The February 28th blog post by the always-insightful Anne R. Allen knocked me over. So, so many good points in her wide-ranging take on Internet censorship (and the too-often resulting self-censorship), misplaced political correctness, trolls, crowdsourcing, the Dunning-Kruger Effect (worth a follow-up search all on its own!), and writing in general. I shared the post far and wide, but that wasn’t enough. I can’t get her words out of my mind.
“Self-pity and self-righteous rage have become the drugs of choice in the Internet age.”
Everyone is offended by something these days, and they’re not afraid to share their tender feelings – loudly and often. Flames wars and trolls and blog comments that would melt the screen right off my laptop are the norm. When did it become okay, even expected, to denigrate, insult, and far too often, threaten those who express a contrary opinion? How are we as a society ever to debate important issues if sensitive subjects are taboo because we might trigger someone’s latent PTSD (or bruise a too-fragile ego)? Such topics can be addressed with empathy; they should not be ignored.
I have plenty of private issues of my own, ones I don’t choose to burden the Internet community with, and if someone’s blog-du-jour addresses one of those topics in a manner I’m not prepared to deal with, I close the window and walk away. My personal trauma should never prevent others from discussing sensitive matters. Why is that so hard to understand?
“Dunning and Kruger are scientists at Cornell University who proved that people who are the most confident and vocal are generally the most ignorant and incompetent. In other words, the loudest complaints usually come from the least-informed people.”
Excuse me, but if someone tries to silence the expression of uncomfortable ideas, how is that person – or those like them – ever to learn they have options? Burying one’s head in the sand doesn’t help the ostrich; it certainly doesn’t help human beings cope in the long run. Shouting down those opposing viewpoints won’t make the issue go away; it will only fester like a boil, waiting to explode when the heat and pressure of reality can no longer be contained.
Unfortunately, I’ve found myself reacting to those squeaky wheels (and even just the specter of them) by self-censoring my own work. It’s not a new problem; I first blogged about it back in 2011. But I’ve noticed an increased hesitancy in my blogging and social media posts now that I’m a “real” published author.
Mustn’t offend the readers, you know. sigh
Which leads me to Anne’s next point:
“Technology has liberated us in many ways, but it also invites the general public to provide input for creative work and shape that work according to their own opinions, tastes, prejudices, and level of (in)competence.”
I specifically avoid sites like WattPad for the same reason I had to stop attending my weekly writers group for a time. When I’m working on the first draft of a novel, I can’t have other people offering feedback – no matter how well-intentioned – because overly-compliant me will immediately try to make them happy by incorporating their suggestions.
Not a good move for a writer.
I’ve been told I should be stronger than that. That I should be strong in my convictions, believe in myself, and simply learn to filter out the conflicting comments and keep writing.
Yeah, not going to happen. See the above paragraph re: personal issues.
Anne quotes journalist Porter Anderson: “[I]f it takes a village to write your book, is it your book?”
I think not. If you want to write a collaborative effort, go for it! But for many of us with our own story to tell, isolation through that all-important first draft is vital. And when that’s done, I choose my beta readers carefully. Not everyone will like what I write, and that’s okay (I say cringing…). Anne does a masterful job of pointing out historical best-selling authors who quickly faded from the scene after their too-trendy/market-driven work grew stale and gave way to the next shiny distraction.
“In a crowdsourced, market- and consensus-dominated world, we might squelch the Thornton Wilders, Manets, and Steinbecks…and end up with nothing but Sharknado #27, paintings of big-eyed kids, and Fifty Shades of Boring.”
There’s so much good, thought-provoking stuff in Anne’s blog – lots of helpful links to other equally worthy pieces, too. So I’ll stop here, and hope you’ll take time to read her post. Long, yes, but definitely worth the read.