the time I come back from the brink because I know I’ve done the same thing. Others, though, keep on keepin’ on, and they won’t stop beating their audience over the head with their opinions.

See, that’s the trick. It’s not the opinions that bothered me. It was the delivery of that opinion.

Remember: respect, tact, humor, self-deprecation.

And here, at terribleminds: a fuckbucket full of sweet, sweet profanity.

Have opinions.

Just don’t be a dick about it.

19 comments

  • Thanks for this. In the past I’ve censored myself from saying anything at all about my religious or political beliefs in my writing, afraid I might turn some people off. But your post has helped me realize that while I don’t need to talk about that stuff all the time, or even often, I shouldn’t be afraid to be myself.
    As always, you are awesome.

  • Good words, Chuck. I’ll admit to being more controlled online, but part of that’s because the internet is forever. I try to choose my words carefully because I know they’re always just a Google search away.

    Also, my parents and kids read my feeds. While the ‘rents can handle the spicy language I use like punctuation in my daily life, I try to set a better example for the kids. It’s too late for the old folks.

  • Can’t agree more, Chuck, thanks. I also think that if you’re worried your (tactful) opinions will scare off a publishing deal or agent or something — do you really want to work with that publisher or agent in the first place? I write stories with gay characters. I’m pretty vocal about gay topics. I don’t want to work with people who are Not Cool with that. Period.

  • Speaking from experience, it’s the “internet is forever” that bites you on the ass. I’ve been online for about 20 years now, and for the first 10 or so, I fell victim to the sweet, sexy feel of an appreciative audience. Biting snark and just generally being a dick was met with encouragement and appreciation from the crowd, which just fed the ego. The not-really-me construct of “GMS” took over.

    The problem is that “GMS” pretty much eclipsed me. By the time I put a stake in its heart, and tried to walk away from that brand, it was too late, and now it follows me like the spectral hound from some Victorian ghost story. No matter how much I put out there that’s positive, I’m still treated like “GMS” — and all it takes is one slip, one intemperate post or tweet, and it reinforces the brand.

    When I hear celebrities talk about “the dark side of fame”, a lot of people roll their eyes, but I think I understand it a bit more than I used to. It’s a bit frightening to have people whom you’ve never met or interacted with have a strong opinion about you — and more frightening still when it feels like you have no power to alter that opinion.

    Wow.

    That got all introspective and dark, didn’t it…..

    Sorry about that! So yeah, “Don’t Be A Dick.” I agree.

  • All well and good (and I totally agree), but it is possible to take opinions with tact too far and expect to get away with it.

    To many times I’ve been insulted either directly, or through inference, and the person worded it in such a way as to not be inflammatory, except for the insult. Apparently we’re not allowed to call people on their bullshit online if this is to be believed. I ask that people don’t be that guy, it’s really annoying.

    • @Patrick:

      I’d definitely argue that such behavior still violates the “don’t be a dick” rule. :) Insults, however tactfully veiled, are still insults. And insults are the provenance of the jerk.

      — c.

  • I am a little bit of chuch mouse (in personality and, er, perhaps, physical appearance), but I agree with you completely. Have opinions. Share opinions. Do it respectful-like… with or without the buckets full of sweet, sweet profanity. (Because, you know that’s what I come here for.)

  • And then there are those of us who are Christian conservatives trying to make our way in this writing business by writing secular sci-fi fantasy. All four of us. :P This is a genre dominated by political liberals. Long ago I made it a personal goal to always be respectful when I share my views, but I still have a _lot_ of trepidation when I think about the time that’s coming when I will actually have an audience and books for them to read. Do the people who read my stories even want to know what I think about certain things? Even when stated respectfully? Or will I decimate my audience for even holding to the views I do have? Some of them aren’t exactly popular.

    What I do know is that the current political climate isn’t helping me any.

    But I suppose it comes down to how much one trusts his audience to be respectful in kind. Most people are tolerant, decent sorts, right?

    I had recently resolved that when the time comes, to keep those views to my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts and let readers subscribe to them if they actually wanted to know what I thought. Maybe this is a good middle-of-the-road stance, or maybe it makes me boring. Your post is causing me to revisit this thought.

  • I don’t think we have to divorce who we are, but be prepared to take the heat if you are going to bring up contraversial subjects. I tell writers that unless sex, politics or religion is part of your platform steer clear or at least prepare for possible consequences.

    You could inadverdently end up redefining your platform–Ie. become known for politics instead of sci-fi. Also the raging dicks like to stir the pot. All it takes are some thoughtless comments on our part to let blood in the water. Then instead of being able to focus on writing, we are forced to deal with trolls who now use our blog to rant and kick sand in our friends’ faces. Not that we can’t shut them down, but it is extra hassle.

    I had one last week. I used the term Deadbeat Dad to describe us writers when we start shit we don’t finish. The blog was about writing and I knew when I wrote it I was using a term that could set off the loonies…but I made the decision purposefully.

    And sure enough, loony came knocking and was a total ass to people on my FB, crapped up my comments and then prompty wrote a blog naming me as the feminist man-hating antichrist…because I used the term “deadbeat dead.” It caused a day of headache.

    So I agree, be real but also hunker down and prepare for the dicks because they are looking for an opening to fight. I just wanna have fun :D….which is why I hang out here, Man!

  • Yard Dog Press, run by Selina Rosen – an awesome and quirky independent publisher (with whome I’ve had the good fortune to get included in some of their Bubba of the Apocalypse anthologies), have had a standing rule for a long time. DBAA – The Church of Don’t Be An Asshole.
    While totted mostly for behavior at cons and meetings, their preaching fits on the internet as well. I’ve longed believed in it as well and try as best I can.
    DBAA! Beard!

  • Corollary to the above: If you HAVE been a dick, apologize for it swiftly and without compunction. I was recently (and stupidly) a dick amongst dicks on The Escapist fora recently. To one of the editors, no less! But while I got chewed out, rightfully, I didn’t have a suspension or ban because at least I was swift & earnest in my apologies.

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