Sunday, February 28, 2016

To Be Clear, I Don't Have Better Things to Do If I Quit Writing

My post, “I Need a Break,” received a surprising number of hits, and even more encouraging emails from fellow writers, old friends, and complete strangers. I can’t state enough how you can make someone’s day with a kind, unsolicited interaction. Go out and be nice to someone today! Unless they are, of course, suffering from social anxiety, in which case you might just end up making us crap our pants. But, amongst comments of solidarity and personal praise, it was brought up to me several times that I should under no circumstances quit writing—a refreshing change from my college’s refrain.

I don’t know what I actually said in that blog and I’m certainly not going to read it again, but I was never intending on quitting writing. Even as if it is nothing more than a pipedream, I have no idea what I would do with myself otherwise. Play video games and snuggle cats, I guess.

I wanted to take a break from feeling bad about not writing, that is true. But moreover, I wanted to take a break from social media.

No matter what anyone tells you about social media not selling books, it is not a useless endeavor. It’d be great if it was because it can feel like a colossal waste of time, and it can be incredibly draining for something so silly. But while I can’t attest to how effective it is to making people buy your book, I can say that it has broadened my audience and without it, I would be talking to myself right now.

When I don’t post an update on Twitter and Facebook, I am lucky if I receive five percent of my usual readers. The more time I spend interacting, the more notice my blog, web comic, and online serial get. The more others talk about me, the even better. It is the difference between moderate traction and complete obscurity.

And I do buy a lot of books because of Facebook and Twitter. Honestly, I don’t need social media to tell me what to read next, but my list of To-Bes would be limited to things like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, whatever I can find in cheap audios, and the occasional beautiful cover in the bookstore. It’s via social media that I come across the unknowns and take a chance on debut authors. I have a huge pile of books I want to read, but those are usually well-known classics that “everyone” needs to have read.

My problem with social media is the anxiety that comes with the internet. I try to comment on fellow authors’ posts and always look to be positive, funny, and friendly, avoiding controversial issues or arguments. But “harmless” comments can suddenly be blown out of proportion, sarcasm is taken seriously, or just your ego accidentally slips through until days later when you find out someone had blocked you (Though this hasn’t happened to me personally… yet). Plus, having a genuine conversation, allowing yourself to have an opinion, and even stepping in when you see someone making what you consider a huge mistake is a daily struggle. Be yourself, I believe. But what if yourself is a huge bitch?

Do you respond honestly to a status asking why their book doesn’t sell? Do you tell someone that they’re obviously not a “best-selling author” with one review on a self-published short story? Do you argue with that stranger who belittles other writers? Do you get involved when someone’s being bullied? Do you know for sure who’s being bullied? Do you voice your politics or unsavory opinions? Do you make that somewhat offensive joke? Do you be honest about your insecurity?

I am a paranoid person when it comes to people I don’t know very well. When I was younger, I had friends I thought I was close to who would later badmouth me to someone else. That complete stranger would suddenly have a vendetta. They would take it upon themselves to “right the wrongs” of my personality. I wouldn’t understand for years where the hatred came from, my friend giving no inclination of her feelings (occasionally those feelings just being an impulsive and temporary rant), and the “strong heroic stranger” thinking they could take the hit for her. Often it was just typical middle school drama. But there were other times it came from much older people who I considered authority figures, who I respected, who knew their issues to be petty and were afraid of me. They would try and get someone else to do their dirty work, to sabotage my project, or convince students to refuse to work with me. I often had people dislike me without ever being made aware of it, and I often paid the price before I could even try to solve the problem.

On social media, you can’t read people’s expressions, you don’t talk to them every day. You say one thing that rubs them the wrong way and they just don’t like you—we don’t even have to remember why.

Facebook’s new emojis don’t help the paranoia either. “Do you mean ‘Angry Face’ in solidarity or did I just piss you off?”

Today I read a post by a writer who I had written off as an “artistic snob,” the typical intellectual who loved the literary classics and spurned modern writers. He was bragging about the greatness of Sam Shepard and claiming American writers today all are terrible, implying a hatred for fantasy and magic-based stories.

In my mind, I wrote a response, a long and winding response, a long and winding but cathartic and honest response. “Read more,” I wanted to say in the end. “Read more and open your horizons past your own butthole.”

I did not post it.

Anyone who claims that all modern writers are trash, that all modern writers are doing the same things, is the same asshole who couldn’t see Sam Shepard’s greatness is his own time either, the critic who claims that Sam Shepard is no Beckett and Beckett’s Absurdist style cannot compare to Eugene O’Neill. It’s the same personality that ten years from now will be saying how no new playwrights can compete with David Lindsay-Abaire because the critic is too busy confirming what he already knows to find out anything new.

But, of course, I didn’t get involved. Instead, I just unfriended him thinking, I can’t believe I haven’t already unfriended you. Though I couldn’t remember anything else about him, I recognized his name and I had long written him off as another Jonathan Jones type: some shallow literary snob who can’t think for himself. He had already annoyed me before, I knew that much.

