Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On Egg Shells

I have a confession to make. I have a lot of fears, but the biggest right now is something I never thought I'd have, something I never used to worry about, something I used to love and enjoy daily:

The Internet

Yes, it's true. Particularly social networking. At times, logging into this online world puts me in a fit of panic. I freeze up when I go to blog or even tweet. It feels like a ticking time bomb. Will this be the day that the internet turns against me?

It didn't used to be this way. When I first started blogging, no one actually read my blog and I felt like I had the freedom to say what I felt like saying. For better or worse, one of my blog povs has always been honesty. While I also believe in being positive and not giving up, I certainly don't sugar coat my experiences. I tell you when it's hard. I tell you when I'm happy and what has been fulfilling about my journey.

But lately I find myself not wanting to be honest, not wanting to put myself out there. I want to hole up where it's safe.

Don't get me wrong, social networking can be an amazing thing. I have certainly benefitted from it. I've learned so much, met so many wonderful people, and grown as a writer because of this blog. I'm not unaware of what a blessing this experience has been, or the fact that being online has, overall, a positive impact on my writing "career."

It's just that lately, it feels like the dark side of the internet rears its head more often. The same benefits that allow us to spread good news are often being used to spread, well, gossip and other not-so-nice things. It seems like every time a person says one thing a group doesn't agree with, they pounce on them like a pack of vindictive cheerleaders. They launch massive twitter attacks and mocking sessions, they blog about their stupidity, they effectively lock the person in the stocks and throw rotten food at them. Because an example must be set, as a warning to anyone else who dares to say what they think.

Yes, I know that sounds harsh. It is harsh, but it also feels that way to me, and it scares the hell out of me.

And I am not saying I am clean on this matter. I have participated. I am not proud of it. In fact, I always regret it. It's so easy to fall into it without even noticing. The internet is crazy like that. How quickly we can forget that we were once ignorant of this business, this online community, and the etiquette that comes with it.

So here I am being honest about it, wondering if this will be the post that ruins me. Or will it be the next? How many more honest posts can I risk before I'm the one in the stocks, my face dripping with rancid tomato juice? I don't know, and lately I don't want to take the chance to find out. I'm starting to understand why authors keep a safe distance on their blogs.

This probably isn't a problem when your schtick isn't honesty, but it is a serious issue for me. The internet has changed so much since I started blogging. I have changed. My position has changed. I am still trying to figure out how to behave at this point, and I pray that people will be forgiving and understanding. I hope we can all give others the benefit of the doubt.


  1. I understand completely! I delete half my posts/comments/tweets before I ever publish them because it just feels so risky to share anything.

  2. I've felt the same way lately, Natalie. It seems like there have been constant personal attacks on blogs and twitter lately, and they scare me too. I think it's interesting that in a industry where we think it's cool to speak our minds, there is so much negativity when a person speaks his/her mind about something unpopular.

    My response has been to not to engage in these conversations at all, but I usually feel like a jerk for not sticking up for the people being attacked.

    Ugh. I wish I could be braver and stick up for the underdog more often.

    And I wish people would just remember that it's a PERSON on the other end of that blog or tweet and act accordingly.

    I love that you're so honest on your blog. I appreciate it.

  3. Hear, hear! It frightens me, too.

    And ditto Natalie's above comment: "I love that you're so honest on your blog. I appreciate it."


  4. It's a relief to read this post... I started working on a post about truth today, and writing as truth-finding, and I abandoned it because of concerns like the one you mentioned. I've been blogging for a long time, but I've always started lots of blogs and not fully committed -- I think it has something to do with the fear of really putting myself out there, into the feeding frenzy of the interwebz.

    In a different way, I feel like the community of young adult authors is at once awesome and intense! One of the stories I'm developing is a middle grader. I've been focused on the writing itself, but when I see some of the "dialogue" happening in the YA community, I wonder if it's something I want to be part of. Some writers are unusually fierce... as loyal as ever to those they love, but do not cross them. I'm game for calling people out when needed, but this can feel more like a "clan mentality" among YA writers.

    At best, maybe I'm just following the wrong folks? At worse, I'm being wildly idealistic about why people want to be writers. Either way, I appreciate your post and needed to hear this today, so thanks for putting it out there!

  5. We have nothing to fear but fear itself.

    Drama is going to happen. I think if we all do our best to stay out of it and not fan the flames, then that's all we can do.

    Well, sure, we could hide, but that's no way to live life.

    You always conduct yourself with grace and dignity, Natalie. I don't think you have much to worry about.

