One of the nice things about being in control of your own writing is that you’re able to make choices about how much of yourself you expose to the world. It’s a really important decision to make because I found, in the past, I was getting more and more unhappy with the things that happen when you write something.
You get drive-by abusers – people who just want to tweet at you (or use the dreaded .@ to tweet at you and tell everyone else in their followers as well, to ensure maximum audience) to tell you that you’re wrong. Or to answer a rhetorical question. Or to tell you that you’re an idiot. Or to tell you that you’re misguided. Or to tell you that they don’t like you. Or whatever.
I used to dread publishing anything. I used to get a feeling of sickness. Of course most of the replies would be positive but that wouldn’t matter – I’d get a horrible sick feeling every time I published, knowing that the same old faces (and some new faces) would come crawling out of a hole (or from under a bridge) to make the same old points. You’re wrong. You did it wrong. You got it wrong. What you said makes no sense. What you said was wrong.
Some comments are short and angry. Others are long and angry. Some are longer than what you actually wrote in the first place. Which makes you wonder: whose blog is this, anyway? Well, the answer is of course it belongs to everyone. It’s out in the open, it’s available to the public. That’s why we write in the first place, aiming to communicate. How arrogant to assume that it should only be a one-way process! We want people to read us, but not to write back; we consider our words of being worthy of publication, but not the words of others.
Yes, I understand how wrong that is, but after a long time of thinking about it, I can’t engage any more, and that’s that. It’s not you that I’m talking about obviously. Not you. You’re lovely. It’s them. The other ones. They’re the ones who make me want to give up. I tried too long to try and fake it, pretend it was OK and sustain an engagement. I was wrong to do it. I hated it. It made me ill.
A lot of writers will say they love commenters. Maybe they’re telling the truth or maybe they’re blowing smoke up the arses of their commenters. I don’t know the truth. All I can tell you, as a former minor figure in the commentariat, is that I utterly, utterly hated that aspect of writing. It made me sick. It made me sweat. It made me want to walk away from the computer and not look. Sometimes I would publish something, turn off my phone and go for a long walk because I couldn’t bear to watch the tweets coming at me or the messages coming towards me – and I couldn’t trust myself not to look ‘under the line’.
You’re supposed to engage, as a writer. You’re meant to pitch in and join in the bunfight. You’re supposed to keep some kind of lofty distance above the furore, of course; you’re meant to try and be helpful and to answer points that people put to you. It makes it better if you do, I think. It makes you a better writer, if you can.
But then there’s a giant internet writer-sized bear trap that opens up, as well. People know that you’re supposed to engage. People know that you’re supposed to stay above it all and be reasonable. People will use that, if they don’t like you. If you say something back, every syllable you write will be interpreted, examined, parsed, shed of context and re-presented as something entirely different – it doesn’t matter how hard you try to be unambiguous or deliberate. Every word you say will destroy you. Everything you say will be wrong, no matter what you say. You are leaving your jam-covered genitals out by the anthill again, and hoping that they’re not hungry. It never happens. It doesn’t work.
I can’t ‘engage’ anymore. All I can do is write. I know it makes me a bad writer, especially in the age of Web 2.0, which was what got me here in the first place. I know it means I’m shutting myself away. I know all of that. But I have to think about my own health and sanity. This isn’t a full-time job for me anymore: I don’t have the time or willingness or ability or strength to engage. I don’t have the emotional energy. I don’t have the capacity.
I’m sorry if I don’t really engage. My Twitter is generally for fun rather than serious discussion, because I’ve tried it the other way and I’ve despised it, and the me I became when I was engaging all the time. My blog is for me to write. I know how selfish, self-absorbed and awful that sounds – but I’ve tried it the other way, and it didn’t do me any good.