Yet, for one or two comments and a profile picture, I’m probably not doing him justice. I would wager he is more complex than that one status makes him, but I really don’t want to bother with giving him a chance. It’s fair, but I feel as though I too could post an opinion, stated poorly or without the context of who I am, that could put people off. Can I accurately analyze my own statuses for all hypocrisy and arrogance? Ha.

And there’s the feeling of helplessness and uncertainty that comes with it. By unfriending him, I have removed his negativity from my life, but I have done nothing to combat a problematic attitude about writing in general. Should I have argued with him? Or would I just be trolling? Engaging in an argument for the sake of catharsis? Participating in the same vigilantism that is really just bullying? Arguments and opinions can be beneficial; maybe I would have been the first to give him a sense of how he is perceived. Or they can be mean, closed-minded, and controlling; maybe I would be just telling him to think like me. I still think about his negative attitude and let myself be bothered by it even though I “let it go.”

Which is the bigger issue. I constantly come across ideas I don’t agree with, attitudes I despise. At first, when I accepted friend requests from anyone who asked, I found myself with a feed full of hate-speech, mostly against women. (The same guys, it should be noted, who harassed female authors with inane or sexual messages.) I again just unfriended them, but it does beg the question of if women spoke out more against hateful attitudes and harassment would it be less normalized, people all around made aware by the conflict of the issue, perpetrators seeing ramifications for their attitudes? Their ideas still eat at me even though I no longer remember who exactly was said or by who.

I had been growing more irritable and vocal as the overwhelming factors in my outside life spin around me. Writers are negative people—anyone reading this blog can attest. We’re scared, cynical, unsocial, and sensitive. We have egos and delusions of grandeur. The more I bit back my tongue, the more I carefully considered my words and thoughts, avoiding anything that may be bullying—controlling at best—the more I couldn’t stand when others didn’t show me the same respect.

I told you guys in my Break post that I barked at a man who, after complaining every day about his book not selling well, made what I perceived as a smug status about how he’s the sort of person to donate all of his hypothetical profits because he doesn’t write for the money. Contextually, he had been getting worse, this just adding to the long list of statuses that implied his book wasn’t selling because he wasn’t a sellout (unlike others he could mention, damn romance writers). Keeping in mind that he was not the only writer saying something along these lines on my feed, and his comment became the last straw. I allowed myself to say exactly what was on my mind.

It was one of those unimportant arguments that I really shouldn’t have gotten involved in. I made him feel bad, and for what benefit? Him stating how artistically pure he is doesn’t do a lot of damage other than to my last nerve.

Then I got in the fight with Mr. My-Ebook-Is-Worth-Twenty-Five-Dollars, though that was an accident, to be fair. After answering a seemingly benign question, I found myself on the audience side of a tirade that belittled self-publishers and literary agents, claiming he knew he had a bestseller on his hands, and that his book was different than the rest of the garbage out there.

Figuring I was already in it, I let myself go off on him, telling him to “be respectful,” and reminding him that he was not alone in his disdain, that many people would look down on him for self-publishing as well. They wouldn’t know that he “spent more than two weeks on it,” and “had it professionally edited by a 73-year-old retired teacher.”

Funnily enough, I have as of yet to see any ramifications for interaction, other than pissing us both off.

Right on the tail-end of that conversation, I noticed a post by a “Ghostwriter” who was offering to write screenplays of books. He asked if every author on Facebook was too poor to take him up on his services, which made them need them more, in his opinion. This rubbed people the wrong way and comments poured in. Had I been as angry, I probably wouldn’t have responded, but instead, feeling empowered by the little consequence for my lip towards the last guy, and fairly objective, I was frank with him about why people wouldn’t want to spend 700 dollars for a screenplay when 1) most self-published authors made less than 500 dollars in their entire careers and 2) a screenplay does nothing if you’re not optioned first. Even when you are optioned, the studio is likely to pick the scriptwriter themselves. He didn’t understand the literary industry at all, offering to write a “book proposal” for self-publishers who wanted the traditional route. I was to the point, though I did allow myself a little bit of snark when I pointed out that he should put periods at the ends of his posts if he’s showcasing his writing ability.

He took down his page.

Now, I’m not narcissistic enough to say it was due to me, and that is one time in which I really do think his attention should be directed elsewhere. I don’t see a market for a screenwriter of self-published books, (although it appears Amazon is taking strides that might change things) and based on our conversation, he seemed to think it was easy money. He had already been ripped off by his two clients, and he needed to understand the book industry much better before telling people his services would help them become more successful—years of research. I can only hope that he hasn’t given up on screenplay writing altogether, but who knows.

