How Not To Be A Dickface As A Writer

As you may know, I’ve a novel due in the next couple weeks. By the time you read this I may already be done said novel, but I still want some padding during these days to give it a once over and make sure it’s in tip-top shape before it leaps forthwith into the publisher’s open, loving arms. That means, over the next two weeks, you’re going to see a bunch — nay, a bushel — of guest posts here at Ye Olde Terryblemyndes bloggery hut (“Where the Elite Meet to Eat Sweet Treats”). Friday’s flash fiction will remain ongoing, however. Anywho, here then is a guest post from sinister ink-witch and terribleminds favorite, Karina Cooper. Her website is here. And don’t forget to follow her on the Twitters.

May I have your attention, please? Hi. My name is Karina Cooper. I am a writer. Are you all paying attention? Yes? Good. Ready?

Charlie Sheen.

You know that thing you just did? That tic? That, right there, is why you want to hear me.

Look, I get it. You’ve spent all this time reading helpful blogs, tips, articles and the like all about how to be a better writer. How to cleverly avoid adverbs, narrowly miss writing yourself into corners, sincerely query your agents and editors of choice. You’re told how to save a penny, earn a penny, make a buck. There’s excellent how-tos, dos and don’ts, tidbits and bite-sized morsels of help from all over.

What I have never found? A reminder. One that Charlie Sheen dished out just by example. One that a handful of other prolific writers and wanna-be authors really should have been told. Shut up. Pay attention. Stare hard. I want these words branded in your brain:

Don’t be a dickface.

Ooh. Sorry, is that too much? Let me couch it in terms my agent said to me: “Don’t be a whack job online.”

Better? Good. Let me give you some background.

Once upon a time, there was an incredibly prolific writer who kept a blog. In this blog, she wrote all about the fact that her main character looks like her. And a fuckwit character in her books (a man whose character growth seemed to expand or retract based on this author’s whim) was actually based on her abusive ex-husband. In this same series, the weirdly perfect new hero was based on her now-husband, a man who used to stalk her. Are you creeped out, yet?

In a galaxy far, far away, another prolific author took to Twitter to share that the new work in progress sucked. That it was a bad day, but the sucky book was finished, and would be ready for readers to pony up $8 a pop for this sucky work of suckitude. Whine, whine, and one hand out to collect the earnings. Pity sales would skyrocket for sure… OR WOULD IT?

Meanwhile, back in Manhattan… An author took to roundly scolding every reader and reviewer who dared leave a less than stellar review on various review sites. This author would stalk the web for any mention of name or books, and leave trash-talking comments (sometimes anonymously), insulting everything from the reviewer’s taste to affiliations to intelligence.

…Are you sensing a trend?

Listen, my delicious friends, it’s a simple fact. Sitting behind the anonymous screen of your own computer makes you God. It makes you Zuul. It makes you untouchable and popular and ohmygodcrazy. They love you. They REALLY love you.

I’m here to tell you: don’t be fooled. It’s tempting to grab a beer and sit back on your digital porch, cranking out banjo tunes and shooting off your shotgun (overly complex metaphor is overly complex), but don’t. People are listening. No, really, read that again: people ARE listening. Once-fans or potential readers who don’t feast on drama and rage. Editors and agents who sure as shit are Googling your name upon receiving a query.

Have a blog about eating babies with a nice glass of cranberry juice? A Twitter rant about how stupid Editors X, Y, and Z are? An article extolling the virtues of the First Religion of Anal Bleaching? Congratulations. You’ve just shared with prospective employers three things: 1) you’re non-engagingly weird, and possibly a serial killer, 2) you can’t be professional and certainly can’t be trusted not to stir shit in what amounts to a place of business, and 3) you have an overly zealous obsession with harsh chemicals in delicate places.

None of these things are what we’d call “excellent business sense”.

Let me put it in very clear terms: Writing is a business. Editors, agents, these are your employers (and although it could be said that agents work for you, it’s you that has to earn them, see?). You DO want to get out there and be heard, but you want to be remembered for who you are, your own charming self, your awesome hair, and most importantly, what you’re writing and not what you’re frothing at the mouth about.

“But, Karina,” you whine, “I can only be me!” Okay, fine. The you with the spiky colored hair and facial piercings is eccentric. The you with the porcelain doll collection is quaint. The you with the ongoing obsession with neon pink polka dots and red armpit hair is… unfortunate, but you are what you are.