  6. If people start throwing rotten tomatoes, I will stand in front and take the really gross ones for you. Because we need honesty. And 'cause you're kind of sort of awesome. :)

  7. Definitely noticed this. I'm still cringing from the whole author-attacks-reviewer-and-is-crucified-by-the-writing-community debacle.

    If you think the blogs are bad, you should see the writing forums. There's a reason I cut those out of my life.

  8. I'm just happy I can comment again! (Blogger hated me for a few weeks.) Then I can tell you that I love your blog and that your sweetness comes through every time you post. Long time readers will never doubt your good intentions!

  9. Amen. I have been amazed by this phenom, and it is both scary and easy to fall into. Thanks for this post, very much appreciate it.

  10. I completely agree. Over the last few months, it seems like there's been one witch hunt after another. And that bothers me. I think too many people forget that the names and faces they see on the Internet have people behind them.

    To be honest, I think the attacks speak more about the person doing the attacking, and I've lost a lot of respect for people I really liked because of the hate they're spreading. (I really don't know any other word for it.) And it bothers me that the writing community is dead set against censorship (I am too), and yet people who dare to offer a different opinion are called names, shamed, and mobbed.

    And it bothers me that every time I go to post something, my stomach curls because what if someone takes offense and it's my head on the pole. :( The writing community can be an incredible place, but I'm finding myself spending less and less time with it because I'm tired of the gossip and the mob mentality.

  11. I hope you don't feel you have to change. I like you just as you are on the net!

  12. New follower here. Good for you! Stand up against the bullies of the internet world. They aren't god's, they're merely, how did you put it? "A pack of vindictive cheerleaders." Dead on!

  13. I completely understand what you are saying.

    I had a conversation with my students not long ago (some 5th grade writers) about where the line was between "speaking your mind" or (calling a spade a spade as we used to say in the old days) and being a bully.

    We didn't really come up with an answer, but it was an important conversation to have. It seems like people today build high pedestals for people only so they can laugh and mock them as they inevitably come toppling down.

    It's kind of like if you are someone who says they are just being "honest", you have been given a license to be mean.

    One of the things I have always appreciated about you, Natalie, is that you have always been honest, but with integrity. That is just who you are. You know the power of words and you use them wisely.

    Sometimes it surprises me that as writers, we all don't have as much respect for the power of words as we should. The pen IS mightier than the sword, and we should know that.

    Keep doing what you do best (and that is being Natalie!)


  14. I understand perfectly - it always feels like one mistyped phrase can be taken out of context and shot. Or something like that. But honesty is good. The world needs it. :)

  15. Sadly,I find myself pulling back at times as well. But from all these wonderfully supportive comments, I'd say keep doing what you're doing, being honest and kind and thoughtful, and we'll all do the same, circling the wagons when needed to protect each other.

  16. I totally agree - it is tough of late!

  17. You're right. Absolutely right. People forget that it's okay to disagree. Make your points and debate. But not launch an all out attack against the person you disagree with.

  18. That kind of nitpicky bitchery comes with the territory. It's unavoidable. Personally, I don't think you have anything to worry about. You're always honest and nice and generous.

    I used to dance professionally and boy, can the drama get insane among dancers. I imagine it's the same with writers from time to time. In my dancing days, I'd just ignore it and be nice to everyone. I'd be nice even if I was totally faking the niceness because I didn't have time or energy to waste dealing with anyone's rotten behavior.

    I just hope you don't let the unkind people keep you from blogging because I like your blog and I'd miss it.

  19. I think a little respect goes a long way. It's okay to voice your opinion one way or the other, but on the internet it is too easy to forget that there are other human beings with feelings that can be hurt by the things you say. Great post, my friend. :)

  20. I feel the same way. I guess the best we can do is keep our honesty and integrity. As long as you are true to yourself regardless of what happens, you have that knowledge and will always be able to defend yourself.

  21. Excellent post. Unfortunately, it's not just the online community - it's real life community, too. I find myself watching what I say at pretty much all times so as not to offend, to hurt, or to upset. And it's infuriating when others don't take the same considerations. However, it is what it is and the best we can do is try to be a light in the dark.

  22. Great post, Natalie. I love how honest you are. It's nice to know you aren't sugar coating everything. That makes the best kind of person and blogger I think. Just keep doing what you're doing. You are awesome and so many people look up to you and love you.:)

  23. I completely understand. I used to blog about stuff other than books, and I ended up basically getting cyber-abused: the bullying, the libel, the threats of legal action for stuff I didn't even do... Who knew that adults could act like such utter children? That's when I shut that blog down and started my book review blog. I figured it was safer... and a lot less stressful.

