Welcome back readers, to another episode of Being a Better Writer! This week’s entry is a bit of an odd one. In fact, I almost tipped it over to an OP-ED piece initially, but upon thinking about it realize that yes, it was an important writing topic, if a little more unusual than normal. So we’re talking about it for this week’ Being a Better Writer.
But really quick (and I do mean quick, no worries) I do want to issue a heads-up to all prior Alpha Readers: the pre-Alpha for Axtara – Banking and Finance will like finish up today or early tomorrow morning. So this week, Alpha invites will go out!
That’s it! I did say it was quick. It’s also really good news. The last I’ll say on it is that I have immensely enjoyed my time prepping Axtara for Alpha. It’s a lot of fun.
So then, with that bit of excellent news spoken for, let’s get down to today’s topic. Which is, again, a bit weird, even if the title is anything to go by. So for a moment, to explain, let’s talk about some of the weird social climates around the process of creating.
Being a creative (ie an artist, a musician, a writer, or other form of artistic talent) is pursuit that comes with a lot of pressure. Already I can hear some folks saying “but if you love it, it can’t provide pressure.” Those people don’t know what they’re talking about. Creative work has the word “work” right in the title, and any involved project will have a lot of it.
But while we’ve spoken about that before on BaBW, that’s not our topic today. It’s associated with it, and I do want to make clear once more that writing, drawing, and other forms of artistic creation are work before we get rolling into the main topic to help set up some background, but it’s not the focus. Creation is work, work leads to pressure (even if you love the work), and we need to establish that before we move on.
So, that said, once someone becomes known for creating artistic elements, be they writing, music, or some other form, once they have the public eye, small or large, face additional pressure. Fan expectations being the most common. A creator has delivered one excellent product, now it’s on them to deliver another that their fans will pay more for, etc, etc. This shouldn’t be too new to most of you.
But lately there’s been another form of pressure that’s come out on creative types. It’s a pressure that’s always been there in the life of the creative, but now, thanks to social media, has gained a lot of power over the lives of creatives. Especially young creatives, who don’t realize how unusual this power is and react to it accordingly by giving it more.
The power of “Do this for me, because I don’t want to.”
This form of entitlement (and yes, it is entitlement) has always existed. Musicians have been a common target, historically. Someone says “Hey, I can play guitar,” and almost as if it’s a universal law, someone will appear and say “Well can you play this?” However, when told that the musician cannot, rather than accept it and move on, often the questioning party will then say something like “Well then you should learn to play it so I can hear it.”
Some of you might be thinking “Well, that sounds supremely rude, but surely almost no one actually does that.” But sadly, those of you that are musicians likely know to the contrary: Such a scenario is exceedingly common.
Germane to today’s topic, it has also entered the book-writing sphere, where it’s been emboldened by social media to the degree that it’s become a monster all of its own. It’s not hard to find people who have thousands of followers, or that pass reviews on sites, or have social media clout in other ways, demanding that authors ‘Write this book because I want to read it so you should write it.’
Furthermore, such demands are often packaged inside other things, such a social issues, to try and give them more weight. It’s not hard at all to find hordes of folks on Twitter (which, as a rule, authors should avoid) screaming that X social issue needs to be written about now! And woe betide the author who that crowd sets their sights on, because not caving to their entitled demands makes them a target: for smears, attacks, harassment, review bombs, and whatever else that crowd can think up.
As I noted in the parenthetical, as a rule you’re better off avoiding twitter. It’s not a good place to be. Especially as an author. Twitter swarms have destroyed new author’s careers before out of this kind of stuff, bullying them so thoroughly that they’ve dropped out of writing and creation altogether.
Why? Because when faced with dozens, hundreds, or in some cases thousands of voices chanting “Give us what we want or you’re a bad creator and we’ll ruin you” many of these creators, especially the young ones who don’t know any better, either cave or break under the pressure.
Now, at this point, I can see that some of you might be wondering “But if thousands of people are shouting for someone to write something, isn’t that an automatic audience? Why wouldn’t they write for them?” And I’ll admit, that does seem like sound reasoning. A lot of young writers have the same thought. Worse, they think that if they cave to the shouting mob, the mob will disperse and go away, or be happy for them.
Unfortunately, none of those things end up true. For starters, those shouting at the creator always seem to have very little to no overlap with the creators existing fanbase. Meaning that to please the mob, the creator will step away from what their existing readers (or audience) enjoys. A loss for what might be a gain …
… but usually isn’t. If you’ve ever worked with children, you’re probably well aware of what happens to the child that screams and throws tantrums for every little thing when they get that thing: They don’t care. They’re happy for all of a few seconds … then they move on.
