Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Social Media, Writerland, and "Call-Out Culture"

Shredded so Beautiful
(or in other words, Critcism Can Be Painful)
Photo by Seemingly
When I was about eight-years-old, I participated in a workshop for young writers. I poured my heart and soul into a ten page story, and submitted it to the workshop leaders. Three days later, I got it back, all marked up in red pen.

My story was wrong, wrong, wrong. The grammar. The puncuation. The plot. Everything.

I was devastated. I cried. I hid the paper in my desk and never wrote another piece of fiction again (not voluntarily, though a few for class assignments). Not for twenty years.

And I'm still super sensitive about things (as my husband will attest). I'm literally the worst for reading between the lines and interpreting statements as subtle personal attacks on me.

I guess what I'm trying to say is:

I get it.

It's painful to see your work and your words critiqued. It's REALLY painful.

It's painful to see authors whose work you have grown to love and respect get "called out" on social media for writing things that hurt people.

     ... sometimes it feels like it's "A Witch Hunt"

     ... sometimes it feels like it's "dogpiling"

     ... sometimes it makes you feel like you don't want to write anything again for fear of criticism.

But here's the thing: Our books are bigger than ourselves and our feelings as authors. 

Writers with platforms have power. 

There are a lot of people paying attention to their words. 

If authors use their platforms to say things that (intentionally or not) hurt people? If there are aspects of their books that are problematic? If they say things that employ or perpetuate harmful stereotypes, misinformation, fetishization, cultural appropriation, racial slurs, or other microagressions?

They need to be called out.

Sometimes this calling out sounds angry. That's because it is. Because effectively, whether the writer realizes it or not, they themselves have "thrown the first punch."

If the voices aren't loud, (and possibly somewhat angry sounding), would anyone hear about these issues? Very doubtful. I'm not sure about you, but if I heard a few people mumbling "well, I kind of had an issue with Chapter 2" or "well, but I'm sure she meant well" ... I wouldn't give it a second glance. I'd think "huh, must not be a big deal."

Calling things out does several extremely positive things: (1) it alerts readers and gatekeepers to books that may be perpetuating harmful messages about minority groups, (2) it alerts future authors on what not to do in their own books.

If we don't call out, how will change ever happen?

Is there a way to do this "nicer"? Sure. Do we need to have more conversations about that? Sure. It's probably a good idea to avoid, for example, tagging someone in something that just comes across as a personal attack. But niceness is in the eye of the beholder.

And also?

It's pretty hard to "be nice" if you just got punched in your gut ... again.

When we tone police and dismiss arguments because they sound angry, more often than not, we're further dismissing and marginalizing voices that our society has already marginalized in the first place.

Too often we dismiss when we should be listening.

So I think, as authors, published or pre-published, our first step and primary responsibility is not to get defensive, but rather to get okay with being called out, and be open to criticism. Maybe part of it is just saying it. Owning it. Preparing for it.

So I'll say it.

I hope you do too.

More Resources:

We Need to Get Okay With Criticism

On The Dangers of Tone Policing

I'd love to hear from you, either here, or on Twitter. I've barely scratched the surface of this topic. What do you think about call-out culture? Have I glossed over important issues? Very likely. Call me out on it ;o)

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