The you with the undying need to argue with people who don’t like your work, the you with the unhealthy desire to overshare about your sex/political/religious life, the you with seriously unresolved issues treating your blog like a therapist maybe should stay behind closed doors. That means off the net, out of the limelight, stuffed in a closet and beaten with sticks.

You want to write? Pfft, ANYONE can write.

You want to make it as a writer? You want to become an author by career? Then you gotta walk the walk. Talk the talk. Have attitude all you want, but don’t let it get the best of you.

Don’t, in fact, be a dickface.

I know this stuff. I’m a romance author. I’ve got magenta hair and more piercings than I know what to do with, I have a Twitter feed a mile long, I spam the ever-living hell out of the online community, and despite all of this weirdness I present, I am not a dickface, either. I can be ME without opening up my dirty laundry to the world.

Come, friends. Let us not be dickfaces together.

Oh, and you should totally go out and get my first book. It’s called Blood of the Wicked, and it’s out May 31st, 2011. Check it out on Goodreads! Actually, only do that if you or someone you know loves witches, romance, blood, murder, death, sex and gratuitous use of the word “fuck.” And happy endings. I love me some happy endings. Otherwise, just enjoy my glistening spam-meats over at Twitter.

Edit: Chuck also adds: Amazon has a pre-order button for Blood of the Wicked.

28 comments

  • It’s a fine line between “opinionated” and “dick”.

    Chuck’s self-pub post stayed on the opinionated side of that line by virtue of being only half-serious (imo). Nevertheless, I bet he got a lot of vitriol for it.

    I don’t know if you’re checking comments, Karina, but if you are…do you have any tips for how to come across as opinionated but not dickish?

    • I think this post is pretty spot on, and thanks to Karina for giving it.

      I do think that writers can talk about all sorts of opinions without being a dickface — it’s okay to talk politics and religion as long as you’re polite and reasonable about it. And if you can’t be either of those things, it’s time to back away from the ol’ computer. Thing is, I do believe that some writers are afraid to have any kind of opinion, and understandably so. Whether the opinion is, “I’m an athiest” or, “I didn’t like Sucker Punch,” any time you take even a soft stand on an issue you risk alienating someone, somewhere. On the other side of it, though, I don’t think that’s emblematic of most audience, and if a reader or audience member turns away from a politely-stated, reasoned opinion simply due to disagreement, well, it’s possible you didn’t want them to be a reader in the first place.

      My suspicion is that most readers respond well to writers who have opinions rather than writers who are just mouthpieces for their own work. This is increasingly true in the age of social media, where creators and storytellers are called upon to be people rather than just emblems of their products. You’re better off being you — the best version of you, with your happiest foot forward — than being an automaton.

      Of course, it’s all just guess-work. Even still, the spirit of this is right on: be not a dickface, writer-types. Whether you’re talking about cheese, baseball, Batman or religion. Don’t be a dickface. Karina nailed it.

      — c.

  • This is one of the best posts I’ve read. It’s true. It’s hilarious. It’s damn good advice. I’ve seen a lot of people share things on the internet that gave me pause. I try not to share anything that might make people uncomfortable. I’d also like to point out that my porcelain doll collection is from when I was eight, and it’s in the attic. *grin*

    Great post. Thank you for writing this! :-)

  • “Anyone can write. You want to make it as a writer? Don’t be a dickface.”

    LOVE IT.

    And Chuck, you’re right. It IS possible to have opinions without being opinionated. There’s a fine line between debate and arguing and I’ve found that either you see the line or you don’t. Or your butt gets kicked enough to where the line finally becomes visible.

    We can disagree with being disagreeable. :)

    Great post Karina! RTing now!

    (In other news, Twitter has ruined my life.)

    • It is just as important not to get drawn into the gravity of other dickfaces. It’s inevitable that people fight on the Internet. I don’t know why — it’s somehow like you can’t disagree and discuss without something always turning into a keenly-felt personal argument. The goal is to remain friendly and polite even in the face of dickfacedness, because the only person who loses when you’re a dick is you. It was like that thing last week with the Greek Seaman self-pubbed author. No, what she did was not deserving of admiration, and it was good that the blog writer of that post was clear and polite to her. But what then happened was all these other writers and pub-types came out of the woodwork to condemn her as if they were adding something special to the argument — they were not. They were fighting “dickface” with “dickface,” which is a lose-lose scenario.