So when I came across a post about a girl who received a whole slew of bad reviews and comments before her book even came out, leading her to quit writing all together, I had to sit back and examine just how easily comments on the net can go wrong. Her “bullies” who bombasted the article about her, claim she deserved it by being overly sensitive and rude. According to her, she had only asked a question, according to them, she was an asshole about it.

She had to have said something to set them off, but I still am not sure what it was. Her website was taken down, like her Twitter and Facebook. She dropped off the Earth. There were some screenshots, but her words didn’t appear any more sensitive than a lot of other writers I’ve seen.

It reminded me of when a group of authors ganged up on a woman who was asking to Crowdfund her novel. One of the ring masters was a blogger I follow quite frequently. I loved her negativity, but I found, at times, her encouraging people to become vigilantes. Sometimes this did great things, calling out plagiarists and saving fellow authors hundreds in legal fees. Others, it felt like she was encouraging cruelty to someone who had pissed her off. She overtly encourages social justice, and says to speak out when you see wrong doing.

I get all kinds of requests for crowdfunding, and if I don’t know the person, I just ignore them. Once did I get indignant at a gentleman who claimed he worked “harder than anyone” else he knew, (100 hours a week!) and so didn’t he deserve to be paid 20,000 a year? But I couldn’t see what it was about this girl’s request that ticked them off. Yes, being asked for donations for your writing from people who are also trying to make money by writing can be irritating, but how could they have not already gotten that from the hundreds of people who sent me requests last year? We follow the same circles…

I imagine she caught someone at the wrong time and then the fight began.

Then you see posts about the girl who made a bad joke on Twitter. “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She had few Twitter friends, was not famous for anything, and posted a comment she deemed so stupid no one would ever take it seriously.

She went viral, was fired and harassed, and became a warning for social media accounts everywhere.

Now, I don’t believe in posting racist jokes myself, but I do post stupid ones. I also post controversial ones. I am also sarcastic. My first hate-mail was a joke about Hemmingway. To be fair, I should have known better.

My year on social media has been an exhausting one. Being personal, professional, and interesting daily, trying to engage in actual conversation without allowing for petty behavior, and letting go of repetitive bad attitudes can take up your entire day.

It all came to a head when a fellow writer and Facebook friend posted a meme about marriage. I made a polite, positive, and probably even inane comment and left it at that. Little known to me, that comment caused one of my Facebook friends to see it. He got into an argument with her, his friends joined in, and it became this huge ordeal. She blocked them and it just served to tick them off more, finding her on Twitter. So the bullying began.

I felt responsible, but more so, I felt perturbed.

Whenever I post anything I’m nervous about, I tell myself, “You don’t have that many readers.” “Your readers have been good to you.” “Your hate mail is always one on one and private.” Even after doing this for several years, I have never really become the target of online enemies, but it would be easy to find me, easy to harass me if they so choose. I am deliberately personal on my page because I post what I want to see from other authors. Not only do I have to worry about the post or status or comment for some days to come, I have so many articles up, I always fear what will happen in the future, after I’ve long forgotten about them, and suddenly they go viral because of something stupid I said at 21. At least I remember why I said something stupid yesterday.

She had done nothing political, racist, or judgmental, so had no reason to expect it would cause such drama. Perhaps it was her attitude, the way she responded to bad behavior, but I’ve seen people try and let something go only to be perceived as weak.

I wish it was as easy as not being a shit head, but let’s face it, shit heads don’t always get aggression. In fact, it can deter it. We all know that sonnabitch who no one tells is a sonnabitch because they’re scared of him. Kindness does not always beget kindness. And when you consider that tough love and constructive feedback and even just doing your job not always being received well, it becomes even harder to determine if your behavior is going to illicit some sort of anonymous vengeance. Worse, it can be difficult to know if you’re the one dishing out your own punishment or genuinely trying to help.

I needed a break from social media because I realized with the freedom of uncontrollable chaos comes the urge to be a dick, and my life’s indecisions were making me hostile. My personal, passionate posts are always my best and worst. I’m funniest when I’m negative. I’m cruelest when I’m funny. My goal, above all, is to entertain. I can’t do it while censoring myself, but I can’t do it while hurting others.

I’ve been watching a lot of reality T.V. Down Under, because, let’s face it, that’s all that’s on here. I find that the person who avoids the conflict is always the least memorable, the least interesting, the one who gets canned first. But who wants to be the asshole? Doormats aren’t that desirable either.

The stress of everything got to me. It manifested in physical pains. I lost the ability to focus, the ability to remember anything, and felt nervous constantly. Every time I posted anything, I started to over analyze it. I begrudged reading through my feed because, while most posts were of cute children and batshit crazy cats, there always could be something that would absorb all of my attention, something my negativity would fixate on long after I wanted to stop caring. I knew that it had to do with the decisions in my life, how everything was up in the air, how I have only a few people to talk to. Writing, reading, editing, even drawing and sewing have proven to be too much mental energy. So I gave myself permission to quit temporarily, but fortunately for every bored writer who should be working right now, I'm back.

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