Well, things have happened (not to me) that has made me think really hard.
Oh, but before I get into this, I'd like to take the time to extend the warmest congratulations to my Kung FU brother and sometime Nights at the Round Table contributor J.P. for his very recent engagement to his long time girlfriend. I may have squealed like a child when I was told last night.
Right, now that's out of the way, back on topic. I posted THIS article to my Facebook page yesterday. I mentioned that it made me uncomfortable because I can totally see myself in the author of the article, even though I recognise what she did as very wrong.
Some real world advice to everyone, not just writers:
There are some people in the world who give their lives meaning by attempting to tear others down. I would wager that it gives them genuine pleasure to watch people around them go insane on their account. There's nothing you can really do about it. It could be a life-destroying, career-ending move to engage with these people in any way. It's not right, and it's not fair. But neither is life.
Even though I know the above is very true, I have a real problem keeping my mouth shut when I see something I consider unfair. Looking at my post history should tell you that. I rant. A lot. Ranting is my way of doing something, of working my way through the issue at hand, of sorting out my feelings. It's not a very effective method for making a change in the world, but it does make me feel better. I will step into an online fight willingly if I feel an injustice has been served. And I'm pretty dogged about it, too.
That said, I do try hard not to engage directly with any troll that decides they want to target me for their perverse pleasure. Generally, I feel like these people are hurting; they're feeling their insignificance and will do whatever it takes to make those around them feel insignificant as well. I try to remind myself of that every time I come across someone trying to drag me down.
In spite of myself, it very rarely works. I had a troll for a while on my YouTube channel. I admit, I engaged. I wasn't overly vitriolic, actually, and by the end, he seemed like nothing more than a really lonely and misguided dude. I reckon we'd get on if we met face to face. But it could have gone very badly for me. A lot of trolls are incredibly smart. They know what buttons to press. They know how to make you feel miserable. They know exactly how to manipulate you and your feelings to always look the best in a given situation. They could make it so that they appear the victims even though they're the one in total control of the situation.
That is why it's generally a good idea to not engage. I'm telling this to my reflection as I type.
I also understand just how hard it is to keep your mouth shut and walk away; especially if you feel personally attacked and victimised. It's frakkin' hard. And that's why I understand the author in the article. I get the obsessiveness over the troll. I get the desire to understand why. Why is this person doing this? Why to me? Why? Why? Why?
I get it.
And that's why the article made me uncomfortable. Because I understood. I empathised. And I knew what she did was wrong.
I am very fortunate that I haven't been trolled very hard. I haven't felt the compulsion for what the author in the article did. I have never felt the need to literally stalk someone who has been making it their life goal to upset me.
So, what this author did is not acceptable in any way shape or form.
Neither, however, is what the cat-fisher did. The problem, of course, is that as an author, it is now impossible to stand up for yourself without being blacklisted on platforms such as Goodreads,com as an ABB (Author Behaving Badly). However much self-defence is warranted, doing it will land you on the never-again lists of readers and reviewers everywhere... and you need readers and reviewers. You're a writer. You need them. And you know, even the smallest infraction, real or imagined, will land you on that list. It's gotten to the point where many authors feel like they cannot blog about a bad review (even in vague terms). They certainly cannot defend themselves against reviewers who do nothing but attack the author in their 'reviews' rather than tackle the problems in the book (which is what a review ought to do).
Which is where I will land myself in trouble, I know. I have blogged about a bad review, in vague terms. The thing is, I made up my mind a long time ago that I did not want to be one of those writers who made themselves to be more than they are. I have no intention of looking down at the masses from some lofty tower of literary achievement. I actually really like interacting with my readers. I want to be there for them. I want this precisely because I know how wonderful it feels when someone you admire spends a small amount of their very precious time to acknowledge you. For that reason, I tend to be very open with my thoughts and feelings on this blog. And that review really got me down, so I blogged about it.
Mind you, it was less about the review than about how the review made me feel. Clue: like crap. I tried hard to shrug it off, but couldn't. Objectively, I know that everyone is entitled to an opinion. And it was a legitimate review, attacking the book rather than myself, which is legit. That's a proper review. It still got me down.
I suppose the difference between me and the author of the article is that I didn't engage with the reviewer. That doesn't matter, though. What I did would be enough to land me on any ABB list. And that is a scary prospect. I want to be able to share my journey with you - both the ups and the downs. I want to be open and available to you. But the very idea that people will make it their life's mission to destroy my career if I do that makes me want to run for the hills.
It's not right. It's not fair. But that is the reality I and many other writers face. So what do I do? Do I cease to be myself? Do I spend my life walking on eggshells?
I don't think I can stop being myself. I spent all of my formative years trying to hide myself from the people around me. It's a shitty way to live. So, despite myself, I will probably still blog about the things that upset me, as well as the things that make me happy. I will continue to be myself, and to be the human being I am, flaws and all.
What I must continually remind myself of, though, is to avoid engaging with a reviewer for any reason - even if it's to say thank you. I certainly will have to stay well away from bad reviews. No duh. It's easy to do for legitimate reviews of people who just didn't like my book. It's much harder to do for reviews that are not so much reviews as they are personal attacks.
But, alas, that is a part of the job, it seems. What pity.
Here is something I love by spoken word artist Shane Koyczan, whom I adore: