Happy Monday, all, if there is such a thing. Just a note that this post is a continuation of some of the thought processes that I’ve been playing out on this site over the past week-and-a-half. A way to mentally clear the gutters, so to speak, and wrap my brain around what I want to change in my career.
Last time I talked about writing versus “the writer” as a shorthand for a cluster of stereotypes. Also something about people clinging to the title as a means of defining themselves as part of a bigger purpose, something or other.
Deeper examination of these writer/person-who-writes issues revealed that they (mostly) stem from difficulties separating in one’s ego from one’s output. In some ways, in the early going, the “writer” or “author” persona created a suit of armor that could be deployed in connection to my work, and not the real me. I didn’t realize I did this because I had previously not thought this to be an issue for me. I come from the wilds of writing in Corporate America, where ego attachment to your work is a good way to find yourself jobless, and for good reason, tech writers need to be responsive and change quickly. It’s not in the job description, but it should be, and those who can’t hack that end up struggling for quite some time before deciding maybe the job isn’t for them. I’ve seen it time and again.
I believed it had toughened me up, and it had to some extent. I handle peer criticism well and am always looking to learn something new. I won’t lie and say that a bad review here or there didn’t spin me into the pits of despair but that often reflected something that made me unhappy about my own work and insecurities about lessons that still needed to be learned. In the end, it made me a better – and harder – writer. All part of the growing process, or so I thought.
Unfortunately, we’re all familiar with the state of the Internet as a mirror of human nature. Sincere criticism of books can bleed over into attacks on an author’s person, the author retaliates, and the whole thing devolves into a microcosm of the high school environment. I’m referring, of course, to the author/reviewer wars that have been ongoing seemingly since time immemorial. They date back almost to the beginning of the relationship between the two, but it’s hard to deny that today’s flavor of the war has a nastier, more personal nature and an ability to hit someone where they live that would be unthinkable in the old confrontations between author and critic.
Even with these lowered barriers between author and critic, my own ego issue did not come down to Goodreads or a bad review . Mine came down to a handful of Internet trolls making personal attacks and acting like the grade-school bullies that they are. I didn’t rise to any of it, in fact, I’m quite sure they have no idea that I even saw their posts. Not that it matters. My ego might have been toughened for attacks on my work, but I failed to prepare myself for that level of nastiness on a personal level.
This incident, combined with some of the other events that I witnessed and have referenced in previous posts, drove me out of the public eye as I struggled to come to terms with exactly what it means to put yourself out there. I mean, let’s face it, we live in a culture where anyone in the public eye is considered free game as a punching bag for someone else’s insecurities. Right or wrong, that’s how it is, and as much as I might wish that the world would act otherwise, it’s not going to change. At least, not during my lifetime.
All the lessons from Author 101 tell you how to handle the issue: be a professional, ignore it, carry on with what you’re doing. I did this, at least when it comes to writing novels. Put my head down and carried on. I know that well. On an emotional level, however, totally uncharted waters that needed to be processed behind the scenes. It has led to a different approach to public interaction, one that is hopefully wiser and more restrained.
I bring all this up because I feel that the indie publishing world on both sides, reviewer and author, are in a similar place in coming to terms with this dilemma: how to separate the ego from the content? How to co-exist when the old walls between the author and the reader have been demolished? I wish I knew. It would make this public outreach a lot easier. I can’t continue to ignore it, however, and have to get back on the horse if I intend to ride this thing out. We’ll see where it goes from here.