    It seems like there's always someone waiting out there on the Internet, ready to pounce on the first differing opinion they can find. I think it's an ego thing, some desperate need to be right. Or maybe it's jealousy, especially when you're dealing with a crowd that's into the arts. In any case, I'd say it's good to be cautious... but to a point. You don't want to be completely stifled by random strangers on the Internet!

  24. I strive for the benefit of the doubt also. If I ever discuss someone else online, I try to pretend that person is reading over my shoulder, and not say anything I wouldn't say to his or her face.

    On your main issue here--I find that if I say what I really believe, I can stand behind it, and that mitigates suffering from any pushback I might get. It never feels good to have someone throw tomatoes even if we do feel like we've been honest and fair, but we can't please everyone all the time. Reviews of one's own books are the biggest reminder of that. ;-) And ultimately, life goes on.

  25. I had a blog that I was going to write (out of sheer annoyance at someone in a forum at another site), and decided against it after a night's sleep. It didn't seem worth it to do so.

    The net gives us a certain anonymity, and sometimes we say negative things without thinking them through.

  26. I completely understand where you are coming from. It's a fine line, but I also think that (as others have also said) you do voice your honest opinions thoughtfully and with respect. I guess the worst thing we can do is let the fear completely take over and hide.
    This fear isn't just in the online world, or just confined to the writing community, it's everywhere. Just the other day I heard that a pre-school in New Zealand have stopped the staff from calling the kids 'boys' and 'girls', deeming the term 'friends' more appropriate. In my opinion this is fear of offending gone mad! That is taking it too far.
    If we can just remember to always conduct ourselves with respect and integrity (online and in real life), I'm sure that we will find that we can voice our opinions honestly and without the back lash.

    And to be honest, even if there is an occasion (and I hope this never happens), the 'mob attacks', as long as you know that you have voiced your point of view thoughtfully and with respect, I'm sure you will come out the otherside. Your conscience should be clear!

    I love your blog, and I think that you have definately found that balance and because of that I value your opinions and have respect for your honest thoughts.

    So, thank you for being you!

  27. I appreciate how honest you are and I've never even thought you would get attacked for anything you've said. I do agree this is becoming more of an issue. And we should watch getting in such an uproar when people say something they may later reject. We all need to be more conscious about that.

  28. I know exactly what you mean, and have even begun censoring my Facebook posts in fear that someone would be judgmental about something I think or believe (I'm friends with lots of writers on Facebook).

    On the other hand, I think openness is important, too. While I agree about the scariness of the lynch mob mentality, if your stance is well-thought-through, authentic, and compassionate---which yours always is---I don't think you're in as much danger of ridicule. I'm not saying that people who have responded impulsively on the internet deserve to be torched, only that you always, always conduct yourself not just with honesty, but with compassion. And that's what gives others permission to do the same. Your blog is lovely and refreshing; you tackle the hard stuff, honestly.

  29. I've fallen into the "anonymous troller" camp before, and didn't realize that I was acting the same way in an un-anonymous fashion, too. Until someone pointed it out.

    I think we just all need to remind each other periodically that there are other humans behind all those keyboards so that people remember it's okay to have different opinions.

  30. I love your honesty, and I can't remember your ever being honest in a mean way, not on your blog. What you described sounds like bullying.

  31. I understand where you're coming from. How do you keep posts lively, interesting and entertaining, without saying too much or the "wrong" thing - and gawd knows what falls into *that* category, as one person's taboo is someone else's dinner conversation. Wish I had some words of wisdom or sage advice, but all I can offer is stick with what makes *YOU* comfortable and to hell with the rest. :)

  32. I agree it's such a potentially dangerous thing, this internet lark. The wrong comment can destroy a career in seconds. I guess what we have to do is just try to put forward a professional, yet personable, attitude as much as possible. I'm big on honesty myself, but there are so many things I'm nervous about saying now. Like, how honest can I be if I didn't like someone's book? Should I just say "it wasn't for me," or should I explain exactly what I felt were its faults?

    If you can find an answer to all this, Natalie, let us know.

  33. I know I'm just a commenter. Someone you don't know, have never met. But I believe in honesty. And I believe in what you write here on your blog.

    Have you ever seen A Knight's Tale? The moment where he is in the stocks and his friends surround him to take the tomato on his behalf? Well, that's me. If you ever end up in the stocks I'm willing to take a tomato for you. Judging from the comments above there are many others who are willing to do the same. So be yourself. Be honest. And remember that for all those virtual nay-sayers who hide behind the curtain of the internet, you have a large group of REAL people willing to defend you.