People that demand content from creatives, that stir up twitter mobs and online riots demanding work from some creator, display the same behavior. They’re happy they got what they wanted, but then the interest fades.
This is often a double-whammy for the creator caught in their actions, because not only have they then made something that isn’t for their primary audience anymore, they also then find that the “audience” they thought would support their new thing (made just for them, at their demands) doesn’t. They’re “glad it’s out there” and “hope it will find its audience” but that audience isn’t them. The important thing for them is that they got someone to do what they wanted. They’ll move on to the next target to bully.
Worse, sometimes they’ll take the creator caving as a sign to demand more, and stick around to “inspire” another project that’s even further afield from what the creator’s actual audience is for. Just like a child who learns the tantrum works once will swiftly start to behave in the same way to get what they want again and again.
Unfortunately, as pointed out, this behavior works. Especially on young writers who don’t know any better. Fear that the tantrum-throwing hordes will destroy their small career is a strong incentive. Or worse, an unknowing expectation that these folks will stick around and support their work once it’s done (they never do).
Okay, so this has been a pretty depressing topic. But there is a point to it.
Don’t follow the mobs. Ignore them. Make what you want. Make it your own.
See, at the end of the day, here’s the real truth of the matter: No creator “owes” anyone anything they didn’t promise. No one has the right to come up to a creator and demand that they produce content. They can offer cash in exchange for the creator’s efforts and time, but then it’s up to the creator to accept or reject that cash. Mobs, meanwhile, blackmail or threaten creators, offering “we won’t ruin you” as their “cash.”
Pretty lousy monetary value, threats.
Find your real audience. The one that likes what you create and is willing to spend money on it. What that audience is? Well, that’s up to you and for you to find out. But it is not the swarming mob online that attempts to coerce you into writing something with threats and insults. Real fans will purchase your work and support you in creating more of it. They won’t attempt to hold you hostage with their ‘favor.’ They’ll want you to create more of what you create, not what they would create.
So yes, ignore the mobs. Learn what your audience is. This doesn’t mean you may not make changes here and there to your work to appeal to those audience members, but that choice and decision will be yours, not that of someone else pressuring you to let them call the shots.
The mob, whether they come with honeyed words, threats of one form or another, or just insults and accusations, is not looking out for your best interest. They don’t care about your career, or even about their own cause, whatever they profess it to be. In the end, they like the rush of bullying someone else into doing what they tell them. They’re a modern “Biff Tannen,” pushing others around for the enjoyment of doing it while hiding behind a facade.
So write what you will. Draw what you will. Find your audience, and don’t give in to those who demand you write something else to suit them.
Now, one final bit to say here, delving into what I said above about those mobs not really caring about their own cause, about what they demand others do for them. Here’s why that’s true:
If they really believed it, they’d do it themselves.
I’ve seen a lot of this hypocrisy over the years. I’ve seen folks on twitter who, when told “how about you write that instead of demanding others do it for you” counter with “Oh, well I just don’t have the time.” Despite dedicating hours of their day to hundreds and hundreds of tweets demanding it of others.
This is the ultimate test these mobs fail. If they really cared about their cause, whatever that might be, from “This story needs to be written” to “there needs to be a song about this” they’d do it themselves.
Why don’t they? Because they don’t believe in it that strongly. Or rather, their belief is strong enough to inspire them to bully others to do it for them, because their time is more valuable to them than the professed belief, but not the time of others.
They’re selfish, in other words. Selfish and disrespectful. It’s not important enough for them, but everyone else is, by virtue of not being them, unimportant enough to do what this person demands.
Hence the title of this entry of Being a Better Writer. So Make Your Own. You don’t like that an author is writing books or an artist creating art about something and believe “Hey, they should make what I want instead?
Tough. Cookies. Unless you are prepared to pay that creator more than the sum total of their entire audience for them to do so, and they’re willing to take it (they have every right to say no) then you have one recourse left:
Do. It. Yourself. If it’s that important, then you should have no qualms making time to help this important thing come to pass.
“But I don’t know how to write/draw/play/talent” here.
So? Neither does any creator when they started out. The difference is they wanted their important thing enough to spend the time getting good at it. Now that they’ve done so, no one has the authority to tell them what to do with those talents they worked to achieve but themselves.
You want your really important political issue featured in a book? You write it. Want an artist to create art catered to your beliefs? Pay for it, or do it yourself. Start today. Stop joining the mob, and start making something for yourself.
Sure, it’s a lot of work, and a journey. That’s why those that have taken it aren’t that receptive to those who want to photoshop the ending picture to their own ends.
Go make your own.
Good luck. Now get writing.
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