      — c.

  • Chuck — you make a good point about the Greek Seaman debacle (and I almost made an egregious typo just then). What she did was wrong. Very wrong. But if people respond by grabbing the nearest flamer-thrower made of shit and vitriol, then they’re just as wrong. I was really flummoxed to find that people were dropping nasty Amazon reviews out of spite. That’s bad form. Dirty pool, if you will.

  • Best advice I ever got was, “Duck.”

    But the second best was, “Don’t be an asshole.”

    Haven’t always followed it, of course, and, like all of us, I’ve got some internet bits and pieces that will follow me to my grave. Best thing I can think of when faced with situations like the Greek Seaman lady is to nod, smile and back away slowly.

    And if someone’s going to give you a hard time in a review, or try to troll an argument online they don’t know really know what to do with politeness.

  • OH MY GOD, CHUCK, SHUT UP YOU DON’T KNOW ANY—Wait. Where was I going with that? Oh, that’s right, anonymous intarwebz fight… Someone get the hot oil. And the surrogate bikini fighters.

    Actually, Chuck nailed it. It’s hard to stay under a certain amount of words and include everything (I blame Chuck), but he’s right.

    I’m one of those people who will start seeing red when politics, religion and other hot-button topics spill over my doorstep. Not because they annoy me as a rule, but because I am that freaking opinionated. I have opinions about everything. Presidents, religious matters, fashion, weather, books, people, and cheese. Serious opinions about cheese, yo.

    I could wax on and on about anything, but I know — logically — that religion, for example, is a hot-button topic. I know that people can go crazy on the subject. I know myself, and how I react to things, and so I put on my logical hat and avoid stepping into it.

    The thing is, you can express opinions all you want in whatever polite and “hello, I am being watched” way you want, but you have to know your limits, too. If you’re patient and have the ability to shrug off rabid flecks of red-colored foam as people froth at you in regards to a topic, feel free to wade into that jell-o pool. As long as you remain, as Chuck said, respectful and open to all (reasonable) arguments, then you are expressing yourself in a way that isn’t a dickface.

    Me? I’m not so good at that. Many is the time I’ve throw my hands up at the internet and gone for a glass of wine. ;) But see, no one knows that. They wouldn’t remember if they did. No one would ever say, “That Karina, she’s so smart to be keeping her nose out of that discussion about cannibal fetus-eating donkey-lovers”.

    What they would do, however, is remember if I waded in swinging. That’s the kind of stuff people love. No one cared when Charlie Sheen was successfully minding his drunk business on Two and a Half Men, but look at him now. Jobless, but talked about.

    It really comes down to how you want to be talked about. And when this is your business, you need to keep a certain amount of rein on the portions you have control of.

    Or… make a sex tape. I’m told that ALWAYS works!

  • Alas, but I have been a dickface online for so many years, but am only now becoming a writer! It’s difficult to fight one’s online inertia and even more difficult to dissociate one’s self from the persona of years gone by.

  • Biggest mistake I’ve made in my blog: Sharing about the reality of waiting to get published. “Look, I have 73 rejections now!” seems like courage, but if a publisher googles you and finds that. . . it’s not good.

    On the other hand “I HAD 73 rejections and now I’m published” is a great story. You just gotta hold on until then.

    Ditto long response times. It’s not my fault when publishers take longer than a year to make a decision, but talking about it on my blog still makes me look bad.

    Talking about the writing process, tips, things I learnt, how good it feels – that’s all worth saying. The rest has to be shared with my 3D friends only.

    Louise Curtis

  • Very good advice, even for those of us who aren’t writers (maybe someday…). I’ve been considering a lot of that information too with what to present in my own blog and elsewhere online. I love Chuck’s in-your-beard attitude and how he can cuss up a storm but still make me laugh and feel good in that one soft spot left in my icy heart.

