Monday Musings: How Controversial Can A Writer Afford To Be?

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by Kathleen Valentine

yesnoIn this era of social media, it is very possible for writers—for anyone—to reach readers from all over the world, of varied backgrounds, and, of course, of diverse tastes and opinions. I’ve been particularly aware of this lately because we are in this highly charged political season here in the United States, and, though it is our country that will be choosing a new President, our choice has impact around the world. I don’t ever remember a more controversial election.

This then begs the question, how can writers express their opinions publicly without turning off readers? Or should they just keep their political opinions to themselves?

It’s not just politics that we talk about either. Often it is societal issues that get people all fired up. I have a number of writer friends on social media who are very vocal around issues they care about—violence and abuse, gun culture, economics, education, etc. Lately some of these people have been talking about the abusive posts and comments they have received. It seems a lot of people are super-charged these days and just looking for someone to unload on.

Some big name writers are very outspoken about the issues they care about. Anne Rice frequently poses questions to her Facebook followers about social and political ideas. Though these questions do attract a fair number of angry remarks, they seem to get buried in the flood of positive responses. Among the issues Anne has championed is the problem many fledgling writers have when someone takes a dislike to them on a book discussion site and bombards their books with negative reviews. I admire her for taking this on because a lot of beginning writers have had their careers cut short by this.

Stephen King wrote an entire book (albeit a short one) about his concern over the super-abundance of guns in this country. It was greeted with about the level of love/hate that you can imagine.

But, of course, Anne Rice and Stephen King are well-established writers. Neither of them is going to be harmed much by irritating a few readers. What about us lesser known writers? How vocal should we be? How much can we afford to annoy or upset our readers?

I tend to think we have to be ourselves, that if we try to hide our true natures, we come off as being artificial or disingenuous. If you are not by nature an opinionated person then trying to force yourself to be is not a good idea. If you are someone who has a lot of opinions, it’s pretty difficult to keep a lid on them. Some writers have built a fan base by talking openly and often about their various causes. There are a lot of people who are unsure of themselves when it comes to the things they care about and when they find someone who speaks to their heart, they will listen.

I am always surprised and also gratified when I receive an email or a PM from someone who says, “Thank you for speaking out about _____. You say the things I wish I had the nerve to say.”

Perhaps the best way to present our potentially controversial comments is to find balance. Yes, we can speak out about our causes but balance those remarks with lighter and more entertaining posts. I am told frequently that I have a wry sense of humor and readers tell me they look forward to see what I’m going to say next.

The bottom line is we have to do what is natural for us. Not everyone will approve but many will relate, Those who relate are our tribes, they are the people we write for. I doubt I would last long trying to be non-controversial but I do strive to be polite and balanced about it. I hope that’s good enough.

Thanks for reading.

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