    Ok. Creepy, stalker-like pep talk over. ;)

  34. You'll always be honest, just think of yourself as having a business side for networking and a family or personal side for emailing. I don't know that's pretty much how I handle it and it has been working out pretty well so far.

  35. I'll take on anyone who throws something at you. You seem to have these issues dogging you from the net & I just don't understand how anyone can be so rude, especially to someone who's always, always, always so nice. All I can say is the haters are stewing in their own misery, jealous of your sweet nature, style & popularity. Karma will be a problem for them someday. You just keep on being the wonderful gal we all love to tune into. 

  36. I've been feeling the exact same thing in the past few months, especially after that Wall Street Journal article on darkness in YA where everyone and their dog pilloried the author for expressing an opinion they didn't like.

    The worst part is that it wasn't just a bunch of Anonymous trolls in comments, people were signing their names to it and blogging in public to attack those who disagreed with them, using profanity and violent accusations.

    Regardless of how you stand on the issue, a civil discourse is always in style. I'm not sure how we forgot that so quickly on the internet.

  37. I smile that you are so new to this problem. Try being a school teacher. ;)
    Long before the blogs or tweets or facebook, there was gossip. And gossip can take something totally innocent and make it sound like the worst-case scenario. At least on the internet, someone can track back to what you actually said or did and find the truth, if they take the time to do so.

  38. Great post! I've found myself wondering on occasion how much I want to distance myself from the blog I've passionately kept for years as I consider self-publication of my first novel, because the two don't fall into the same "categories" or "genres," yet both are honest about my thoughts and perspectives. Avoiding the tough topics about which we are honest isn't the answer, I'm convinced of that. Yet, as you say, its frightening when one considers the repercussions of our readers.

  39. Thanks for this post Natalie! Very true words.

  40. Oh, wow! I was just writing about how I made a fool of myself by participating in a mass snark-attack on someone I don't even know. It was over a year ago, but it still haunts me. I mean... it didn't affect my life in a serious way, it was just a huge whack over the head that I can be a real jerk. It's easier for me to be honest--and get swept up in mobs--in type than face-to-face, so I have a tendency to barf my thoughts all over the place online.
    It IS scary, not just that people can attack you in giant hoards, but that you can easily become a member of a hoard and attack other people. Yikes!

  41. You've brought up such an important point. The Internet does seem to be like one big playpen, with everybody acting like 2-year-olds and no grown-ups in charge.

    I once agreed with a snarky comment on an agent's blog, and got a long, furious email from the person who'd been scorned. I felt awful. Later I went to the person's site and realized that he had an undiagnosed case of Asperger's. I felt even worse. I apologized.

    But most people don't. It's so easy to take something out of context and ridicule it. I have no idea how that could happen to somebody as kind and straightforward as you, and I haven't seen any of it, but I'm so sorry you had to go through it.

    But in the end, it's best to remember the old Hollywood adage. 'I don't care what they say about me, as long as they get my name right.' This is, in the end, about getting name recognition in order to sell books. Controversy gets attention. And sells books.

  42. Wholeheartedly agree. I hate the witch-hunting I've seen lately. You know, if 10 people have said something is wrong, we probably don't need to be adding our voices to that. There are real, fragile people on the other end... people who can learn a lesson from 10 voices or even 1. It doesn't need to be thousands.

    It's insane.

  43. Ooooh, Danyelle said it right. So often these witch-hunts are over censorship. Listen, if someone wants something to be censored, guess what: that's fine! It's their right to think that! And if you attack them for that, you're doing that very thing you're saying they shouldn't do! GAH.

  44. Hmm. It seems to me that there's a fundamental difference between being physically in the stocks and saying something people disagree with on the Internet. One of them is an actual restriction on your ability to get away or defend yourself. The other is a virtual place where your ability to respond in kind or ignore them can't be denied. I understand your fear but (obviously) I don't think disagreeing with people prompts much attention. It's the Internet, after all.

    I did want to say, in response to another comment, that I actually think it's enormously disrespectful to assume somebody who posted an opinion you disagree with is too fragile to handle conflict. It may be true but plenty of people talking on the Internet are not fragile flowers and I think the best option is to give them the benefit of the doubt. I let my three year old win at candyland because I don't want him to cry but until I have evidence otherwise I expect better from fellow adults, especially professional writers.

    A fellow writer who tries to be honest