    I am scared crapless to write my own opinions on similar topics for my blog, though – and even on Facebook and Twitter I’ve been wondering about the image I am projecting to others through what I write/post/retweet. It’s been difficult trying to find the common ground of being edgy and cool and still being able to appear professional and worthy of employment. While I’ve only had to be a dickface on a couple of occasions (at least online…), I’ve tried to steer myself from that recently, even if I feel justified. It’s not only stressful for me but also doesn’t make me look very good (and I need all the help I can get!).

    On a sort of side-note, “Shift” by Peter Arnell was a really good read about “how to reinvent your business, your career, and your personal brand” if anyone is interested. I’m still working on figuring out my own personal stuff with what I want to do but it does offer some great insight on what all to think about specifically when it comes to presenting yourself to the world.

    So thank you for the good read. I wish you the best with your book release (I’m very happy to see a Kindle version :3)! And also, congratulations Chuck on finishing *your* novel. I hope we get to see it soon!

  • Wonderful post, and all of it absolutely true. This is what I wish everyone would understand: Once it’s on the internet, it’s there forever. Forever, people. It will not go away. You must treat your writing name as a business. As a side note, treat your “real” name as a business, too, cause you can lose your job, friends, business, and contracts just because someone Googled your name or looked you up on Facebook.

    Oh, and I love her cover. As a fellow romance writer I can say…hot! ;)

  • If you really just HAVE TO disagree with someone online, the important distinction is to confront the idea and not the person. You have to display respect for the person and their right to hold a different view of things. Even if it’s totally baseless and unwarranted and they’re being a clueless doodoohead.

    And if you don’t respect the person, or even have some small affection for them (in a totally non-stalkery way of course), you might want to think hard about why you’re even considering their opinion, let alone taking time to dispute it. Life is too short to hang out with people you don’t like or respect.

    The problem I tend to have online is my very dry and sarcastic sense of humour. I’m fine in forums where people “know” me and are used to it. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped myself from commenting or have deleted a comment before hitting “submit” because I just know it’s going to be taken the wrong way. Sometimes even with people who I think DO know me (or who should, for godsakes), there have been instances of WTF-ery. Knowing this makes me more reserved (yes, this is reserved) (really, you have no idea) and less likely to say anything, anywhere.

    You should see the tweets I delete. Um, or maybe not. The potential for misunderstanding just skyrockets with constrained word count. I would never even consider writing haiku.

    Great post, Karina. Looking forward to your impending release. And your book debut. ;)

  • I’ve got opinions that are equal opportunity offenders. Yet, as I grow older, I’ve learned that decorum and wit are better weapons against attacks than a hail of expletives and insults.

    I apply the same rule to online criticism as I do for workshop or critique groups. Listen, correct your mistakes and let harsh comments slide off you like water off a ducks ass. If you must complain, do it over beers with a friend behind closed doors.

    @Louise Curtis – Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive – people will be more likely to celebrate your few victories than console you over numerous defeats. Anyone else having a Sheen moment?

  • @John Baur: I’m afraid so. It amazes me how many people let slip their “gameface” online, which is the equivalent of dropping trousers on national news. The way people treat themselves and others leaves a lasting mark on a business, and in the end, I think it’s good to remind people that publishing (or, really, any sort of writing work) is still a business.

    It’s easy to lose sight of this fact when much of it is comprised of sitting at home with a glass of whiskey and your PJs, banging repeatedly on a keyboard until words fall out. ;)

  • After 20+ years on the net it continues to amuse me how people behave like this is an endless cocktail party and their rants and blatherings will be entrusted to confidants or forgotten in a fruity drink haze by morning. The internet is forever.
    Write a crap book full of ravings and nonsense? Once it’s out of print, before the age of e-books, and it might be found decades later by someone researching your obituary. Now every bathroom wall scrawl is immortalized by the GOOG, and will be carved in your back like the punishment for Kafka’s prisoner in the Penal Colony.
    So don’t be a dickface.
    Did a review hurt your widdle feewings? In the wise words of the Dude, say “well that’s just like your opinion, man.” And go bowling.

  • I think it’s always ok for a writer to voice a passionate, heartfelt opinion on any issue, controversial or otherwise. That might even be a requirement for a writer.
    As a species, we used to prize a person’s ability to put forth an elegant argument and eloquently defend it. I personally appreciate a writer who can pull off a defense of their own work with eloquence, as long as that defense makes a run at universal truths.

    There is a way to say *anything* without being a whack job, as Karina so aptly points out.

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